Weights & Measures


There are two systems of measurement in use in the UK: Imperial and Metric. There is no good reason to use two. That’s just the type of people we are.

The Imperial system uses yards for distance, pounds for weight and gallons for volume. Dividing a ‘yard’ into three gives you a ‘foot’, and one ‘foot’ is divisible by twelve to create an ‘inch’. A mile is 1760 yards (or eight furlongs). A ‘pound’ is divisible by 16 to make an ounce. Going the other way, multiply it by 14 to make a ‘stone’, or by 2000 to make a ‘ton’. A gallon is made up of 8 pints, and pints are divided into fractions.

Make sense? No. No, it doesn’t.

Metric, which we all know and love, is a decimal system based on meters for measuring distance, kilograms for weight and litres for volume. It’s easy to remember and calculate. One meter is a hundred centimetres. A thousand meters is a kilometre. One thousand millilitres is a litre. All very sensible, and the UK standardised on this system in the 1960s.

There is no good reason to use anything other than metric, but we intermittently use imperial measurements for weight, height and area. Ask anyone in the UK how much they weigh and you’ll get an answer in stones and pounds. Sales brochures for houses display the floor area in square feet. The entirety of our transport system is in imperial.

I’m replacing our bathroom, and I can tell you that the people that manufacture plumbing supplies also missed the news that we switched to metric forty years ago. If I want some pipe, it comes in meters. But if I want to buy a tap connector, it will be in fractions of inches. Occasionally, they mix the two on one product.

This is no way to run a country.