Originally Published November 9th 2007
Changing the Clocks – Then and Now
Did You Know?
During the last war it was considered a good idea to change the time to benefit all sorts of people. Consequently, the clocks were put forward two hours in the summer months instead of the customary hour. This enabled people like the farmers to work on the land until later in the evening when the dew and mist was not as big a problem as it was in the mornings.
The harvested crops in the fields had to be tied up in sheaves and stood in shooks to ensure they were dry when they were tossed onto the hay wagon and carted away.
Dark mornings and evenings have always created problems that were non-existent during the summer months. Before houses had the modern facilities we all take for granted there was much more preparation necessary to get ready for the winter and short days.
We all complain about how much we have to pay for our Gas, electricity and oil. It was no better then! The money had to be found for fuel such as coal, coke or wood to keep the fire going. As well as ensuring there was a constant supply of paraffin for the lamps and sometimes a stove or oven.
They all had to have their wicks trimmed regularly to give maximum light and heat and just as important, make sure they didn’t smoke. If they did and they were unattended, the ceiling would soon darken and any cobweb hanging there was clearly visible as a black greasy mesh. There were always far more than anyone imagined.
Moving from one room to another meant lighting another lamp or if you just wanted to fetch something perhaps a candle would do. Whichever you used there was always that pungent smell. The fumes from the lamps and stoves, together with those given off by the open fire, made sure the ceiling would have to be washed and whitened in the spring.
Anyone working outside after dark had to depend on the light from a hurricane lantern. That’s all the farmers had when they attended their livestock.
After sunset every kind of horse and cart on the road had to have a light on both sides. This was invariably just a lantern containing a candle that was frequently extinguished when there was the slightest breeze blowing.
The more affluent households who could afford them had gas lights. So did many of the main roads in the towns. All of these were dependent on a very fragile mantle that crumbled at the slightest touch and often had to be replaced. The street lamps were not very bright but still managed to make the adjoining roads that didn’t have them seem even darker.
Unless there was a clear sky and bright moon shining, going out of the house after dark for whatever reason had its problems.
Some of us cringe at the thought of some of the tasks undertaken by housewives in days gone by. However, the prospect of having chamber pots under each bed that had to be emptied into an enamel slop pail and washed out every morning didn’t seem so bad when they considered the alternative. That was having to cross the back yard in all weathers to go to an outside lavatory. It was usually positioned well away from the back door where it was easily accessible when the night cart did its rounds.
When it was cold wet and windy as well as pitch dark it was not easy to prevent a candle or lamp being extinguished. In rural areas many families kept a small hurricane lamp for this purpose, usually situated just inside the back door ready for anyone that needed it. Even when small battery torches became available, leaving a cosy warm room to cross the yard in the winter months was still a daunting prospect.
Darkness and cold usually go together and no matter how we set the clocks we still have to brace ourselves to face adverse weather that very few people look forward to. The way we live has always had to take into account the restrictions we encounter when the daylight wanes. At some time during their life everyone will experience a fear of the dark. It’s taken for granted that most young children are and many continue to be after they are grown up. Perhaps it’s a good thing if they are so they learn to cope more quickly with the changes and adjustments that have to be made to accommodate nightfall.
If a light is switched off can you be sure you are able to walk across the room negotiating the furniture without breaking anything? Of course, whether you can or not, that’s unlikely to be the reason for our unease and fear when we are unable to see. It is more likely to be because we all readily associate darkness with shadowy, evil and mysterious things that cannot be explained.
Fortunately nowadays, unless we live in a very remote area, as soon as dusk falls lights come on to show us the way. Unlike our forefathers who only had the light from their fires and had to make sure the whole family was safe before the daylight failed. Perhaps some of the more brave among them ventured out when there was a clear sky with a bright moon shining.
Those animals that hibernate during the cold dark seasons might be doing what early man was probably forced to do for short periods when the weather was really bad.