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Is now the time to ditch imperial and go fully metric?

In a jubilee year it seems almost treasonous to suggest it, but a pro-metric site has calculated that a ‘metric majority’ has been attained. So, with most Brits brought up metric, is now the time to ditch miles and pounds?

In figures from the 2011 census released this week, most people in England and Wales (and, assuming the demographics and education are similar, the whole of the UK) were schooled in metric, not imperial. Does it make sense to switch?

Many are now preparing to drive in km/h on holiday, and at the Olympic Games next week athletes compete in 100m events, high jumps are measured to the centimetre and boxers square off against their kilogram peers – only the marathon has an imperial hangover, but at 26 miles and 385 yards that makes no sense in any unit.

Tons and tonnes of arguments

Last year we asked if you’d prefer to buy fruit by the pound and most of the metrification arguments have been discussed before. Which? doesn’t have an official line, but the (very) general view of most arguments is that metric is more widely used, easier to understand and Ireland and Australia’s switching hasn’t caused problems.

Opponents, on the other hand, say that other countries (including the US) still don’t use metric and that imperial measurement is part of our heritage. Reader Adel said:

‘Imperial measurements are part of British culture and life! Are the USA going to be the last defenders of Anglo-Saxon heritage as they are the last English speaking country to use lbs, oz, pints and gallons?’

However, Marcus stated:

‘Imperial measurements are part of British culture and life, even though they were introduced by foreign invaders. The class system and the reluctance to speak foreign languages is also part of British culture and life so not all traditions are good traditions.’

New rules, new rulers

There were also concerns that older Britons may have difficulties adjusting. The Master told us:

‘I was born in 1970 – so mainly taught metric at school […] I can’t be described as ‘stupid’ – but I find metric so confusing. Imperial is so simple. With metric you get lots of very similar names that refer to multiple/divisions in the 10s or 100s or 1000s etc.’

By contrast, Kurt, born in 1948, claims he has used metric since 1970:

‘The metric system is elegantly simple and easy to use which is why the world uses it. Like the pounds, shillings and pence of my youth I find imperial units cumbersome and nonsensical and cannot believe that anyone would find them simpler.’

Cliff Steele contributes to the schooling debate, saying:

‘Would an English teacher see nothing wrong with young people using bad grammar because it’s part of everyday life? Running two systems of measurement is ridiculous. The sooner all imperial measurements are taught in history classes instead of maths classes the better.’

As for me, I see no harm in going metric on our roads and elsewhere… but I want to have my pound-cake and eat it by keeping some of the quirks, mainly the pint of beer. There’s nothing unusual about this, even big changes aren’t all done at once – for example, US revolutionaries, those anti-monarchists, apparently continued to toast the king long after declaring their independence from him.

So, perhaps we’ll see the day when we toast metric roads with a hearty pint?

Should Britain go fully metric?

Yes - metric all the way (45%, 297 Votes)

No - we should keep the current mix of metric and imperial (34%, 228 Votes)

Neither - there should be even more imperial measurements (21%, 141 Votes)

Total Voters: 675

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Peter Hargreaves says:
13 January 2014

Author: Cliff
Peter, if most people want short, convenient figures to quote, why do fanciers of non- decimal measurements give the height of a mountain or the cruising altitude of a plane as 29,000 ft, for instance, instead of 9km?

Cliff, surely the comparison here should be the metre. Either metres or feet when discussing the physical geography of the world, just as they are used when comparing the physical dimension of living plants. Using either kilometres or miles is inappropriate on this scale.

Cliff says:
13 January 2014

Peter, I cannot see why you think kilometres are inappropriate for altitude when the altitude is above a thousand metres. It seems perfectly natural to me.If somebody asked me the horizontal distance between two points I would say 950 metres, for instance, but if it was 1500 metres I would express it as one and a half kilometres or more likely one and a half k. I would be less likely to express it as one point five kilometres, however. Although I have no objection to giving an altitude as 1500 metres rather than 1.5km I have never seen why vertical distances should be expressed differently from horizontal distances unless a greater accuracy is desired and expressing the height of a mountain as 6745 metres rather than 6.745km would probably be more natural.

Peter Hargreaves says:
13 January 2014

Author: Alex B
There is no reason why in every day speech that “a few feet” can’t be “about a metre” (or even a “foot or so” can’t be “about half a metre”).

I think Alex you have to be realistic here. Many in the building and construction industry prefer to use short words and figures. For instance when referring to timber thicknesses 4 x 2 inch will not be replaced by 100 x 50 mm. Even in metric countries like Australia and New zealand Imperial measurements are still used in the timber trade. If you speak to those in the trade about using only metric, you will be probably be given a short and straight to the point reply. What a load of B——ks! As I have said before, those people who follow an academic career in medicine, science and engineering just cannot understand the needs of those who follow a career path using their hands.

Peter – If you don’t like 100 x 50 mm, can I suggest 10 x 5 cm? It’s still metric and gets round your objections. The beauty of the metric system is that units are so easy to convert.

It’s still 4 by 2 in my book. 8 by 4 MDF. If you like 100 x 50 or 2440 x 1220 that’s OK. But when I worked, a piece of 4 1/2 inch pipe (it always was) was described as 114.3mm because we are a metric country for trade. Use what you like in your shed, but be metric at work.

People like u r large drawback to metrication.,

There is no compulsion towards metrication, Kuba. This is a free country – we can use whatever measurements we like in our kitchens and workshops. For sensible reasons, many things outside the home are prescribed in metric units, but we still have roads measured in miles with bridge heights in feet [sometimes with metric equivalents alongside]. The balance scales in supermarkets show pounds and kilos. Most goods sold on-line are described with both imperial and metric measurements – it’s just straightforward commercial common sense to provide data that can be understood by all potential customers.

My favourite scales of measurement for big things are football pitches, Olympic swimming pools, and double-decker buses. Who cares about the exact dimensions?

Matteo says:
30 August 2016

also, funny… but 4×2 isn’t 4in x 2in

always so precise…

4″x2″ timber was 4″x2″ in its sawn form. 4″x2″ PAR was less due to the wood removed when planed smooth. These days it will be 100mm x 50mm sawn, and 94mm x 44mm PAR. About 1/16″ and 1/32″ smaller on the two imperial dimensions. I don’t suppose we will revert after Brexit. Another case of products getting smaller? I don’t suppose we will revert after Brexit.

Prompted an email saying that a friend has finally managed to source a 12.5 inch crankshaft pulley for me, I wonder how fractions of an inch are generally expressed. Through familiarity with the metric system, I prefer decimal measurements, such as the example I have given. My old school ruler has tenth of an inch graduations on the top, together with the metric scale. On the other side, it is marked fourths, eighths, and twelfths of an inch. I am looking at a tape measure graduated in sixteenths and thirty secondths (?) of an inch. Have those who promote the imperial system a preferred subdivision or does it depend on application or individual choice?

How simple it is to have rulers and tape measures graduated in centimetres and millimetres.

Peter Hargreaves says:
13 January 2014

Author: wavechange
Peter – If you don’t like 100 x 50 mm, can I suggest 10 x 5 cm? It’s still metric and gets round your objections. The beauty of the metric system is that units are so easy to convert.

wavechange – a good idea in theory. The problems is that when people in the building trade buy timber they don’t get out a tape measure and measure a piece, they practice what is called eyeballing. They visualise the piece in inches. As the centimetre is less than half an inch it becomes harder to interpret the correct size.
People buy timber and communicate in a hurry to get the job completed. For standard mass produced items the inch is a wonderfully simple dimension to handle. I agree using the centimetre it a better solution as East Europeans do when buying plywood. But in the builders merchants across the land there is an obsession with the millimetre.

Peter Hargreaves says:
14 January 2014

Author: Cliff Comment: It’s almost fifty years since the start of the changeover and the job of converting to metric measures is still only half done thanks to the ineptitude of the government and the recalcitrance of the right-wing media.

As I mentioned last summer the reason this change over was never successfully completed in 1965, is not because of cowardly politicians or the right wing media, but because the leading industrialists warned the government of the day, that nothing would happen for fifty years. When you are employing bright young apprentices brought up and programmed to use imperial, they are not going to be able to suddenly adapt to a new system. It is not the job of industry to teach the basics. Industry dictates the terms because they’re paying the wages.

Please tell us which industries are still using the imperial system in the UK.

Peter, I don’t understand your comment. What “leading industrialists” are perpetuating the imperial system? It is certainly not my experience either in education nor in the industries in which I have worked. Miles and pints are trivial issues, and as I have asked before, what examples can the critics give of where the UK has lost out because of its policy? None have been forthcoming so far.

I was one of those “bright young apprentices brought up and programmed to use imperial, they are not going to be able to suddenly adapt to a new system.” By the time metric crept into Marconi and EEV I had left the industry and was in haulage where it is still MPH/MPG, though I do find it easier now to be in Tonnes than all those hundredweights to a ton etc. Thats about as far as my metrification goes, oh and the decimal coinage, I don’t miss £.s.p. at all, you had an old quid in coppers you needed double re-enforced pockets!

Cliff says:
15 January 2014

Malcolm R, you ask “what examples can the critics give of where the UK has lost out because of its policy?”
When I was working in the Offshore Oil industry in London in the eighties one of the tasks required in my job was to assess and analise bids from potential suppliers of components for oil platforms.Items such as cladding, fire proofing, marine doors and cabin, galley and hospital furniture. The rules for bidders were clearly laid out and stated that all measurements were to be SI units so exact comparisons could be made. Millimetres for linear measurements, kilograms and tonnes for mass and km/h or m/sec for wind speeds.Tenders were invited from companies in the North East of the UK, Sweden, Spain and the Netherlands. Specifications supplied with the bids from the British tenderers usually came back in imperial or a mixed bag of imperial and SI units at best. The specifications from the continental manufactures were not surprisingly in the units asked for.I come from the North East of England originally so I would have loved to see the work go there. I took the effort to phone the British companies to tell them that their bids did not conform with what was asked and asked them to comply. I was told in a roundabout way that they had always done things in imperial and saw no reason to change. Needless to say the jobs went to the continental bidders.
I now live and work in Australia. Many people here hold products made in Continental countries in very high esteem whereas they’re a little dubious about British products because of the bad image put out by refusing to move forward.They see in UK TV programs like Top Gear (very popular) that the old country is still using measurements abandoned here forty years ago. Hardly good publicity for a country wishing to market manufactured goods.

Cliff, “When I was working in the Offshore Oil industry in London in the eighties” – but we are concerned about the effects today, not 30 years ago.
“dubious about British products because of the bad image put out by refusing to move forward” – I think most would say that industrially we have “moved forward” and are fully metric, so this, if a true reflection of Aussie opinion, may be related to other factors. We are your “leading EU partner”. I presume you have the same view of products from the USA?
To quote your government website:
“Australia and the UK have an extensive economic and trade relationship. For trade in goods and services, the UK is Australia’s sixth largest two-way trading partner, our seventh largest export market and our seventh largest source of imports. The UK is also our leading EU trade partner.
In 2012, two-way trade was worth around $22.3 billion, with exports worth $10.58 billion and imports $11.76 billion.
Significant imports from the UK included passenger motor vehicles ($891 million), medicaments (including veterinary) ($788 million), and printed matter ($298 million).”

I found these trivial examples about imperial use in Australia. If correct, then just goes to show nothing’s perfect 🙂
a Plasma screen may be advertised as 42 inches (106 centimetres), and a computer monitor screen may be advertised in inches
Tyre pressures are often given in both kilopascals and pounds per square inch.[34]
The photo printing industry usually uses imperial sizes for photo dimensions (e.g. 4 × 6 inch rather than 10 × 15 cm).
the term dots per inch (dpi) is still used in printing pictures
Aviation, as in many other metric countries, uses horizontal distances in nautical miles and horizontal speed in knots, Height or altitude is always in feet and vertical speed (rate of climb or descent) is in feet per minute
some specialised surf reports give wave heights in feet
In informal and private contexts a person’s height is sometimes stated in feet and inches.[
the altitude for sky diving is routinely given in feet

Alex B says:
16 January 2014

I think the TV screen example you’ve given is a perfect example of where metric and imperial mean completely different things. I had it explained to me as this:

A screen size quoted in inches goes back to the days of the cathode ray tube and describes the actual size of the tube. The resulting picture may actually be smaller.

A screen size quoted in cm denotes the actual visible area of the screen.

I just tested this theory around my house (after finding an “inch” tape measure as I long replaced them with metric-only ones purchased in France) and I found this:

My primary TV, made by Sony and labelled as 32 inch actually has a visible screen of only 31 ½ inches or exactly 80 cm. The latter figure also having been quoted in the owners manual and on the box. The 22 inch TV and 22 inch computer monitors I have (both made by Samsung) measure out at around 21 ⅔ inches or exactly 55 cm.

Even in the example given by malcolm r the 106 cm screen is actually more than ¼ of an inch smaller than the advertised inch size, 42 inches would actually be closer to 107 cm.

In my mind the use of the inch is clearly only there to provide a comparison with older models and because of the dominance of the US market, those who continue to purchase their TV’s in inches are clearly being short changed, if you want to know what you’re really getting the metric figure is clearly the correct one.

I’m not saying that a few mm is really relevant here, only using the TV screen to point out that despite the insistence of some on continuing to use imperial we clearly are living in a metric world.

The old “3.5 inch” floppy disk is another good example of this but I’m not going down that road. Look it up!

Alex, I was merely pointing out the use of imperial (as a size description) instead of metric in Cliff’s adopted country. LCD and Plasma TV screens are quoted in their technical specs. in cm (in the case of my Panasonics) but their description in the catalogue number, for example, is their inch equivalent. As you say, this may be because of comparison with the familiar CRT sizes (although they were so much smaller than current TVs I would not have thought this very relevant these days).
The examples I gave were a bit tongue in cheek but show how old measures linger on, even in the most progressive of countries.
I maintain I can use whatever measure suits me privately, as long as professionally I abide by those measures decided as the official ones. So if I was an airline pilot I would use feet, or height level, for altitude, not metres. As an engineer I would use SI units.

Alex B says:
16 January 2014

malcolm r, I see what you’re saying and to this day have no issue with you continuing to use whatever system of measures in your head and in your home.

The point I tried to make is that, despite people labouring to tell us that imperial measures are still alive and kicking, the simple fact of the matter is that in the vast majority of cases this simply isn’t true and imperial measurements are still printed on packaging and in instruction manuals purely to dumb things down for Joe Public and are usually just approximations of the metric size. With the possible exception of Boeing almost everything in the world intended for international consumption is probably now designed and manufactured exclusively in metric.

I expect that many of us can agree that it does not matter whether people use imperial or metric for personal purposes (I hope that no-one is a control freak) and that industry has largely adopted the metric system in most countries.

That leaves the thorny subject of communication. Thanks to the Conversations I have moved from fitting in with others to encouraging use of the metric system in conversation with friends and family. I don’t think I’m going to change habits of a lifetime, but I feel that if more of us used the metric system in conversation we might move forwards.

I’m not sure where forwards is, or why it is necessary. Being bilingual, so to speak, has advanages.

I think we have been through this before. Those of us who are “bilingual’ – like thee and me – have no problems. It’s those who are unfamiliar with the imperial system, including children and the many people who visit from other countries.

Though I don’t want to influence what any individual does in their personal life, I believe that it would be helpful to get people visualising things in metric because that’s what they will find in shops and in their careers.

Those are interesting points relevant to our situation today as we start to seek out new export markets. I expect it is less of a problem now as many of the traditional attitudes have been driven out of modern industry.

In home markets, estate agents cannot break away from acres, feet and inches.

Peter Hargreaves says:
14 January 2014

Author: wavechange Comment: Please tell us which industries are still using the imperial system in the UK.

Space and time permits me only to give a couple of examples at the moment. The construction industry is essentially metric throughout, in the advertising of materials and their properties. But verbally between the builders merchants and their customers, the language of imperial measurements is very much in use. A lot of products such as padstones (pre-stressed concrete), timber, including man made boards are based on imperial measurements. These are labelled metric but are in fact imperial dimensions. Hence why many in the building trade prefer to discuss products in feet and inches. One area which is wholly imperial is in the fencing trade. All panels are sold in feet, as is the case with sheds. There is no point in replacing a system that works fine.

Another example where imperial is still in use is in the printing industry. All printed paper dimensions are metric, but photographic paper is generally sold in imperial. Boxes sizes are imperial, screen resolution is dots and lines per inch.

If you want the metric system to be a complete success then you would have to wipe the slate clean. In other words base your metric division on a scale of 250mm, 500mm, 750mm, 1000mm. Looking at timber lengths again, these are sold as 300mm, 600mm, 900mm and 1200mm etc, because they are trying to replicate the foot.
Another example I gave earlier was the concrete curbstone which is advertised as 900mm. This is not acccurate because its actually 912mm based on 3ft. If you wanted to be completely metric would it not make more sense to produce a 1000mm curbstone. Can you imagine the cost to the nation of replacing every curbstone in the country.
It is just not a realistic proposition.

