Willett Way, BR5

Place Name

Named in honour of William Willett (August 10, 1856 – March 4, 1915), the tireless campaigner for daylight saving. Born into a wealthy family of developers, he entered his father’s building business, Willett Building Services. He got the idea after riding his horse in Petts Wood one summer morning and noticed how many blinds were still down. In 1907, Willett 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 reversed in September. By the following year Willett had managed to gain the support of one MP Robert Pearce, who made several unsuccessful attempts to get it passed into law. Winston Churchill, then Home Secretary, also promoted it for a time after Willett showed him a list of 163 corporations, town councils, and nearly 50 trade unions, besides 45 Chambers of Commerce, 54 clubs, and 64 associations and societies from whom he had obtained resolutions backing the move. According to The Times, Churchill told him: “In his opinion the objections of agriculturists, forming as they do so small & proportion of the population (not more than 8 per cent), were unworthy and must be disregarded in order to bring within the reach of the other 90 per cent of the population the blessings of sunlight and fresh air in their leisure hour.” Speaking at a big meeting in favour of the movement in 1911, Churchill prophesied that a grateful posterity would “raise statues in honour of Mr Willett and decorate them with sunflowers on the longest day of the year”. The outbreak of the First World War made the issue more important primarily because of the need to save coal. After years of campaigning, the government adopted the system in 1916, a year after Mr Willett’s death from influenza. He is now commemorated in Petts Wood by a memorial sundial, while The Daylight Inn is named in his honour.

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