The man who changed time

Posted on Monday, March 29, 2021 by Vickie ClarkNo comments

Duly changed the clocks forward an hour on Sunday for the start of British Summer Time (apart from the car, that’ll remain in winter until I remember how to do it), but this year was different because I actually wondered why, who and when this all came about.


So here goes, a very brief history of the man who changed time.


His name was William Willett, born in 1856 he was a successful builder who lived in Chislehurst, Kent.

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William Willett


In 1905 it was whilst riding his horse just after dawn one summer morning through Petts Wood and noticing how many curtains were still drawn, that the idea for daylight saving time (DST) first occurred to him.


In 1907 he published a pamphlet called ‘The Waste of Daylight’ in which Willett proposed that all clocks should be moved forward by 20 minutes at 2am each Sunday in April and then back by 20 minutes at 2am each Sunday in September. Along with more recreational opportunities, Willett said this would lower lighting costs.

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Willett's Waste of Daylight pamphlet 


His supporters included politicians like David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill. Discussing the newly proposed Daylight-Saving Bill, Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle was also in favour, though he disliked Willett’s fastidious adjustments. “A single alteration of an hour would be a round number and cause less confusion,” Conan Doyle said before the bill’s select committee.


But crucially, the opponents included Prime Minister Herbert Asquith so the bill was narrowly defeated in 1909 as were subsequent proposals. Undeterred, Willett continued to furiously campaign in Britain, Europe and America until dying from influenza in 1915 at the age of 58.

William Willett is buried in St Nicholas Churchyard, Chislehurst, Kent


The outbreak of the First World War made the issue more important primarily because of the need to save coal. Germany had already introduced the scheme, so eventually in 1916 the Summer Time Act was passed, introducing British Summer Time as being GMT plus one hour and Dublin Mean Time plus one hour.


William Willett never lived to see daylight saving become law, but locally Willett’s legacy is acknowledged with a granite obelisk and sundial (showing British Summer Time), a pub called The Daylight Inn, a plaque on his old home and various roads bearing his name.

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 Willett memorial sundial in Willett Wood

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Memorial plaque 

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Daylight Inn public house in Petts Wood


As a little side note, one of Willett’s great-great-grandsons is Chris Martin, lead singer in the British rock band Coldplay!!

Image result for chris martin coldplay



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