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
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 StoneImage courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery - license
William Willett - by Elliott & FryImage courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery - license