A recent visitor to UKMA’s web site has made contact with us explaining that, when clearing out a loft, she had discovered what appeared to be proposals for a “Think metric” campaign aimed at the general public. She says, “It would be interesting to know if they were used or not and where”.
The proposals, which appear to have been prepared in the late 1960s, comprise seven sheets. They were devised by David Collins, designed by Crosby Fletcher Forbes and printed by Mears Caldwell Hacker, Letterpress & Lithography, of Clapham Road, London SW9.
One sheet introduces the series with the “Think metric” slogan – used around that time by the Construction Industry Training Board for its successful metric education programme.
The text that accompanies the sheets describes their purpose as follows:
“The sheets … are intended to help you familiarise yourself with the metric dimensions of the objects around you and the distances you are likely to travel on foot or in a vehicle.
“Sheet 1 Rule of thumb. The universal method of measurement is by matching, spanning or pacing dimensions with the hand, foot or limb. The hand span (20 cm) and the thumbnail (15 mm) are common units of measurement on the Continent. These dimensions are necessarily approximate. People vary in size. Noah’s ‘cubit’ (the length of the forearm) may have been anything between 18 and 22 inches. The sizes on the sheet are those of a six foot man of normal proportions.
“Sheet 2 Common objects. The smallest dimension that the eye can differentiate is 1/64 inch or approximately half a millimetre. This is half the thickness of a book match. The examples shown range from a book match to a milk bottle.
“Sheet 3 Indoor environment. The size variations illustrated range from a 3 inch tile to the length of a bed, but the objects are still of a size that we can manipulate ourselves.
“Sheet 4 Outdoor environment. Once out on the street, entering a public building like a cathedral or the British Museum, the human body shrinks, and can only be used for measuring the puniest details. Sizes of buildings, heights of trees and measurements of street furniture cannot be expressed in the same terms as the furniture in our homes.
“Sheet 5 Walking distances. How many times in the course of a lifetime are we stopped in the street by a stranger and asked the whereabouts of a building or monument? ‘Is it walking distance?’ ‘About half a mile. See the turning about a hundred yards down on the left? Well …’ The phrases flow easily now but shortly we must be prepared to say as readily ‘About a kilometre … 100 metres down on the left …’.
“Sheet 6 Driving distances. Our conception of long distances is probably limited to one or two well travelled routes between towns. Your centre is no doubt on the map shown on the sheet. The distances between main centres, and from them to their surrounding landmarks, are measured by the shortest practicable route along classified roads. The map is diagrammatic (not to scale) in order to show the towns clearly without overlapping. “
Readers may disagree with some this. Attitudes have moved on in the last 50 years. But the proposals illustrate how little the UK has moved on in matters of measurement in that time. Such a public information campaign is needed now just as much as it was when these proposals were prepared, in contrast to many other countries around the world that made a successful metric transition in the last century, such as Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa.
Metric views apologises for the poor quality of some of the sheets. These are the best that could be achieved in the circumstances.
So, do any readers remember seeing this any of these sheets or noticing a campaign linked to them?
In conclusion, UKMA would like to thank the person who drew to its attention this interesting discovery.