I’m with you Peter even if it went completely metric I can still only think in Imperial.


I had anticipated that printing and photographic work might turn up an example, and I have some familiarity with this. Over 20 years ago I bought a copy of Photoshop because it looked interesting and was cheap at academic prices. Although I can cope with imperial units, a colleague said that I would be able work in metric. I have always done this, whether I have been working with passport-size photos or display material produced on A1 and A0 roll printers. Some of the photographic paper sizes available do not match the 2:1 and 4:3 aspect ratios commonly used in photography. The A series paper sizes don’t fit in with convenient metric or imperial sizes but there is a lot to be said for this system. All the software I work with handles metric units fine and not once have I had a printer even comment on the fact that I have used the metric system when creating all the posters, booklets, leaflets, banners, cards and so on. I don’t know whether the printing and photographic industry favours metric or imperial units but I cannot see any good reason for sticking with imperial.

I don’t know much about the building industry, but if materials are labelled and sold in metric units it seems pointless to work in imperial. If it is a home project, then work in what ever units you like.

The kerbstone example seems a bit contrived. Sizes are not critical unless, for example, a damaged one has to be replaced. Suggesting that we would need to replace every kerbstone in the country is daft. 🙂

Peter Hargreaves says:
14 January 2014

Author: michduncg
Comment: And how often do we go to an overseas swimming pool on holiday? How can you judge whether 150cm or 1.5m is deep or shallow?

A similar situation occurred at our local swimming baths. A number of parents complained that pool depths were only shown in metric. When these complaints were brought to the attention of the manager. His response was “Do you know I couldn’t even tell you the height of my own children in metric”.
Pool depths are now displayed in both metric and Imperial.

michduncg says:
16 January 2014

Hi Peter

Its comments like this that make me weep! I work for John Lewis and in our Nursery department we sell car seats that have to be used by children under 135cm. We do have height chart on the wall, but its only metric. Our pushchairs are also sold with weight ratings, in kilograms. I am horrified that, 40 years since we stopped teaching imperial measurements, that a young generation doesn’t understand height in metric. I bet if the sign at the pool said ‘shallow end 36″ and the deep end 60″ they wouldn’t understand that either. Ho hum. Such is life in the numpty land that is modern Britain.

I used to teach university science students and they could cope fine with millimetres, centimetres and metres, but many new students did not know whether a micrometre was smaller than larger than a millimetre. That is understandable because they may never have used these units. Once they started to do some calculations and use these units in lab work it fell into place for most of them. I appreciate that some cannot relate to metric units but I am fairly sure that they either have made little effort to use them or they are opposed to metric units for some reason.

I have been monitoring the units used in Tesco, which I shop at for reasons I won’t bother to explain. It is encouraging to see so metric units being used on so many products and many are sensible (e.g. 500 g rather than 480 or 520 g.

I am surprised that kids don’t reject imperial units as something old fashioned that their parents used. 🙂

I was on a bus yesterday and noticed a sign indicating that the height was 4200 mm or 13′ 10″.

It would be better to show 4.2 m or 13.8′.

Since the humour in this Conversation seems to have dried up, I will mention that the bus had a window with a notice ‘Break glass in emergency’. The hammer provided was behind a small glass panel with a similar caption. 🙂

I don’t recall anyone routinely using decimal feet – only feet and inches. By the time you have converted 0.8′ to inches, the top of your bus is stuck under the bridge. Someone had probably stolen the other device that breaks the glass to get to the hammer that ………

Good job I have only driven minibuses, which seem to fit under bridges.

I accept that imperial measurements are made in feet and inches rather than decimal feet. What about decimal inches? I asked earlier, but no-one replied. My imperial spanners, drills and taps are all in fractions of an inch, for example 3/8″, 7/16″, etc.

A couple of applications of decimal inches come to mind. Imperial feeler gauges are in thousandths of an inch, so a spark plug gap might be 30 thou or 0.003 inch. Integrated circuits and transistors are (or were) on a metric pitch, so graph paper and rulers with 0.1 inch rulings are very handy when designing circuit boards.

It occurs to me that I have not seen a tape measure graduated in tenths of an inch.

