Written by Heather Elvidge
The sun is rising early now, although next week it’s going to have a bit of a lie in. This coming weekend the clocks go forward one hour.
British Summer Time began during the First World War. Germany had advanced its clocks to increase productivity, and on May 20, 1916 Britain followed suit. The aim was to save coal, which was used to make town gas, by reducing the hours when artificial light was needed.
Although the idea wasn’t new – it was first suggested in 1907 – people still had concerns. What about their lost sleep? Would the servants remember that 6 o’clock in the morning had become 7 o’clock? And would the public clocks tell the old time, or the new time? Factory workers in the cities worried that they would sleep in; when they were late for work their wages were docked.
In the end some households were in chaos, and some workers did lose money. Farmers, unhappy about the dark mornings, said they’d stick to sun time for work on the farm. But mostly the change went like, well, clockwork.
The first day of Summer Time this year coincides with Mother’s Day. This mid-Lent celebration began when young workers who lived in with their employer were granted time off to return home, taking a small present for mum.
From the mid 1600s to the early 1900s, when living-in began to die out, families enjoyed a special meal of lamb, egg custard, frumenty, or fig pie. If they were lucky there’d be a simnel, the spicy fruitcake with almond paste we still give to our mothers today.
The end of March is said to borrow three days from April, and they’re not as spring-like as we might hope: “March borrowed of April three days, and they were ill. The one was sleet, the other was snow; the third was the worst that ever did blow.”
Some people were suspicious of these days for reasons that had nothing to do with the weather. They believed that frequently used items had something of their owner in them, and so could be used to cast a spell of ill wishing. The wise person lent nothing on those uncanny Borrowing Days.
Traditionally April brought showers, but also the chance of being hoaxed. In the late 17th century All Fool’s Day arrived from Europe - soon jokers were pinning tails on coats and gluing coins to the ground. The classic workplace trick was the fruitless errand. In this, the Fool was a new apprentice, sent to fetch a tin of striped paint, a straight hook, or a left-handed screwdriver. Our forebears, it seems, couldn’t resist a chance to fool around.
Claims that observation of the day was dying out began in the late 19th century. But fooling was still going strong in the 1950s, especially among children. Today the custom lacks the personal touch. However it’s kept alive by newspapers, TV, and social media online.
Should you be tempted, remember that foolery mustn’t go beyond midday. Otherwise you’ll hear, “April first is gone and past, you’re the biggest Fool at last.”