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Daylight saving time

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This weekend the UK sees the end of seven months of British Summer Time. Britain pioneered the adoption of daylight saving time in the summer months, and about 80 other countries have since followed its example.

The first person to suggest adapting routines to make the most of the daylight hours was Benjamin Franklin in a satirical essay in 1784. But his proposal was simply that people should get up earlier in summer.

The notion of actually changing the clocks was first mooted by a New Zealand entomologist in 1895, but nothing came of it.

A few years later the same idea occurred to William Willett, a house builder in Chislehurst, Kent, as he rode his horse early one summer morning in Petts Wood and noticed that many window blinds were still down.

In 1907, Willett set out his proposal in a pamphlet, “The waste of daylight”. He suggested advancing the clocks by 20 minutes at 2am on a series of four Sundays in April, so that summer time would be 80 minutes ahead of winter time. The clocks would then be retarded by the same amount on four Sundays in September. He argued that the longer evenings would increase daylight recreation time and save some £2.5m in lighting costs.

The idea gained the support of Robert Pearce, a Liberal member of Parliament, who tried several time to get it passed into law. The young Winston Churchill also became interested, and a parliamentary select committee examined the proposal in 1909.

But the scheme then languished until the outbreak of war in 1914, when it gained wider support because of the need to save coal. A Bill introduced under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 was passed on 17 May 1916 and a few days later the clocks were advanced by an hour as a wartime production-boosting device.

Willett did not see his idea pass into law because he had died in 1915. He is commemorated by a memorial sundial — set to BST, of course — in Petts Wood.

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