In Angela Thirkell’s novels British Summer Time is often the subject of complaint.
During the war years, when Thirkell’s Barsetshire books were reflecting life on the Home Front, the adoption of British Summer Time and, more particularly, British Double Summer Time, are frequent causes of discontent. British Double Summer Time – putting clocks two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time – was adopted in 1941 and ended at the end of summer 1945.
But Summer Time confusion and distrust are not restricted to wartime; here are just a few extracts from the Barsetshire canon. There are more, so please add your favourites, and where to find them, in the comments box at the bottom of the page.
“Summer Half” (1937) Chapter One
‘“I say,” said Lydia, “you know it’s summer time tomorrow. Has anyone put the clocks wrong?”
Mrs Keith looked conscience-stricken.
“I did speak to cook this morning,” she said, “just after I had read it up in The Times, but I don’t know if I said to put them backward or forward. I must have known at the time, because I’d just read it, but I can’t think now. It’s forward, isn’t it?”
“Backward, I think,” said Mr Keith.
“I know it breaks my watch to do it one way, and not the other way,” said Mr Merton, “but I can’t remember if it breaks it in spring and doesn’t break it in autumn, or the other way round.”
“If you go to China you keep gaining a day,” said Colin. “Or is it losing it?”
“I know we had to alter the clocks five times an hour going to America,” said Mr Keith.
“Oh rot, Daddy, you couldn’t,” said Lydia. “Not five times an hour.”
“I didn’t say five times an hour, my dear,” said Mr Keith mildly. “Well, yes, you are quite right, I did. But you took me wrongly. What I meant was that I had to alter my watch five times during the voyage, an hour.”
“The captain must have been potty,” said Lydia.
“I think Father means an hour five times,” said Colin. “I mean to alter it an hour five different times. No, I don’t. Kate,” he appealed to his sister who came in at the moment, “is it clocks forward or backward tonight?”
“Forward,” said Kate. “I know, because there’s an hour’s less sleep tonight, and the cook is convinced that she will get an hour less in bed every night from now on, till we put the clocks on, I mean back again, in the autumn. I told her she would have an hour more every night through the winter, but she is thinking of giving notice.”
“Gosh! she doesn’t understand the thing a bit,” said Lydia.’
“County Chronicle” (1950) Chapter Three
‘Besides it gets dark so early now, and we shall be back in ordinary time soon, which is so sad.”
Mrs. Marling agreed.
“Darling mamma never liked summer time,” said Agnes, evoking by her sweet melancholy voice a vision of Lady Emily fading in the glare of late summer afternoons, “but as she did not particularly notice which kind of time it was unless we told her, it was really all quite nice,” upon which remark her ladyship went away leaving her cousin Amabel to reflect that David Leslie was not far wrong when he spoke of his sister Agnes as a divine idiot.’
“Enter Sir Robert” (1955) Chapter Two
‘Mr. Halliday drew a deep breath of satisfaction and George, his temporary irritation with his father forgotten, said, “By Jove” softly. Up the Rising valley came five notes from a bell.
“What’s happened to the cathedral clock?” said Mr. Halliday. “It must be all of six o’clock by now.”
“It’s all that blasted Summer Time, father,” said George, with a good conservative farmer’s dislike for any changes within the span of his own life. “If you remember there was a row about it when Double Summer Time came. Old Canon Thorne who knows the clock better than anyone said if they tried to alter it, it would burst. The Bishop wanted to let it run down for Summer Time and set it going again for the right time—I mean the wrong time—so of course the Dean said it was impossible and he couldn’t allow it. So it goes on telling the right time.”
“But it isn’t the right time,” said Mr. Halliday rather peevishly. “It struck five and it’s six now. Oh, I see what you mean. It’s right by the right time.”’
The UK re-adopted British Double Summer Time during 1947 as a result of severe fuel shortages following the harsh winter of 1946/47. Rita Rundle, in her article for the Society’s 2023 Journal, went into fascinating detail about the weather in Barsetshire, and how accurately it reflects the weather experienced in the “real world”.
“In the real world snow fell continuously for 55 days between January and March. There were huge snow drifts all over the country; coal, fuel and food supplies ran out as deliveries became impossible through the snow, so the population suffered as much as during the war which had only finished 20 months before. When it all melted in late March and there was some heavy rainfall, severe flooding was widespread. All these problems are reflected in Love Among the Ruins, set in 1947.
A group of friends discuss the past winter. The Birketts at the Dower house were lucky to have plenty of wood which the Dean boys cut up for them, so in the absence of coal and reduced gas pressure they were able to have a wood fire in ‘the little study’ every day and had to shut up all the other rooms. They had gas fires in the bedrooms, but with the reduced gas pressure they were not much use, but with ‘stone hot water bottles and all our overcoats on the bed we managed to keep fairly warm’. Leslie and Philip Winter had a job to keep the boys warm in their school. Nurse, however, disobeyed all the rules and boldly used every possible means of heat the keep the nursery warm. Water pipes were a great problem for many people, too. Lord Pomfret suffered in the bitter winter.
Even in 1952 (Jutland Cottage) people were still looking back to the ‘black winter of 1947’. It was colder than the oldest inhabitant could recall; coal deliveries almost stopped due to snow drifts and Miss Phelps carried home two gallon cans of oil which the school had smuggled to her. To keep warm everyone was wearing most of their clothes night and day.”