William Willett Learning Trust

About William Willett

William Willett (10 August 1856 – 4 March 1915)

was a British builder and a tireless promoter of British Summer Time.

Willett was born in Farnham, Surrey, in the United Kingdom, and educated at

the Philological School. After some commercial experience, he entered his

father's building business, Willett Building Services. Between them they

created a reputation for "Willett built" quality houses in choice parts of London

and the south, including Chelsea and Hove, including Derwent House. He lived

most of his life in Chislehurst, Kent, where, it is said, after riding his horse in

Petts Wood near his home early one summer morning and noticing how

many blinds were still down, the idea for daylight saving time first occurred to

him.

Using his own financial resources, in 1907 William published a pamphlet "The

Waste of Daylight". In it he proposed that the clocks should be advanced by

80 minutes in four incremental steps during April and reversed the same way

during September. The evenings would then remain light for longer, increasing

daylight recreation time and also saving £2.5 million in lighting costs. He

suggested that the clocks should be advanced by 20 minutes at a time at 2

am on successive Sundays in April and be retarded by the same amount on

Sundays in September.

 William Willett is remembered by a memorial sundial in Petts Wood.

Through vigorous campaigning, by 1908 Willett had managed to gain the

support of a member of parliament (MP), Robert Pearce, who made several

unsuccessful attempts to get it passed into law. A young Winston Churchill

promoted it for a time, and the idea was examined again by a parliamentary

select committee in 1909 but again nothing was done. The outbreak of the

First World War made the issue more important primarily because of the need

to save coal. Germany had already introduced the scheme when the bill was

finally passed in Britain on 17 May 1916 and the clocks were advanced by an

hour on the following Sunday, 21 May, enacted as a wartime production-

boosting device under the Defence of the Realm Act. It was subsequently

adopted in many other countries.

William Willett did not live to see daylight saving become law, as he died of

influenza in 1915 at the age of 58. He is commemorated in Petts Wood by a

memorial sundial, set permanently to daylight saving time. The Daylight Inn in

Petts Wood is also named in his honour and the road Willett Way.

His house in the London Borough of Bromley is marked with a

blue plaque. He is buried in St Nicholas' churchyard,

Chislehurst, although a memorial to his family stands in the

churchyard at St Wulfran's Church, Ovingdean, in the city of

Brighton and Hove.

Willett is the great-great-grandfather of Coldplay singer Chris Martin.

The William Willett Learning Trust is a charitable company limited by guarantee and registered in England and Wales. Company number 07520128. The Registered Office is at Hawkwood Lane Chislehurst Kent BR7 5PS
William Willett - by Sir (John) Benjamin Stone Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery - license
William Willett - by Elliott & Fry Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery - license