When do the clocks go back, and why do we do it?

Oct 28, 2021 News

When do the clocks go back, and why do we do it?

Arguments for ditching Daylight Saving Time

Those against the change say it’s not clear if any energy savings are made, while there are also potential health risks.

Critics claim that the darker mornings are dangerous for children walking to school and the energy saving argument may be invalid if people switch on fans and air-conditioning units during the lighter, warmer evenings. (But this is unlikely to bother people in the UK.)

In 2011, Tory MP Rebecca Harris floated a bill calling for year-round daylight savings but it failed to complete its passage through Parliament before the end of the session and was dropped.

A YouGov poll that same year found that 53 percent of Britons supported moving clocks forward an hour permanently while 32 percent opposed the change. The proposals were met less warmly by the Scottish population; Alex Salmond called the campaign an attempt to “plunge Scotland into morning darkness" and his SNP colleague MP Angus MacNeil said any change would have "massive implications for the safety and wellbeing of everyone living north of Manchester".

"It is no secret that Tories in the south want to leave Scotland in darkness, but fixing the clocks to British summertime would mean that dawn wouldn’t break in Scotland until nearly 9am," he said.

He had a point. Following a 1968 to 1971 trial, when BST was employed all year round northern Scotland saw a net increase in the number of people killed or seriously injured.

The sun wouldn’t rise fully until 10am in parts of Scotland and the country’s 1,000-or-so dairy farmers, who wake up before 5am, would have to work for hours in the dark. Other farmers and construction workers, who need sunlight to perform their jobs, would end up having to work later into the evening.

Some folks keen to reach a compromise have suggested the clocks change at Hadrian’s Wall and not at Calais.

Philip Broom writing on the National Farmer’s Union website in 2011 said: "A definite no. Combining will not start until midday and then have to go on until 11 o’clock. Our day is long enough now."

‘A Thomas’, also writing on the NFU site, was worried that "younger people having loud parties or barbecues in gardens and youths hanging around on streets would make it a nightmare for people getting up for work early mornings."

In August 2018, the European Commission announced that a recent consultation had revealed over 80 per cent of EU citizens were in favour of abolishing clock-changing. Jean-Claude Juncker said: "We carried out a survey, millions responded and believe that in future, summer time should be year-round, and that’s what will happen."

All 28 EU member states are currently required to move their clocks an hour backward on the final Sunday of October and an hour forward on the final Sunday of March. But in March 2019, the European Parliament voted in favour of a proposal to abolish the practice from 2021. 

A massive wind-up for some…

Spare a thought for the staff of the Royal Collection. They spend over 50 hours adjusting over 1000 clocks spread across the official residences of The Queen.

Following months of planning, staff at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh start work in the early hours of the morning to ensure that the time is set accurately.

There are 379 timepieces at Windsor Castle, 500 at Buckingham Palace and 80 at the Palace of Holyroodhouse including organ clocks, astronomical clocks, musical clocks and mechanical clocks.

Waddesdon Manor, the Rothschild house in Buckinghamshire, also has clocks in almost every room (plus numerous watches in the collection), and most are in working order.

Waddesdon’s impressive collection includes clocks by some of the most important horologists in history, including Julien Le Roy, clockmaker to King Louis XV, meaning the upmost care and attention must be taken when handling them.

Changing the clocks is a delicate and time-consuming process at Waddesdon Manor

Why we should keep Daylight Saving Time

There have been various trials over the decades from double summer time (GMT + 2 hours) during the Second World War to permanent British Summer Time (GMT + 1 hour) during the late 1960s but the current system of changing the clocks at the end of March and October has been in place since 1972.

Those in favour say that it would reduce traffic accidents, save energy, boost tourism and encourage more people to exercise outdoors. In the 1980s, the golf industry estimated that one extra month of daylight savings could generate up to $400 million (£246.6 million) a year in extra sales and fees. 

Daylight Savings Time “affects everything from terrorism to the attendance at London music halls, voter turnout to street crime, gardening to the profits of radio stations,” said David Prerau, author of Saving the Daylight: Why We Put the Clocks Forward.

This debate stretches years into the past, and the future of British time is still unclear.

Sandringham Time – GMT+30mins

An added complication for Royal servants between the years 1901 to 1936 was the concept of ‘Sandringham Time’ which was introduced by Albert, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. A keen fan of shooting, he wanted to make the most of winter daylight, so he ordered all clocks on the estate to be set half an hour fast.

The tradition was continued by King George V after he acceded to the throne in 1925 but King Edward VIII abolished it in 1936 shortly before his abdication.

How to cope with the clocks going back

  • When the clocks first go back, mornings are lighter so ensure bedrooms are kept dark with blinds or curtains.
  • Alter bedtime by around 10 minutes over a few days beforehand to adjust to the new time.
  • Maintain bedtime routines. Get ready for bed in the same order e.g pyjamas on, tooth brushing, bedtime story.
  • Turn off all screens at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Offer a milky, warm drink to encourage sleepiness and avoid stimulating food and drink just before sleep.
  • Make sure all the clocks are correct.
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