Sunday, 30 October 2011

Back to Greenwich Mean Time

This is one of my most favourite days of the year.  The day the clocks go back, when we leave British Summer Time and return to Greenwich Mean.

Image source

I know lots of people hate losing that hour of light at the end of the day but I love it.  I think it's entirely Romantic (with a capital "R", that is, in the vein of the Romantic movement).  I love being out as the sky darkens early, whilst shops and cafes and museums remain open, with warm, glowing light pouring through their windows, and people still hustling and bustling about.  

Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott clock, 1900-1905 (Source: V&A)

I love the weather - brisk and cold, perhaps with some weak sun, perhaps with a bit of drizzle, but always encouraging you to pull your coat around you and breathe in the cold air.  It's invigorating and exciting.  Winter is on its way and we're in for short days and long, cosy nights.  I do love the deepness of the darkest winter months that are rapidly drawing nearer.

David Bouquet clock, c.1650 (Source: V&A)

It bothers me immensely that the government are talking about having British Summer Time hours in winter and "double summer" in the middle of the year.  For one thing, it doesn't mean we'll have any more light, it just means that the mornings will stay darker even later, making it especially hard to get out of bed.  I don't mind the sun setting early but dark mornings are a challenge!

Clock of unknown maker, Staffordshire, c.1760-1780 (Source: V&A)

Secondly, I think it's an absolute travesty that we will never be on Greenwich Mean Time!  As an historian, that really bothers me.  It has its roots in our proud maritime history, with ships being able to calculate their longitude using GMT, therefore being vital to navigation.  Its history also embraces another era of great significance - the Industrial Age - when the railways were laid out across Britain.  This was when the whole nation adopted GMT as it allowed more sense to be made of railway timetables.  Prior to this, each area had its own local time.

Lewis Foreman Day clock, c.1880 (Source: V&A)

The changing of the clocks isn't that old a practice, only having been introduced in 1916 during the First World War, partly as a measure to save on coal.  The thought was that if the evenings were lighter for longer, less fuel would be needed for lighting.  It's stuck ever since then but, as part of this current, silly debate about GMT, British Summer Time, and Double Summer Time some people are mooting for the tradition to be abolished, so that we are permanently on Summer Time - in line with the rest of Europe.

B.E. Co Clock, 1935 (Source: V&A)

Anyway, enough of that silliness.  I, for one, hope that it stays the same so that we don't lose the small delight of the changing clocks each autumn and spring.  But for the moment, I'll just enjoy the rest of my long evening on this, the first back in GMT.  Think it's time for a glass of wine and a bit of classic horror in honour of Halloween tomorrow.  If only I had some chestnuts on hand to roast and tuck into as I watched...

Happy Sunday, everyone!


  1. Marvelous post with such an enchanting selection of highly covet-able clocks. I too welcome the longer hours of darkness that this time of the year brings with it.

    Wishing you a fantastic and very happy Halloween,

  2. Thanks, Jessica! It's good to have a kindred spirit.

  3. Very interesting, Miss Marie. I like that you gave a bit of history too. I wish "they" wouldn't mess with the time so much. It kind of loses its meaning or something. I'm reminded of the value of eating fruit and vegetables in their season rather than all-year-round. They are really lovely and diverse clocks that you chose, too. Thank you!

  4. Susan Janet - Yes, people messing time just feels like them being too spoilt! We can have fruit in every season so why can't we control time, and perhaps we should look into ways of controlling the weather! We should just be able to embrace nature for what it is - ever changing and ever wonderful!