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How the great-grandad of Coldplay's Chris Martin invented daylight saving





The clocks go back early tomorrow and we (thankfully) gain an hour of sleep.

The practice is something all of us can remember happening for most of our lives, but when did it first start?

On a summer morning in 1905, builder William Willett was out riding his horse over the local common when he noticed how many blinds were still closed despite it being nice and sunny outside.

William Willett. Picture: The Chislehurst Society
William Willett. Picture: The Chislehurst Society

He'd thought about how pleasant evenings in spring and summer were dark at early times, so people weren't able to take advantage of the warm weather.

This sparked an idea for him – to move the clocks forward before each summer began so people could enjoy the outdoors.

This concept wasn't entirely new, however, as ancient civilisations used to shorten and lengthen days depending on the season.

But Mr Willett was the first person to propose the idea of daylight saving nationally.

The builder, who happens to have been the great-grandfather of Coldplay's Chris Martin, ended up writing a pamphlet in 1907 titled The Waste of Daylight.

William Willett and his daughter Gertrude. Picture: The Chislehurst Society
William Willett and his daughter Gertrude. Picture: The Chislehurst Society
Cedars house. Picture: The Chislehurst Society
Cedars house. Picture: The Chislehurst Society

He proposed clocks be advanced by 20 minutes at 2am on four consecutive Sundays in April, and reversed on the four Sundays in September.

However, he ended up changing this to a one-hour advancement of clock time in spring and a one hour reversal in autumn – which is what we know as daylight saving today.

He had many supporters, including Winston Churchill, who was president of the Board of Trade at the time.

The bill was knocked back by parliament in 1909 as playing around with time was seen as too radical.

But Mr Willett continued to campaign in Britain, Europe and America right up until he died in 1915 from influenza, aged just 58.

A year later, a revised version of his daylight-saving scheme was accepted – which meant he never saw his vision come to life.

William Willett's grave in St Nicholas Churchyard, Chiselhurst. Picture: The Chislehurst Society
William Willett's grave in St Nicholas Churchyard, Chiselhurst. Picture: The Chislehurst Society

This happened two years into the First World War as Britain was running short on coal – the idea of daylight saving meant longer evenings and subsequently less demand for coal-powered lighting.

Germany had validated a daylight saving bill on April 30, 1916 – 17 days later the British government introduced Daylight Saving Time.

This became a permanent arrangement following the passing of the 1925 Summer Time Act.

There was a trial between October 1968 and October 1971 when it was done away with, but it was then reinstated.

Other European nations, the US, Uruguay, New Zealand, Chile and Cuba are just some nations which have adopted the scheme.

Chislehurst, in Bromley, where Willett lived, honours him with a blue plaque on the wall of his house, The Cedars, and a gravestone at St Nicholas churchyard.

The sundial is permanently set at BST. Picture: MickandMaryDesign
The sundial is permanently set at BST. Picture: MickandMaryDesign

There is a memorial sundial in Willett Wood which reads "horas non numero nisi aestivas" – translating to "I only count the summer hours".

This is one of the few sundials in Britain which gives British Summer Time, rather than being positioned to show Greenwich Mean Time.

Nearby Petts Wood has a pub – The Daylight Inn – named in his honour where his photo is displayed on the wall.



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