As you are probably aware, the clocks went forward this weekend (and if you’re in Britain, I certainly hope you are aware of this or else you are probably late for work!) and the debate has raised its head again of whether we should ditch Greenwich Mean Time and move permanently to British Summer Time or even have a combination of BST and moving forward an hour from that.
I have to say that I am not very pro this suggestion. I know there are arguments about the lives that could be saved, and that is a significant point, and the counter arguments about how we have a uniform time across the UK, people in Scotland would be particularly negatively impacted because they would end up having to do more in the dark i.e. it would still be dark when they got up in the north of Scotland.
We have actually experimented with sticking with BST before – from 1940 to 1945 i.e. during World War 2 (and actually we had Double Summertime, so the clocks went forward a further hour in the summer during that time and then back to BST in the winter), and from February 1968 to October 1971.
The reason I am loathed to give up GMT though is that it is the first formalised time that existed. Until relatively recently we did not have a uniform time across the UK, and that was fine because a few minutes difference the further you headed west was ok because you were moving at no great pace yourself. It just wasn’t very noticeable. However, with the advent of the steam engine, the discrepancies began to matter. People could travel much faster – and I guess it was rather difficult to have a timetable if there was no standard time. Being a few minutes out, as would be the case where people knew the time based on the sun hitting a sundial, could make a significance difference and actually depending on which direction you were travelling you could, presumably end up going back in time. Interesting. Anyway, to overcome this the time in London (Greenwich Mean Time) was taken as the standard time for the country. The UK was the first country to standardise time and after that other countries followed suit, with GMT remaining the “base time”. So to give up GMT, we would actually be giving up a huge piece of history. Maybe that is old fashioned to not want change for the sake of history, but it does seem pretty significant to me and to no longer have GMT in the UK would somehow seem like a step too far.
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