21 May 1916: The first day of British Summer Time

Millions of Britons put their clocks forward an hour for the first British Summer Time, on this day in 1916 – 99 years ago.

Wishing to prolong a round of golf is an odd reason for putting the entire country to the bother of remembering to put their clocks forward an hour every spring. But that, so it is said, was behind William Willett's campaign to introduce British Summer Time (BST). The other, far more likely reason, was to make the most of the daylight hours and increase British productivity.

It was Benjamin Franklin who first toyed with the idea of “daylight saving time”. In a letter to the Journal of Paris in 1784, he mused over how much he would save on candles by putting his clock forward in the warmer months and getting out of bed earlier.

But it was only with the dawn of the 20th century that the idea really saw the light of day. In 1907, Willett wrote a pamphlet, A Waste of Daylight. In it, he argued that the clocks should be advanced by 80 minutes, in 20-minute increments, in April in order to make the most of the longer evenings.

Yet, it was the Germans that finally persuaded the government to act in 1916 – too late for poor, old Willett, who died the year before. It was they, and the Austro-Hungarians, who put their clocks forward to increase factory time. Not to be outdone by these time-fiddlers, with whom Britain was at war, the British followed suit on 21 May 1916 99 years ago.

During the Second World War, British Summer Time was advanced by two whole hours, but the idea tended to prove unpopular with those living further north (nobody likes getting up in the dark after all). With the war won, BST returned to just one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.

Proposals to again put BST forward by two hours resurfaced as recently as 2011. The "Lighter later" campaign argued that it would boost Britain's economy by £3.5bn – largely down to the extra tourism it would attract (meaning more time spent at the bar). But those Scots who prefer not to live in darkness can rest easy. That idea has been put to bed. At least for now.

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