When the clocks change in the UK –and how Coldplay's Chris Martin is involved

·5-min read
Clocks change. (Getty Images)
It's nearly time for the clocks to go forward. (Getty Images)

At a certain point every spring and autumn we start wondering when the clocks change on auto pilot, having asked ourselves this a million times before.

They're due to go forward this month, which means (probably what you want to know the most) we'll lose an hour in bed – a small price to pay for a taste of summer days ahead.

But when exactly do they change, why and will this keep happening each year?

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When are the clocks changing in March 2023?

The clocks always go forward every year on the last Sunday of March.

This year (make note to self) they will change on 26 March when the clock strikes 1am.

At this point we will switch from Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) (the period of time when they are one hour backward) to British Summer Time (BST), when there's more daylight in the evenings, albeit slightly less in the mornings.

This is sometimes called Daylight Saving Time (DST).

While your smartphone or device will change automatically, you'll have to remember to adjust the time on your watch, clock, oven, car or anything else with manual settings.

The clocks also go back one hour every year at 2am on the last Sunday in October.

Spring forward concept. Alarm clock, pen and notepad. Daylight saving time.
The clocks change twice a year, once in spring and once in autumn. (Getty Images)

When did we start changing the clocks?

Benjamin Franklin first came up with the idea while in Paris in 1784, suggesting that getting up earlier when it was lighter would help people save on candles.

But the concept only made a real impact in the UK when Coldplay's Chris Martin's great-great-grandfather, builder William Willett, advocated for making the clocks go forward in spring and back in winter to benefit from longer days and less energy usage.

In 1907 he published a leaflet called The Waste of Daylight, encouraging people to get up earlier, reminiscent of Franklin. While it was discussed by the government a year later, it didn't end up being made a law due to divided opinion.

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It was, however, later enforced in 1916 (unfortunately a year after his death) by the German government and army during World War One, with the UK doing the same a few weeks later, along with many other nations involved in the war.

DST was adopted in many countries in the years after. While on the one hand its benefits are clear, its imperfections have also been a cause for debate since its introduction.

It's had some slight shifts in the past, including 'British Double Summer Time' during World War Two (1939-1945), changing it to two hours' ahead of GMT in summer and kept one hour in advance in winter, and between 1968 and 1971 being put forward but not back as an experiment.

This was discontinued due to the difficulty of assessing both the advantages and disadvantages of BST, according to Royal Museums Greenwich.

Night view busy UK Motorway traffic jam at night.
The clocks changing has been linked to an increase in road accidents. (Getty Images)

Will the UK ever stop changing the clocks?

Of course, we've long been used to changing our clocks twice a year, with the 1972 British Summer Time Act starting the tradition of putting them forward in late March and backwards in late October (the same for most European countries).

In 2019, however, the European Parliament supported a proposal to end the tradition in European Union (EU) states (when we were still a member), with these nations due to change the clocks for the last time in 2021.

But this was stalled as the EU member states couldn't agree, continuing to change the clocks.

Following this decision, a YouGov survey showed that the majority of Britons (59%) would opt to remain permanently on summer time, sacrificing light in the morning in the winter for more daylight on summer evenings.

While we are no longer in the EU, it has been pondered in recent years whether or not the UK will get rid of DST.

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The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) is all for this due to road safety concerns, stating in October 2020: "One of the consequences of the UK’s system is that more people are killed and injured on the road because of darker evenings in the autumn and winter than would be if we abolished the clock change and adopted British Summer Time all year."

It added, "RoSPA is calling on the UK government to consider whether the current clock change is still beneficial, or even necessary. A move to British Summer Time (GMT+1) all year round could save an estimated 30 lives by providing an extra hour of daylight during Autumn and Winter. RoSPA are in favour of this proposal, which is realistically achievable in the current climate."

Others have complained about the inconvenience of having to change routines, with some experts and studies suggesting it can affect factors like circadian rhythms and sleep and health.

When asked about whether the UK would abolish DST, Boris Johnson said in March 2021, "I will have a look at the suggestion... but it seems unlikely to me."

While it's an ongoing debate, for now, you better not forget to change that clock.