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When do the UK's clocks go forward in 2024?

A person pointing at a clock showing 2am
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At precisely 2:00am on Sunday, 31st March 2024, the clocks will go forward one hour in the UK. This will be a welcome change for millions of people across the country as they revel in the later sunsets and longer evenings.

For those of us who are sick of the dark winter months, the clocks moving forward signify that summer is just on the horizon. However, that does mean we have to give up an hour in bed for the luxury.

But why do the clocks have to change in the first place? The answer to this question may surprise you. And, no, it doesn’t have anything to do with the farmers, but it might have something to do with the soft rock band Coldplay.

Do other countries change their clocks?

The official world reference for time is Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), formally known as Greenwich Meantime (GMT) until 1972. Twice a year, about 70 countries, including the UK, the USA and all the countries in Europe (but not Brazil, Russia or China, for example) observe ‘Daylight Saving Time’ (DST).

In Europe, the start and the end of DST were standardised across the European Union on 22nd October 1995. Therefore, all the clocks change at the same time, ensuring the UK is always an hour behind (most of) Europe. So, when the UK switches to British Summer Time (BST) most of Europe switches to Central European Summer Time, and this has been retained despite Brexit.

When did DST begin?

Let’s be clear on one thing, you can’t magic daylight out of thin air. The basic principle is to transfer an hour of daylight from the evening to the morning, and that’s precisely what the Germans did two years into the First World War. Suffering from coal shortages they changed the clocks to preserve energy by adding an extra hour onto the start of the workday. This was the first time DST had been put into practice, but the concept was far from new.

Benjamin Franklin came up with a similar idea in a letter to Journal de Paris in 1784. He suggested the city could save an ‘immense sum’ by not burning candles in the dark evening hours, but he fell short of recommending the clocks change to facilitate this.

However, in the UK in 1900, a certain William Willet suggested to Parliament that changing the time would prevent ‘wasting’ daylight’. It’s been strongly suggested that his reason was to make the evenings lighter, so he had more time to play golf. In some respects, his wish came true when the UK adopted the German model in May 1916, and by 1918, the USA was on the same page.

So, it’s got nothing to do with farmers?

Fundamentally, no. In fact, farmers have even lobbied Parliament to get rid of it. Dairy farmers argue that changing the time upsets the routines of livestock and arable farmers complain they have to rush their crops to market because they’ve lost an hour in the morning. And it’s not just farmers in the UK, the same sentiment has been echoed over the EU and the USA.

Of course, there are plenty of other folks that want to see the end of DST. For a start, it’s been argued that DST doesn’t, ironically, save energy and it could be making people sick. For example, you’re more likely to have a heart attack (some reports suggest by as much as 20%) in the weeks following the switch from BST to DST (and vice versa), simply because of the disruption to your sleep pattern.

Why do we change our clocks?

It’s a good question, and there aren’t any clear answers, which is why there are always conversations taking place across the world about getting rid of DST. But don’t hold your breath.

The British Standard Time experiment, a period of permanent BST in the UK between February 1968 and November 1971, was dropped after failing to convince the powers that be (or the population for that matter) of its worth, despite an overall fall in traffic incidents.

Did you say something about Coldplay?

Chris Martin’s great-great-grandfather was William Willet. However, we’re not sure if Chris is a fan of golf, but he probably appreciates everyone talking about Clocks twice a year.