We all know Bristol is an odd place. But have you ever thought that Bristol seems to move at a slower pace than the rest of the UK? Some might blame the consistent cannabis hum hanging on every street corner. But we might have discovered another reason. You see once upon a time, prior to the 20th century and the introduction of a UK Standard Time Zone, there really was such a thing as Bristol Time.
If you head down to The Exchange on Corn Street, you’ll see a fascinating remnant of it too. The building’s clock, originally installed in 1822, features two red hands – one long minute hand, one short short hour – showing Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Curiously, however, you might spot another minute hand. Painted black and moving 10 minutes slower. This is Bristol local time.
Why the time difference?
The time of day roughly depends on your position in relation to the sun. Natural noon is when the sun is at its highest point. But because Bristol is two degrees west of Greenwich, it means noon in Bristol should be 10 past 12 in London. And for centuries prior to 1847, this was the case.
The introduction and expansion of railways meant a standardized time was needed, however, to ensure that trains were running smoothly. GMT was adopted across Great Britain as ‘railway time’ in 1847. This is why a second hand was added to The Exchange’s clock. Bristol would officially adopt GMT in 1852, but we can’t imagine the confusion that must have been caused. In 1880, GMT legally became the UK’s standard time, with British Summer Time (BST) later adopted in 1916.
So the next time you’re running 10 minutes late for something, just say you’re running on Bristol Time. That will be our excuse anyway.