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20 March 2020

The History of Daylight Saving Time

The clocks will be going forward at 1am on Sunday 29th March marking the beginning of British Summer Time. Find out when and why Daylight Savings Time was introduced.

Spring Clock

“Spring forward, fall back.” At the end of this month, the clocks will be going forward to mark the beginning of British Summer Time or Daylight Saving Time as it’s otherwise known.

The main purpose of Daylight Saving Time is to make better use of daylight. We change our clocks during the summer months to move an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening. 

It was an English builder, called William Willet, who was responsible for the invention of Daylight Saving Time. In 1907, he published a pamphlet called The Waste of Daylight, campaigning to put clocks forward at the beginning of spring and return them to GMT in the autumn. He argued that this would mean longer daylight hours for recreation which would improve health and also save the country money in lighting costs.

The 1908 Daylight Saving Bill was the first attempt in the UK to move clocks forward by an hour in summer. The idea was to provide more daylight hours after work for the training of the Territorial Army, to reduce railway accidents and cut lighting expenses. The House of Commons rejected the Bill.

In 1916, during World War I, Germany was the first country in the world to use DST, and the UK followed just weeks later. To save energy and help the war effort, the Summer Time Act advanced the clocks in the UK for one hour from 21st May until 1st October. Daylight Saving Time proved so popular that it was named British Summer Time and the seasonal practice was kept.

In a trial known as the British Standard Time experiment, the UK kept Daylight Saving Time hours permanently from February 1968 to November 1971. Although the experiment resulted in fewer traffic incidents because darkness fell an hour later, it was found that there was a slight increase in incidents in the darker morning hours. The experiment was abandoned in 1972 because of its unpopularity—particularly in the north of the country, where days are generally shorter.

Since its introduction, Daylight Saving Time has had both its advocates and critics. Advocates for the system claim that the lighter summer mornings save energy, reduce traffic accidents and get people out and about and more active.

Critics suggest that DST harms health by disrupting sleep patterns and increasing the rate of heart attacks; that it adversely affects the agriculture industry, and that studies into its energy-saving effects have proved inconclusive.

Several attempts to amend or repeal British Summer Time have been brought to the House of Commons in recent years. For now though, clocks will continue to change twice a year. Clocks will go back one hour again on Sunday 25th October when we will gain an hour in bed.