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William Willett
The Clare Champion Ltd. November 2000.

The Man Who Put The Clocks Forward

WILLIAM WILLETT was born in Chelsea, London, in 1857 and died on March 4, 1915. Willett was a builder but his claim to fame was not in building houses.

In 1907, he became obsessed with the idea that everybody should get up more early in Summertime. He told his friends and neighbours, indeed, anybody who was prepared to listen to his ‘crazy’ ideas that so many hours of daylight should be wasted.

The Summer evenings were not long enough for pleasure and outdoor recreation. Could not something be done to transfer those morning hours to the evenings?

Willett conceived the idea of putting on the clock eighty minutes. If he had stipulated only an hour, it was probable that his scheme of daylight saving would have been adopted years before the measure passed the Houses of Parliament. Willett’s campaign for putting on the clock by eighty minutes cost him a good deal of money for he footed the bill.

About twelve months after he began to advocate daylight saving, he attracted the attention of the authorities and Mr. Pearce later Sir Robert Pearce introduced a Bill in the House of Commons to make it compulsory to put on the clock.

In 1909, the Bill went to a Select Committee, but it was doubtful whether anything further would have been heard of it had it not been for the War. In 1916, an expert committee was set up to enquire into ways and means of saving fuel and the Committee advised that Willett’s scheme should be adopted.

Willett had suggested putting on the clock by eighty minutes, by four separate movements. On May 17, 1916, an Act was passed and scheme was put in operation on the following Sunday. May 2nd. There was a storm of opposition.

From that time onwards the legislation in regard to daylight saving was spasmodic and though it was observed in the States of Massachusetts and Rhode Island and the Metropolitan district of New York, the enthusiasm waned considerably.

Some of the large cities adopted the scheme while others repudiated it. In the States West of the Mississippi daylight saving was rejected. Although daylight saving was widely used in the North-East, it even found opposition there, particularly in Connecticut where it was an offence to show anything but Eastern Standard time. Later, however, a number of towns in that State observed daylight saving.

When the Bill was discussed in the House of Commons in 1925, some curious objections were raised to the continuance of summer time. One member said that he had received a letter from a woman who wrote: “I an the mother of nine, the last still-born owing to summer time”.

Another member suggested that explicit instructions should be issued to the public on how and when to put clocks on. He knew of a family who sat up until 2 a.m. to make the change exactly at that time.

During the World War, nearly every country in Europe adopted the device of putting the clock forward an hour to save fuel for lighting and heating.

Farmers objected to the new measure because the milkers had to get up an hour earlier to do their work. Farmers, no doubt, had a reasonable complaint for it meant that their employees would have to get up in darkness during a great part of the year.

It was also argues that during the hay and corn harvests, the labourers would be idle for an hour while the dew was dried off the mown harvest by the sun.

At the outset of the controversy that followed, there was much sympathy with the farmers but when the scheme was put to practical test it was found that the difficulties had been much exaggerated.

On May 21, 1916, therefore, summer time was introduced. At first, there was confusion and prejudice. The Royal Meteorological Society warned everyone that Greenwich time would apply to movements of the tides. The parks belonging to the Office of Works and the London County Council decided to close at dusk, which meant that they would be open an extra hour in the evening.

Kew Gardens, on the other hand, ignored the daylight saving scheme and decided to close by the clock.

In Edinburgh, the confusion was even more marked, for the gun at the Castle was fired at 1 p.m. summer time, while the ball on the top of the Nelson monument on Calton Hill fell at 1 o’clock Greenwich time.

That arrangement was carried on for the benefit of seamen who could see it from the Firth of Fort. The time fixed for changing clocks was 2 a.m. on a Sunday.

After the War, several Acts of Parliament were passed relating to summer time. Eventually, in 1925, it was enacted that summer time should begin on the day following the third Saturday in April. The date for closing of summer time was fixed for the first Saturday in October.

In 1916, a nationwide campaign was begun in the United States for the support of daylight saving. For about a year the subject was the centre of controversy.

In 1917, however, an Act was passed by Congress to advance United States time by one hour on the last Sunday in March and to put it back by one hour on the last Sunday in October. This Act was in force for one year from March 31 to October 27, 1918 and it was renewed from March 30, 1919.

Meantime, there was an outcry throughout the continent, particularly from farmers, and the Act was repealed on August 20, 1919.

Original source: clarechampion.ie. November 2000.

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