WE ASSUME that time is as old as time. It is not. It was only in
1880 that Greenwich Mean Time was adopted throughout the UK. For
centuries, every region had set its clocks (or its sundials) in a
way chosen by local people. It was the coming of the railways which
demanded a standardised system, so that timetables could be drawn
During the first decade of the 20th century, William Willett,
who ran a building business in south-east England, campaigned
vigorously for clocks to go forward an hour during the summer
months. He observed how Londoners were sleeping through daylight
in the early hours of summer mornings, and noted the waste.
He persuaded Winston Churchill to take up the cause, arguing
that both productivity and joy would increase if there were more
sunlight during people's waking hours. The need to save coal during
the First World War eventually persuaded Parliament to act, but,
sadly, Willett died in 1915 and did not live to see his campaign
British Summer Time was adopted year-round experimentally from
1968 to 1971. The overall number of fatalities on roads dropped by
three per cent (a combination of a small increase in deaths during
the darker mornings, and a large decrease during lighter
There was an energetic and successful campaign in Scotland,
however, to end the experiment. The further north you live, the
more pronounced are the effects of the seasons. On Christmas Day
this year, the sun will rise over St Magnus Cathedral, Orkney, at
9.02, compared with 8.13 over Exeter Cathedral. For farmers, postal
workers, and milk deliverers in Scotland, an additional hour of
morning darkness proved gruelling.
But times have changed. The way we take delivery of milk and
post has altered over the past 40 years. Farmers dropped their
opposition in 2006. A new set of arguments now pertains. The most
compelling is that spending less of our waking hours in darkness
would save carbon-dioxide emissions by an estimated 447,000 tonnes.
Safer roads during the evening rush-hour would save up to 80 lives
per year, and save the NHS about £138 million in the treatment of
Alongside those measurable benefits would come simple
improvements to all our lives: electricity bills would decrease;
fear of crime would diminish; and the quality of life -
particularly of older people - would improve. These advantages are
spelled out by the campaigning organisation 10:10 on its website,
www.lighterlater.org. In addition, a large
number of churches with Sunday-afternoon activities or services
would see new opportunities open up.
Earlier this year, campaigners found a heroine in Rebecca Harris
MP, who championed the Daylight Saving Bill, but in January the
legislation ran out of time. Then, in June, the issue was not
selected as one of the Private Members' Bills to be debated during
the coming year. (Ironically, the Bill that edged it out addresses
scrap-metal theft, which is an issue as crucial to churchgoers as
dark evenings.) The upshot is that tomorrow you will have to turn
your clocks back 60 minutes.
"While daylight surrounds us, cheerfulness reigns, anxieties
press less heavily, and courage is bred for the struggle of life."
In 1907, that was Willett's argument for the introduction of
British Summer Time. Those solaces to our souls are needed more
than ever in this hard-pressed decade. It is time to extend British
Summer Time to all the months of the year. Let there be light!
Peter Graystone is a Reader at Emmanuel Church,