The best of the explanations I have found for fractions of an inch (1/2, 1/4 etc) is that it was more natural to bisect (continual halving) than to divide by 10. I think trades tended to use fractions, whilst science and engineering used thous.
I seem to remember a wooden school ruler divided into twelfths – any idea why?
I’d readjust your spark plugs – .003″ seems a bit close? 🙂
Whilst I still think in a mix of metric and imperial, when I design on the computer I always work in metric – my house plans and furniture projects for example – and I will consequently make in metric. I never use centimetres – always mm and m. I think cm can become confusing.

My old school ruler does have a three inch length graduated in twelfths of an inch on the underside, but the top shows inches and tenths of an inch, with cm/mm also on the top. In addition to the helpful printed on the ruler is 10 metres = 1 dekametre. I doubt if many have used twelfths of an inch or dekametres. It is a ‘British made’ ruler and I would have expected decametres, though they would be of no more use.

In science I rarely met anything other than metric units and the use of the likes of non-preferred units such as the Angstrom were sometimes deprecated, though – like centimetres – they are regarded as useful by some.

Perhaps I had better reset the spark plugs to 0.8 mm or thereabouts. I really should proof read what I right. 🙂

Even in the days of black and white television then, we were talking metric, weren’t we, as in school rulers. I seem to remember in chemistry classes we weighed chemicals in grammes.

I don’t remember grammes at school. Take 100 lines. 🙂

Whoops. 🙁 . Wish we could edit our own blunders. However, metric it was in the ’50s. x100.

THE comparatively small progress toward universal acceptance made by the metric system seems to be due not altogether to aversion to a change of units, but also to a sort of irrepressible conflict between the decimal and binary systems of subdivision. Before the introduction of decimal fractions, about 1585,no connection would be felt to exist between the established scale of numeration and the method of subdividing physical units, and it would probably never occur to any one to subdivide a unit into tenths. The natural method is to bisect again and again. The mechanic prefers to divide the inch into halves, quarters, eighths, and sixteenths. The retailer
of dry goods, whose unit is the yard, divides it into halves,quarters, and eighths, totally ignoring the inch. The mariner not only divides the horizontal angular space in which his course is laid down into quarters, thus recognizing the right angle as the natural unit,* but divides the space between the cardinal points of the compass into halves, quarters, and eighths. Where decimal money has been introduced quarters are insisted on in spite of their inconsistency with the decimal system. We are compelled to coin quarter dollars, and prices are very commonly quoted in eighths and even sixteenths of a dollar. Great Britain is compelled to coin eighths of a pound sterling, though half a crown contains a fraction of a shilling. The French divide the litre into
quarters. The broker expresses prices in halves, quarters,and eighths of one per cent.

Alex B says:
16 January 2014

That bulletin is clearly quite old… Great Britain has used decimal currency since the 1970’s and, as far as I’m aware, doesn’t have any coin that is worth ⅛ of a pound sterling. I can’t say I’ve ever seen fractions of a dollar being used anywhere on my travels to the USA (at least 2 weeks there every year since the early 2000’s), the only fraction that continues to be used is in gas prices and those, although shown as fractions, are always in 1/10 of a cent.

I date it to somewhere near 1890. The history of measurements looks quite interesting. There are always good reasons why one particular method was chosen (at the time).

Peter Hargreaves says:
16 January 2014

Cliff, I agree with Malcolm’s comments on this and I think you need to take a look at your own backyard. I was born in Australia and both my wife and myself have family in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Both the older and younger generation still discuss their height in feet and inches. There are many examples I have already given where imperial is still very much in use. In Australia they still operate two different railway gauges, how ridiculous is that! At least the United Kingdom changed to a single guage system in 1845.
With regard to your work in the offshore oil industry in London in the eighties. I was involved last summer in the Festival of Engineering in the North East. The idea behind this was to promote engineering among the younger generation. When I discussed the notion that we lost out because of our imperial usage. I generally got a laughable response. I have met people over the years who served their time in heavy engineering firms such as Ashmore Benson & Pease, Power Gas, Swan Hunter, and Head Wrightson. One of the most iconic symbols of Australia is of course the Sydney Harbour Bridge. As you come from the North East you will know that this, was of course built by Dorman Long of Middlesbrough. A lot of Australians can be brash and like to blown their own trumpet. They will jump at any chance to have a dig at the pommies.

