Six things you didn’t know about daylight saving time

By Rachel England Friday 28 March 2014


In an biannual ritual that sees us scurrying around the house fiddling with oven timers, boiler programmes and digital devices, the clocks are set to go forward this weekend, marking the beginning of British summer time. But why do we do this, and why will we have to do it all again come October? Here are six cool facts about daylight saving time (DST).

1) Englishman William Willett first proposed the idea of DST, but died before seeing it realised

It was while riding his horse around the empty streets of London early one morning in 1905 that Willett happened upon the idea of the UK moving its clocks forward by 80 minutes between April and October, to better take advantage of available sunlight. Despite his best efforts, British Parliament consistently rejected the idea, and Willett died in 1915 before he saw his dream come to life.

2) Wartime Britain finally adopted the idea of DST... after Germany

On 30 April 1916, Germany adopted DST to conserve electricity. The United Kingdom followed suit some weeks later, and the idea of ‘summer time’ was born. Clocks were moved forward 60 minutes, though, rather than Willett’s awkward suggestion of 80.

3) Many European countries binned DST after the Second World War

In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, DST was implemented throughout Europe to help conserve fuel for national recovery and rebuilding programmes, but many countries later abandoned it again as DST became an unpleasant reminder of the war itself. France didn’t implement DST again until 1975, and only then because of a worldwide oil shortage which meant lighting reductions were necessary.

4) Britain had a ‘three-year summer’

In 1968, the clocks went forward as usual in March, but didn’t return to Greenwich Mean Time in the autumn. In fact, they stayed one hour ahead until 1971 – a period called British Standard Time. This wasn’t the first ‘experiment’ of its kind, though. During the Second World War Britain adopted Double British summer time, with the clocks one hour ahead of Greenwich in winter and two hours ahead in summer.

5) Different practices caused transport havoc around Europe

By the early 80s, most countries within the EU were using DST, but they didn’t all have the same rules, which caused mayhem with transport schedules and communications. It wasn’t until 1996 that the EU standardised DST across the continent, and in 2000 an EU Directive was issued that said the last Sundays of March and October were to be the definite DST schedule days.

6) No-one can really agree whether DST is a good idea or not

Daylight saving time is now implemented in more than 70 countries around the world, and while many have grown accustom to it and even benefit from the extra light (which means lower bills!), there are some that find the practice disruptive and unnecessary. Farmers, particularly in America, work by the sun, not the clock, and the shift in time can play havoc with their schedules. Proposals to extend, edit or even do away with the system are occasionally made in parliament, but with pros and cons on each side, the debate continues.

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