William Willett

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William Willett
William Willett in 1909, photographed by Sir John Benjamin Stone
Born10 August 1856
Died4 March 1915 (aged 58)
Known forDaylight saving time

William Willett (10 August 1856 – 4 March 1915) was a British builder and a promoter of British Summer Time.


Willett was born in Farnham, Surrey, 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[1] 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.

This was not the first time that the idea of adapting to daylight hours had been mooted, however. It was common practice in the ancient world,[2] and in 1784 a light-hearted satire by Benjamin Franklin resulted in resurrecting the idea.[3] Although Franklin's facetious suggestion was simply that people should get up earlier in summer, he is often erroneously attributed as the inventor of DST while Willett is often ignored. Modern DST was first proposed by New Zealand entomologist George Vernon Hudson, although many publications incorrectly credit Willett.[4]

Using his own financial resources, in 1907 William published a pamphlet "The Waste of Daylight".[5] 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.[6] 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.

William Willett is remembered in Petts Wood by a memorial sundial, which is always set on DST (Daylight Saving Time)
The Daylight Inn, Petts Wood, 2011

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,[7] 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 named in his honour and the road Willett Way. His house in Chislehurst 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 Brighton and Hove.[8]


Willet was initiated into Camden Place Lodge on 1 November 1906.[9]


William Willett married twice:

Firstly in 1879 Sussex to Maria Mills (1858–1905), with issue:

  • Gertrude Maria Willett (born 1881)
  • Constance Muriel Willett (1882–1937), married Rev Charles Inchbald Radford (1871–1944)
  • Herbert William M. Willett (1884–1917)
  • Cicely Gwendoline Willett (born 1887)
  • Dorothy Ermyntrude Willett (born 1890)
  • Gladys Evelyn Willett (born 1892)
  • Basil Rupert Willett (1896–1966)

Secondly in 1910 Christchurch to Florence Mary A. Strickland (born Florence Rose Stickland [sic], Fishbourne, Isle of Wight 1883), with issue:

  • Joan I. Willett (born 1911)

Willett is a great-great-grandfather of Coldplay singer Chris Martin.[10]


  1. ^ David Prout (1989). "Willett built". Victorian Society Annual: 21–46.
  2. ^ B.L. Ullman (March 1918). "Daylight saving in ancient Rome". The Classical Journal. 13 (6): 450–451. JSTOR 3288163.
  3. ^ Benjamin Franklin, writing anonymously (26 April 1784). "Aux auteurs du Journal". Journal de Paris (in French) (117). The revised English version is commonly called "An Economical Project".
  4. ^ "Institute of British Geographers Publication". New Zealand Geographer. 4 (1): 104. 1948. doi:10.1111/j.1745-7939.1948.tb01515.x.
  5. ^ William Willett (July 1907). "The waste of daylight". 1st edition. Cite journal requires |journal= (help) | William Willett (March 1914). "The waste of daylight" (PDF). 19th edition. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 June 2007. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ Rose Wild "The battle for British Summer Time", The Times, 6 May 2010
  7. ^ Winston S. Churchill (28 April 1934). "A silent toast to William Willett". Pictorial Weekly.
  8. ^ Dale, Antony (1989) [1989]. Brighton Churches. London EC4: Routledge. p. 207. ISBN 0-415-00863-8.CS1 maint: location (link)
  9. ^ "William Willett, Builder, Summer Time Enthusiast & Freemason". pettswoodlodge.org.uk. 31 March 2020. Retrieved 4 June 2021.
  10. ^ Jonathan Dekel. Martin honoured his ancestor with "Clocks" in 2002 "Daylight Saving Time’s Coldplay connection", Canada.com; accessed 21 June 2015.

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