The question of adopting metric measures in the UK is not a new proposition; in 1862 Parliament’s Select Committee on Weights and Measures considered the matter and came down firmly in favour of metrication. A century and a half later, we are still waiting for the government to finally complete the job. The full report can be read here. A summary follows:
When consulting a reference book from 1896, we came across an article about imperial measures which provides a timely reminder that, even in its heyday, this ‘system’ was not as straightforward as some would now have us believe.
A recent survey of their web sites leads us to speculate on where retailers see themselves: most plump for the present, but a few appear to favour the last century.
To ease the transition to metric measures, straight substitution of units is often used – kg for pounds, metres for yards, km for miles and so on. Ronnie Cohen argues that, as a result, we fail to take advantage of metric’s superiority in dealing with a range of numbers, including the very large (and small).
With the London Marathon being run today, it is timely to remember the metric origins of the marathon, and to puncture the myth that it is a race measured in imperial units.
We, the public, are encouraged by some politicians, by the DfT and by elements of the media to pick and mix our measurement units – to use both imperial and metric. So why has imperial as a system fallen from favour among those resisting change, and been replaced by a hybrid?
Recent comments on the value, or otherwise, of retaining historic or traditional measurements in daily use have prompted thoughts on the swift rise of the imperial system of measures in the nineteenth century and on the muddle that has resulted from its inevitable decline in the twentieth.