Monday, October 29, 2018


William Willett around 1909
Twice, every year, in March and October, we go through the tedious business of changing all the clocks and machines in the house to conform with correct timing. Who do we blame for this domestic routine?  Why, the late William Willett, an Englishman, born in Farnham, Surrey and obviously, a 'thinker'. William lived for most of his life in Chistlehurst, Kent where, it is said, after riding his horse in woods near his home early one summer morning, noticed how many curtains and blinds were still not drawn. This was where the idea for 'daylight saving' occurred to him.  This was not the first time that the idea of adapting to daylight hours had been mooted, however. It was common practice in the ancient world. Even Benjamin Franklin had written a play in 1784, resulting in resurrecting the idea. Although Franklin's facetious suggestion was simply that people should get up earlier in summer, he has been erroneously attributed as the inventor of Daylight Saving Time, while Willett is often ignored. Modern DST was first proposed by the New Zealand entomologist George Vernon Hudson, who was also credited with the idea. 
Using his own money, in 1907 William published a pamphlet "The Waste of Daylight". In it, he proposed that the clocks should be advanced by 80 minutes in four incremental steps during April and reversed the same way during September. The evenings would then remain light for longer, increasing daylight recreation time and also saving £2.5 million in lighting costs. He suggested that the clocks should be advanced by 20 minutes at a time at 2 am on successive Sundays in April and be retarded in September.

William Willett is remembered in Petts Wood by a memorial sundial, which is always set on DST(Daylight Saving Time)

By 1908, Willett had managed to gain the support of Robert Pearce, a Member of Parliament, who tried, unsuccessfully to get the idea passed into law.  By 1914, at the start of the Great War, the issue became important because of the need to save coal. Germany had already introduced the scheme in that country when the bill was finally passed in Britain on 17 May 1916 and the clocks were advanced by an hour on the following Sunday, 21 May, enacted as a wartime production-boosting device under the Defence of the Realm Act.  Many other countries adopted the law.
Poor old William Willett did not live to see daylight saving adopted, as he died, aged 58 in the wave of influenza in 1915. He is commemorated in Petts Wood by a  memorial sundial, set permanently to daylight saving time.

The Daylight Inn in Petts Wood, is named in his honour, a road is named after him in the vicinity - Willett Way and there still exists the Willett Recreation Ground. The great man's former home in Bromley, is marked with a blue plaque and his grave can be found at St Nicholas' churchyard in Chistlehurst, although a memorial to his family stands in the churchyard at St Wulfran's Church, Ovingdean, Brighton, Sussex.

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