Thursday, 24 March 2016

100 Years of British Summer Time

This year it is 100 years since British Summer Time was introduced as a wartime emergency fuel conservation measure. It came into being on 21 May 1916 but now the clocks go forward earlier, on the last Sunday in March (it's Easter Day this year). The following is an editorial from the Durham Chronicle, published on the first Friday of British Summer Time.

Watch face

Institution of British Summertime
The Durham Chronicle
26 May 1916

The war has hitherto been an unmixed evil; but one blessing it has brought in its train. Last Sunday nothing less than a great social revolution was effected when the hands of the clock were put forward an hour. And who doubts that but for the war the boon which this change represents would have been as far off as ever? It is well said that this notable reform, like many others in the past, and we may confidently hope in the future, has been won at the point of the bayonet. But for the total eclipse of the party politician the country would have waited in vain for its emancipation from the thraldom of the clock...

We dislike startling innovations of all kinds and are apt to set their promoters down as cranks and faddists. The late Alf Willott [William Willet] was regarded with good-humoured tolerance by most people as a well-meaning individual who, while bent on saving other people’s time was wasting his own on a more or less useless scheme. But now, lo and behold, the author of Daylight Saving has been lifted from the ranks of the faddists and placed in those of the benefactors of humanity. His experience has been that of many great discoverers and inventors. It was said that they were mad, whereas it was only a case of other men being stupid. It needed something on the scale of the Armageddon to overcome the inertia, represented by the forces of reactionary political machinery, short-sighted vested interests and a mental fairness before the Summer Time Act could be placed on the Statute Book.

Summer sun

Indeed little short of a miracle has been achieved. A great hoary mountain of prejudice was removed by Parliament within the space of two short weeks. What a furore it would have caused in the days before the war! Nowadays we live in the midst of such tremendous happenings that we take, as it were, the chronological revolution in our stride. As to the benefits to be derived from the new time of day who can doubt their tangibility after the experience of the present week. Without sacrificing anything at all the whole community is now enjoying the immeasurable boon of four hundred and twenty more precious minutes of daylight every week. It has added another seven hours day to the week, and all without anybody being a penny the poorer but everybody the richer. We have taken a step further away from the darkness into the light. We have cut an hour off the languid end of the day and placed it on the energetic end when the outlook is fresh and sweet and clean both subjectively and objectively after the hours of repose. We are economising precious coal and oil, with their concomitants of fire and artificial light thus conserving our resources for other more essential purposes necessary for the successful prosecution of the war.

Altogether it is safe to say that the Summer Time Act is one of the most noteworthy and epoch-making achievements of our generation. Prophecy is a risky occupation but we may venture the opinion that Daylight Saving has come to stay. There will in all probability be no desire when the war is over to return to the old system, with all its drawbacks and waste of the golden hours of sunshine in soul-clogging slumber.

And indeed, a hundred years on, we still lose an hour in bed in March, to regain it October. Remember, the clocks go forward this weekend.

Royal Museums, Greenwich:
Debate of the Bill in Parliament:

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