So today is the day we put the clocks back and marks the start of the shorter days of winter. But this is a relatively new phenomenon as is standardised time and what changes in time keeping did our ancestors experience?
From Ancient Egyptian obelisks dating back to around 3500BC and sundials to around 1500BC the latest digital ‘gadgets’ of today, to the latest time has always been measured in one way or another. But I doubt our ancestors were so aware of time as we are today.
Until the mid to late 19th century, time was set locally rather than nationally or internationally. Our ancestors largely kept time by the sun – an organic system known as local mean time. How did this work? In each town across the country the time of day was decided, firstly, by consulting a sun dial and then by the creation of local time.
With the introduction and development of the railways there came a need to standardise time and the UK was the first country to set a standard time when it established the Greenwich Mean Time standard in the 1840s (initially known as “railway time”). As Greenwich, due to the presence of the Royal Observatory, was the national centre for time and had been since 1675, the choice was obvious. .
Most railways used this time by 1847 however our ancestors day to day life was still governed by local mean time and so arose the situation where the town railway station h kept one time, and the town itself kept another! Very confusing! And by 1845 railway timetables had to point out that there was a difference between “town” time and “railway” time. Some stations even had two clocks, one for local time and one for railway time!
Clearly the situation could not last and by 1855, most public clocks in Britain were set to GMT, although some had two minute hands, one for local time and one for GMT. However it was not until 2 August 1880 that GMT was adopted officially by Parliament
I wonder how this affected our ancestors lives?
Would it have made their lives easier? It would have certainly made travel easier and time less confusing! Was this the beginning of our ‘obsession’ with time?
What do you think?