David Rooney visits the Daylight Inn
David Rooney takes time out from Greenwich to visit the Daylight Inn, Petts Wood. Join him to find out how this pub came to be named in honour of William Willett of British Summer Time fame.
Hello, I’m Natasha Waterson. Now over the last few months, we’ve been finding out all about the faces behind Greenwich Time a hundred years ago, from our curator of time-keeping David Rooney. We’ve met Ruth Belville, the Greenwich Time Lady, St John Wynne, the electric clock baron, and we’ve also met William Willett, the south London builder who invented British Summer Time. David, it’s that time of the year when we put our clocks back to Greenwich time for another winter, and you’ve been looking into what happened to William Willett after his plan was put into action. And you’ve brought me to a pub here in Petts Wood. Tell us more.
Yeah, William Willett’s time-shifting scheme where we advance all our clocks and watches by one hour every summer was first put into action in 1916 as a wartime measure, which was the year after William had died in his home in Chislehurst, near Petts Wood, near here. But I was interested in a question that an American writer had asked in a recent book about daylight saving time. He explained that after the war, once the wartime urgency to save fuel had passed, many countries abandoned the scheme, only picking it up again many years later. He wanted to know why Britain in particular had a peculiar attachment to changing the clocks. I wanted to find out why, and I found out some of the answers here, where we’re standing in Petts Wood, south London.
But what’s this pub got to do with the story?
Yes I appreciate, Natasha, it’s pretty tough having to work in the pub, but I’ll try to keep this short, so we can finish recording and go inside and have a pint.
Now the pub we’re outside is called the Daylight Inn and it was opened in 1935 here in the heart of Petts Wood, named in honour of local resident William Willett and his time tinkering system. Because long after Willett had died in 1915, way into the 1920s and 30s a group of countryside preservationists and anti-urban sprawl modernists took on Willett’s ideas because they fitted very neatly with their own concerns of living in harmony with nature and using legislation to adjust human behaviour for the betterment of society.
By taking on Willett as a hero of their cause, they did two things: they strengthened their own message, because people could easily grasp what they saw as the social benefits of changing the clocks, and conversely they reinforced daylight saving time as a logical and even inevitable fixture in a planned, rational modern society.
Basically, people involved with bodies such as the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the National Trust, and even model towns such as Clough Williams-Ellis’s Portmeirion in Wales, turned William Willett into a god, and that meant that their cause looked better and Willett’s plan was almost guaranteed survival long into the future.
It’s quite strong to say these people turned William Willett into a god. Why do you say that?
Well yeah it’s pretty strong, but they certainly used tactics that raised Willett’s profile above the level of ordinary folk. The first thing they did was fundraise to buy a whole swathe of woodland here in Petts Wood and rename it the Willett Memorial Wood. Then, they erected a memorial to Willett, in a small clearing set in the hugeness of the woodland.
But that was by no means the end of it. Winston Churchill and others made countless speeches in parliament and in public calling on a grateful nation to raise a statue to the man who gave us sunlight – quite a god-like characteristic, I think – and that’s exactly what happened. As well as the memorial in Petts Wood here, there was a statue in Colchester, an oil painting in Chelsea, streets named after Willett here in Petts Wood, and even Madame Tussauds displayed a wax figure of William in the 1930s, until they melted him down and he’s presumably part of David Beckham’s buttocks by now.
People named playing fields after Willett, and bowling greens, and then in 1935 this very pub that we’re outside was opened, named the Daylight Inn. By 1940 Willett’s name was secure in the pantheon of great men of history. Now this is a complex story and I’ve only really touched on a few aspects of it but these are some of the reasons I think, why Britain developed an fascination with the ritual of changing the clocks.
But how did a pub fit in with this idea of a modern planned society? Wouldn’t pubs be the opposite of that?
That was exactly the point that the modernists were making back in the 1930s. They’d identified pubs as anti-modern, as irrational and bad for society – basically drunk people weren’t good for society, and so a new breed of pub – the modern public house as it was termed – sprang up in the 1930s designed to minimise drunkenness and foster a community spirit of sobriety and mutual support.
So they had food for sale, and they had community halls for knitting circles and tea dances and so on. And the bar, as you can see inside, is very airy and open, a far cry from the poky smoky dens where you had nothing to do but sink pints. And in fact this very pub, the Daylight Inn, was singled out by the Times newspaper as a prime example of this new breed of community public house, very much forward-looking and modern, just like Willett’s summer time scheme, and just like that it was using planning and legislation to make society better.
Natasha: Or so they thought…
David: Indeed, or so they thought. I was interested and not a little bit depressed to find out that the Daylight Inn has a sister pub, called the Rising Sun in Catford, also south London. Same designer, same period, same ambitions to save our drunken souls. Now I live nearer to Catford than to Petts Wood so I paid a visit on one of my walkabouts researching this story. And I found the Rising Sun looking just like this wonderful Daylight Inn but it’s boarded up, it’s overgrown with weeds and covered in graffiti. It turns out it had become a notorious crack den and was raided and closed down by the police in a huge sting operation a couple of years ago. So much for making us better people.
Natasha: And on that cheerful note, we need to stop recording so we can get a round of drinks in. David, thanks very much.
David: Thank you Natasha.