Time to ‘spring forward’ – why do we change our clocks twice a year?

Time – there’s never enough of it, sometimes it flies past and at other times, it drags… Ah, we do like to talk about time and we mess around with it too – this weekend it is time to ‘spring forward’ into British Summer Time (BST) so I thought it was a good time(!) to have a search online and find out why we change the clocks twice a year…

British Summer Time is a thorny subject and something that people get very heated about. The Scots would quite like a different time to the rest of us, and those of us in the West Country are ahead of you in East Anglia, or is it the other way around? I was amused to discover that at the beginning of the 20th century, Sandringham Time (30 minutes ahead) was used by the royal household. King Edward VIII put a stop to it an effort to reduce confusion, but I rather like the idea of Queen Victoria trundling along in her own time zone… Perhaps I can introduce ‘Joanna time’? Ah, Richard says ‘no’!

Back to the facts – British Summer Time was first introduced by the Summer Time Act of 1916, after a campaign by builder William Willett. His original proposal was to move the clocks forward by 80 minutes, in 20-minute weekly steps on Sundays in April and by the reverse procedure in September – somewhat complicated!

In 1940, during the Second World War, the clocks in Britain were not put back by an hour at the end of Summer Time. In subsequent years, clocks continued to be advanced by one hour each spring and put back by an hour each autumn until July 1945. So during these summers, Britain was TWO hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and operating on British Double Summer Time (BDST). The clocks came back to GMT at the end of summer in 1945. This DBST gave much lighter evenings for everyone, but the dark mornings must have been awful.

An inquiry during 1966–67 led the government of Harold Wilson to introduce the British Standard Time experiment, with Britain remaining on GMT+1 throughout the year. This took place between 27 October 1968 and 31 October 1971, when we reverted to the previous arrangement. I must say, I don’t remember this at all… I was obviously far too young to take it in!! 

Much of the reason for this experiment was to try and reduce road accidents in the dark early evenings. Analysis of accident data for the first two years of the experiment showed that while there had been an increase in casualties in the morning, there had been a much greater decrease in casualties in the evening, with a total of around 2,500 fewer people killed and seriously injured during the first two winters of the experiment. Strong evidence to keep GMT+1 all year you would think… but it wasn’t that simple as the period of the experiment coincided with the introduction of drink-driving legislation so the estimates were later modified downwards. 

I can remember that for years we were always out of sync with the rest of Europe or, ahem, should I say they were out of sync with us. Working out when to phone people abroad was always terribly complicated as for the odd week or two, we were on the same time, or two hours ahead or behind, or…  and it is only since October 1995 that the dates of starting and ending daylight saving time across the European Union have been aligned – amazing it took so long!

And so… the arguments for and against switching to permanent BST rumble on to this day. As well as being ‘safer’ for people on the roads, campaigners also say that it would save a great deal of energy. But then groups like farmers and other outdoor workers, and many residents of Scotland and Northern Ireland, strongly object. In northern Britain and Northern Ireland, the winter sunrise would not occur until 10am or even later.

Me, I’ll just keep trying to remember to ‘spring forward’ and ‘fall back’ and, if that fails when I am old and potty, I jolly well shall introduce ‘Joanna time’ and have done with it!

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When the writing is on the wall…

Examples of plague graffiti – church monuments memorialise the elite while graffiti remembers the ‘common voice’.I always thought graffiti was a modern day curse – but no, it’s been around for years but we just hadn’t spotted it! Apart from the surprise of discovering so much of it in our ancient churches, it is also fascinating as it is the ‘voice of the people’ – it’s not the expensively carved monument of the landed gentry, it is often the only record of ‘ordinary’ people, many of them children, who lived and died and completely disappeared.

A project to record the graffiti, which began in Norfolk churches, is gradually spreading across England. Medieval graffiti of pentagrams, crosses, ships and ‘demon traps’ have given historians a fascinating glimpse into England’s past. Armed with just a torch and a camera, a team of volunteers has recorded more than 28,000 images from churches in Norfolk alone! Although the graffiti discovered so far offers an insight into the minds of some (possibly bored!) churchgoers in the Middle Ages, the meaning of the scratched images is not always clear.

The graffiti of the the three sisters’ names has been ‘re-worked’ to highlight the writing, otherwise it is near-invisible to the eyeHowever, other graffiti is easier to interpret. Heart-breaking graffiti uncovered in a Cambridgeshire church has revealed how three sisters from one family died in a plague outbreak in 1515. The names Cateryn, Jane and Amee Maddyngley and the date were carefully inscribed on stonework in Kingston parish church. 

The graffiti project had shown that church plague graffiti was far more common than previously realised. The Maddyngley family lived in Kingston, seven miles from Cambridge, and were tenant farmers who, in the way of things, would rarely turn up in parish records.

Archaeologists believe Cateryn, Jane and Amee must have been children because their names are not found as adults in any of the records. The Maddyngleys had lived in Kingston since at least 1279. In 1515, there was an outbreak of bubonic plague in London which spread across south east England. 

Kingston Church.In times of plague, children were particularly hard-hit and usually hastily buried in unmarked graves, their little lives lost forever. The carving of the sisters’ names, who archaeologists believe died in the plague outbreak, has created a lasting memorial to them.

The project has confirmed more graffiti was created during times of pestilence such as the Black Death of 1349 and subsequent outbreaks of plague. Was it a way of remembering the dead, or commending them to God, or what? One can only imagine what it must have been like in those far off dark days to lose your children and have no memorial to them. I know lives were shorter and children often died through all sorts of ‘natural’ causes, but I found the image of a heartbroken father standing there and diligently scratching his dead daughters names and the date they died into the fabric of the church deeply touching.

 

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