Is this the UK’s oldest kilometre sign?

A sign showing kilometres on the route of the first ‘London’ marathon had its anniversary this week. For a century, it has pointed the way for anyone trying to retrace the steps of the original runners towards the finishing line at White City in London, where the 1908 Olympic Games were held.

Please follow this link for a photo of what could be the UK’s oldest metric distance sign. 
It has to be admitted that this sign shows its mile value more predominantly, and “KILOs” is not the modern symbol for distance, but this little piece of history is 100 years old this week! The British and Irish Parliament had agreed some time before the 1908 Games that metric measures could be adopted for all purposes. But Metric Views believes that this Edwardian marathon marker is the oldest surviving sign in Britain showing kilometres.
Clearly, the organisers of the 1908 London Games had to face up to the issue of measurement systems – whether to use international or Imperial measures. It does seem rather extraordinary that, more than a century on, those organising the 2012 London Games still have a problem with signage.
This antique also shows that a sign of historical significance can be retained as an interesting local feature long after its practical life is over; modernising our road signs does not mean the end for genuinely historic posts and signs dotted throughout the UK. Let’s just hope that, as this historic marker enters its second century, it stays untouched by those who now object to the use of internationally accepted units on road signs in Britain.

6 thoughts on “Is this the UK’s oldest kilometre sign?”

  1. The route published in London’s bid document was to start at Tower Bridge, then make three circuits along the Embankment, around Parliament Square to Buckingham Palace, along the Mall (The Royal Kilometre), thence past the Bank of England, continue west for another kilometer and on the first two circuit swing South and back around the Tower. On the third lap continue Eastwards to the Olympic Stadium.

    This will probably remain the route until a few months before the event.


  2. Yes, the route for 2012 has already been fixed, and can be seen here.

    The 2012 route goes round Central London then heads east, so it’ll be miles away (sorry, kilometres away) from this splendid 1908 sign.


  3. There is a quite a detailed history of the marathon in this Times article:

    Interesting how it was originally 40 km (or as near to that distance as host countries could make it so) before it was eventually “standardised” by the British Monarchy in 1908.

    I think it’s time to put it back to that more sensible figure almost exactly one thousandth the distance around the world!


  4. I’m surprised they are using a different route from that of the London Flora marathon. I just hope they don’t use the Flora mile markers and instead sign each kilometre for all to see.

    I also found it interesting that in the history article provided by Phil, that the 1908 marathon was measured incorrectly and the length is 159 m shy of what was intended.

    The London Flora web site shows the times for all the contestants in 5 km increments. They even have the measured time for 40 km. I’m sure every other marathon race also electronically times each runner at 40 km too. Thus if they ever decided to use 40 km again as the true marathon distance, they would have valid times to refer to.


  5. Dan wrote “I’m surprised they are using a different route from that of the London Flora marathon. I just hope they don’t use the Flora mile markers and instead sign each kilometre for all to see.”

    This is not surprising – the Olympic rules require that the Olympic marathon terminates at the Olympic stadium (which is not yet built, so the Flora marathon cannot terminate there).


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