William Willett (1856-1915), builder and inventor of daylight saving

Did you know that it was a Chislehurst house builder, William Willett, who first proposed daylight saving hours in this country?

When most people lived in agricultural communities, the sun rising earlier in the summer than in winter had not been a problem as people just shifted their habits according to the daylight. But by the end of the 19th century more people were living in towns and cities and working in offices and shops, and their daily routines were determined by the clock. On his early morning horse rides over Chislehurst Common William Willett noticed how many window blinds were still down. He realised that warm spring evenings were being wasted because it got dark early, so he came up with the obvious solution – to change the nation’s clocks, and in 1907 he wrote a pamphlet, ‘The Waste of Daylight’. This would also benefit golfers playing in the evening (he was a keen golfer!).

But it took nine years and a world war to persuade the Government to adopt his proposal. In 1916 an emergency law was passed to change the clocks twice a year, increasing war production, and this became permanent by the passing of the 1925 Summer Time Act.

Sadly William Willett died from influenza in 1915 before his idea was enacted. He is buried in St Nicholas Churchyard, Chislehurst. There is a blue plaque on the wall of his house, The Cedars and a Willett Memorial sundial in Willett Wood. There is even a pub named after him in Petts Wood, the Daylight Inn.

It’s worth mentioning that the link between Blackfen/Sidcup and Chislehurst was once much stronger than it is now. The A20 cut them adrift, but large areas of Blackfen were owned up to 1915 by the Townshends of Frognal and Scadbury.

 

From Ireland to Blackfen

On St Patrick’s Day, let us remember the most prominent Irishman in Blackfen’s history, Michael Heaslip, who was born in Newmarket, Co. Cork and came to England with his young family in the 1890s. He worked as a haulage contractor in north Woolwich and he bought a farm in Blackfen as grazing for his horses which he liked to use as his weekend retreat! His son, also Michael, served at the Woolwich Arsenal during WWI and his picture (see below) was part of the WWI display at Sidcup Library.
The farm was sold off for 1930s housing development, but Our Lady of the Rosary Roman Catholic Church was later built on land next to the site of Heaslip’s farmhouse. The Catholic Church was in high demand in the 1930s while house-building was active in Blackfen as there was a large Irish population who came to find work.
And when Irish people in Blackfen married their weddings were often announced in Irish newspapers. The Ballina Herald reported on 14 April 1951 the marriage of John Bradley, only son of Mr and Mrs John Bradley, Glasgow, to Breedge, youngest daughter of the late Mr John Granahan and Mrs Mary Granahan, Creevy, Castlehill, Ballina, which took place on Easter Monday at the Church of the Holy Rosary, Blackfen Kent. Meanwhile the Irish Independent of 20 November 1962 p13 reported the marriage (pictured) of Mr Thomas Sullivan, Rosmuck, Co. Galway and Miss Elizabeth Dunne, Sidcup Kent, who were married in the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen, Kent.

British Legion, Blackfen and Lamorbey branch

On Remembrance Sundays the British Legion would hold a parade at the Woodman before marching to the Holy Redeemer Church for a service. The Blackfen and Lamorbey Branch of the British Legion was formed in April 1937 to stand for the interests of ex-servicemen and at its peak membership was over one thousand. The branch finally closed in 2001 when membership had fallen to sixteen. There is still a Royal British Legion cross at Holy Redeemer Church in memory of those who fell serving their country.

Lt-Gen. Sir Giffard Martel, KCB, KBE, DSO, MC

Giffard Le Quesne Martel, born in 1889, lived at Queenswood House, Blackfen after his family moved there in 1910. After attending the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich he was commissioned into the Royal Engineers. He served in France from 1914 and took an active interest in the development of tanks. After the war he lived in Camberley, Surrey and he built a workshop in his garden where he built a prototype one-man tank which others later developed into the British light tank and machine-gun carrier. He also served in the Second World War in France, India, Burma and Moscow. He was described as “a remarkable officer and constitutionally fearless… a natural bruiser… with a deep hoarse laugh”.

NPG x83846; Sir Giffard Le Quesne Martel by Bassano

Lt-Gen. Sir Giffard Martel (from National Portrait Gallery)

It was when he was back in London in 1944 that he lost an eye in the bombing of the Army and Navy Club. He died in 1958: he was found dead, shot in the head, with the shotgun near the body.

His parents, Brig.-Gen. Sir Charles Martel and Lilian Martel, lived at Queenswood until 1931, when the estate was sold to the housing developer, C. R. Leech.

Sidcup’s Great War: A Living Pageant

I am helping to organise an event which is taking place in Sidcup High Street on 18 June 10am-4pm. Its aim is to commemorate the anniversary of the First World War and explore what life was like in Sidcup at that time. Sidcup’s Great War: a Living Pageant will have street theatre, live music, school choirs, displays, stalls by a variety of local history/interest and military organisations, talks on aspects of the First World War and concluding with a service at the War Memorial. The event has brought together a large number of organsations, colleges, schools and churches and lots of the shops and pubs are getting involved. There will be plenty to keep the whole family interested, including a Family Poppy Trail which will invite you to walk around the town and discover the story of Sidcup’s Home Front 100 years ago. So please put the date in your diaries and come along! For more info and to keep up with news see www.lam-sid-lhs.co.uk

Facebook: Sidcup’s Great War Pageant. Twitter @Sidcup GWP