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Imperial Measures

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Imperial Measures

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Imperial Measures

Perhaps the charm of imperial measures is that they grew out of day-to-day living, rather than logic – and as such, they’ve played a part in defining our nation. Their roots extend back to around AD730 when the acre was a common measure of land. Weights and measures were added to and adjusted over the centuries, but it wasn’t until 1826 when the Weights and Measures Act came into force that the imperial system was introduced to establish uniformity in Britain and its empire. Hellishly difficult for the numerically challenged, making calculations in imperial measures required a mastery of multiplication tables that would seem inconceivable these days. As the country became more integrated with Europe in the seventies and eighties, imperial measures were slowly abandoned in favour of simpler metric measures. The last nail in the coffin was in 2001 when European regulations made it illegal to sell goods in anything other than metric measures (although the pub pint has been retained as a special concession). Five traders known as the "Metric Martyrs" unsuccessfully challenged this legislation in a two-year court battle.


Your comments

Because they are part of our history and way of life

Paul Hopper

I think we should try to hang on to Imperial Measures. Six foot sounds much better as a man's height than 1-point- whatever metres. Also, the historical connections are so interesting - the fathom (a six foot sea measure) happened because a seaman could measure the space to put between knots in a sounding line by stretching it between the extremities of his finger-tips and tie it at that length - which on average was 6 foot. The mile is 'worth' more than the kilometre - I get used to KPH on the continent but like miles when I get back! In George Orwell's 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' an old boy complains that a half-litre of beer is not enough and a litre is too much: quite right - the Pint is an ideal measure. So by and large, Imperial Measures came about through common sense rather than a drive for uniformity, and hence are English by nature.
John Rivers-Vaughan

"How much does the baby weigh?" - "5lb 11 oz" "How tall is your son now?" - "6 foot 2" "Fancy a pint?" Imperial weights and measures form a part of our life in spite of the misguided efforts to eradicate them. The numbers that relate one to another provide a far wider range that just powers of ten - the same powers of ten that confuse people. It is claimed people don't know how many inches are in a foot. If so, this is the fault of those schools that, disregarding their pupils' heritage, teach only metric measures. Yet ask such children how many decimetres are in a centimetre and, in spite of their education, they won't know. Imperial weights and measures are part of English life.
Dr J.C. Horton

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