This morning at one am the clocks leapt forward to mark the start of British Summer Time, giving us an hour less in bed on Mothering Sunday, which falls on the same day this year.

British Summer Time, also known as Daylight Saving Time, will give us more light in the evenings but less in the mornings until the clocks go back again on October 29th, returning us to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as the end of autumn approaches.

But where did the idea for British Summer Time come from?

Though humans have adapted their working patterns and lifestyles to daylight hours since ancient times, one of the first arguments for introducing Daylight Saving Time was made in an essay by US politician, philosopher and scientist Benjamin Franklin in 1784.

British Summer Time Starts Today
Benjamin Franklin proposed introducing Daylight Saving Time in 1784

Over a hundred years later, an Englishman called William Willet – who happens to have been the great-great-grandfather of Coldplay singer Chris Martin – campaigned for putting the clocks forward in spring, writing a pamphlet called The Waste of Daylight in 1907.

In the pamphlet, Willet advocated that the clocks should advance by 80 minutes in total, inching forward twenty minutes at a time on four different days during April. The clocks should then be put back in the same way in September.

Willet, a builder, wished to stop people wasting valuable hours of daylight in the summer months.

British Summer Time Starts Today
British Summer Time was not adopted until World War I

It wasn’t until the First World War, however, that the UK adopted British Summer Time. This was done to conserve fuel by reducing the need for artificial light in the evenings.

Parliament passed the Summer Time Act in 1916, but unfortunately Willet never got to see the success of his campaign as he died in 1915. And not all Willet’s proposals were accepted as Parliament decreed the time should spring forward by one full hour on May 21st.

Over the years, there have been various experiments with and changes to British Summer Time. During the Second World War, there was Double Summer Time in which the clocks went two hours ahead of GMT.

Year-round Summer Time was tried between 1968 and 1971, but MPs eventually voted to end this experiment.

Between 1972 and 1995, British Summer Time began on the third Sunday in March (or the second if Easter Sunday fell on the third) and ended on the fourth Sunday in October.

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Different approaches to British Summer Time have been tried over the years

The current arrangements for British Summer Time, with it starting on the last Sunday in March and ending on the last Sunday in October, have been in place since 1995, when the dates for time changes across the EU became standardised.

There is some debate over whether the clocks going forward and back is a good thing. Supporters claim that British Summer Time reduces accidents, saves energy, encourages tourism and encourages people to exercise outdoors.

Critics say darker winter mornings during Greenwich Mean Time can actually lead to more accidents and that the energy saving argument doesn’t make sense when the increased use of fans and air-conditioning in summer is taken into account.

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A small majority of Britons would prefer to keep one time throughout the year

An opinion poll in 2011 found 53% of Britons favoured moving the clocks forward permanently. However, some parts of the economy would lose out if this happened. The golf industry, for instance, estimates Daylight Saving Time generates £246.6 million in extra revenue for this sector per year.

The start of British Summer Time roughly equates to the Spring Equinox, one of two dates in the year when the length of the day and night is equal around the world. This year’s Spring Equinox took place on Monday March 20th.


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