A History Lesson The Evolution of BST and GMT
While we accept that the clocks change twice a year, many don’t know why or when they came into effect. Ultimately, timekeeping is a fundamental aspect of human society, and over the centuries, various systems have been developed to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to the time of day. One of the most important timekeeping systems in the United Kingdom is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and its counterpart, British Summer Time (BST). In this blog post, we’ll take a fascinating journey through history to explore the evolution of GMT and BST.
Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)
The story of GMT begins in the late 17th century when the Royal Observatory was established in Greenwich, London. Sir Christopher Wren’s building for the observatory was completed in 1676. This marked the starting point for GMT, as it became the reference for timekeeping in Britain and eventually around the world.
1. 1696 – The First Astronomer Royal: John Flamsteed was appointed as the first Astronomer Royal at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. He was tasked with observing celestial objects to accurately determine time.
2. 1767 – The First Marine Chronometer: John Harrison’s H4 marine chronometer was the first accurate clock that allowed mariners to determine their longitude at sea. This innovation was a pivotal moment in the development of GMT.
3. 1847 – GMT Standardised: Sir George Airy, a local lad born at Alnwick, was the 7th Astronomer Royal, established the Airy Meridian at the Royal Observatory. This imaginary line became the prime meridian, and GMT was officially adopted as the standard time for the entire UK.
British Summer Time (BST)
BST, also known as Daylight Saving Time, is a concept that aims to make better use of natural daylight during the summer months. The idea of moving the clock forward in the spring and back in the autumn originated in various forms throughout history.
1. 1907 – The First BST Proposal: The idea of shifting the clocks in the UK was first proposed by William Willett, an English builder, in his pamphlet “The Waste of Daylight.” He suggested moving the clocks forward by 80 minutes in four 20-minute weekly steps in April and reversing the process in September.
2. 1916 – The First BST Law: During World War I, Germany and the UK implemented Daylight Saving Time to save energy. The first law, known as the Summer Time Act 1916, officially introduced BST.
3. 1971 – Permanent BST Introduced: The British government decided to experiment with a continuous, year-round BST to conserve energy during the oil crisis. This experiment, known as the British Standard Time (BST), lasted for three years.
4. 1996 – The Current System: The UK adopted the European Union directive to harmonise summer time arrangements. BST now begins on the last Sunday in March and ends on the last Sunday in October.
The evolution of GMT and BST is intertwined with the scientific and societal developments of the last few centuries. GMT remains a reference point for global timekeeping, and BST continues to provide longer daylight hours during the UK’s summer months. Understanding the history of these timekeeping systems helps us appreciate the importance of precise timekeeping in our daily lives and the ongoing quest to make better use of daylight. We can be thankful at least that the system isn’t as complex as initially devised, although many argue that it should be abolished entirely despite the summer benefits.