Finally with regard to the BBC programme Top Gear. I’m glad to hear that this is popular downunder. I think the Aussies would also have been very impressed when the presenters got together all the best of the British transport industry and drove up Pall Mall to Buckingham Palace. Something the British have, is brand names that attract investment from countries all over the world.

Cliff says:
16 January 2014

Peter, I’m not saying Australia is perfect. I can think many examples of people here clinging to outdated concepts and ideas for nothing more than sentimental reasons. Tin roofs on houses, which I find ugly, are seen as desirable to many people because of their connections to the colonial past.The 24 hour clock is hardly ever used in Australia. Parking signs and bus and train timetables I think, still use am and pm and although road gradient signs in percentages are gradually replacing the old 1 in whatever signs, there is little public perception here of what the percentage gradients means and no advice from the government to educate people of their meaning. You’re correct in saying that even many young people still give their height in feet and inches. I put that down to the enormous influence of American TV and music. Can you imagine a rapper stating his b***h was 160cm tall? There is also an Australian tendency to dumb words down to make them less formal and more familiar. Hence truck drivers are called truckies and motor cycle gang members are called bikies. Personal dimensions probably fit into that category.
Outside of personal conversations, height in feet and inches would never be used. Descriptions of missing persons,for instance, on TV or in the paper would be in SI units and kilograms for weight are always used both officially and informally. I also think that many young people who give their height in feet and inches would find difficulty calculating the difference between personal heights if the difference exceeded 12 inches.
I agree that the different railway gauges between States is ridiculous.It’s the result of botched government policy many years ago. Just like running two methods of measurement simultaneously.
To see Dorman Long, Middlesborough stamped on the steel members of the Sydney Harbour bridge gives me mixed feelings. To see such a marvellous piece of engineering was fabricated near where I was born then assembled on the other side of the world gives me great pride. To see the decline of great companies like Dorman Long in the years since the bridge was built due to bad management, lack of investment, union problems and a lack of ability to look to the future makes me very sad to think they gave all that away.
It’s very true that many Australians can be brash a blow their own trumpet (like many Yorkshiremen). Less so in Australia, by the way, than when they’re abroad. They do like to have a dig at the poms but when it comes to the way the different countries handled the changeover to metric measurements (Australia took about 5 years, in Britain it’s still being talked about) I think they’re perfectly justified in having a dig at the poms.

michduncg says:
16 January 2014

Hi Cliff – my Dad spent a lot of time at Dorman Long when he was an electrical apprentice in the 1950s. He then spent a lot of time at ICI and Shell on Teesside. Like you, I bemoan the decline of British Industry but am encouraged by some of those that remain. They do all of course use metric in their production, with the possible exception of garden fences! Thank heavens the likes of Hawker Siddeley kept us in Airbus. Incidentally, I was in the cockpits of two great British airlines from the 1960s, the Vickers VC10, and the Hawker Siddeley Trident. I was pleased to note their fuel panels were all calibrated in kg’s, I presume Concorde was too.

danielZ_Z says:
10 March 2015

Where did you get those stats? If you look it up you can clearly see that a good 80% of Brits are against european imposed metrication.Plus, considering the increasing sourness between London and bruxel, I don’t predict the metrication thing going any steps further. It is so unlikely that any of British tax payers money will be spent on making roadsigns either bilingual or kilometric… If that’s the case,let bruxel pay for it since they are the only ones intrested.

Cliff says:
10 March 2015

Oh Daniel, you’re not very well informed are you?
Where did you get the idea that metrication is imposed by “Europe”? The UK started to convert to SI units in 1965 before the UK was even in the Common Market. The change was needed because the imperial method of measurement is cumbersome and unnecessarily complicated and it was of vital importance to bring Britain into line with its trading partners in the rest of the world. The rest of the Commonwealth started to change for the same reason shortly before or after that year and managed to complete the job properly. The UK messed up the changeover. They got cold feet half way through the process and ended up with no recognised system of measurement.
The UK had a thriving manufacturing industry up until the middle of the twentieth century. British ships, trucks, cars and machinery were exported all over the world. Fear of change in Britain saw that industry disappear as more enlightened countries started producing what the world wanted using newer and better methods. Failure to fully adopt the metric system was part of that problem.
Metric measures are used worldwide. They are used in China, Japan, Korea, India, Brazil and every Commonwealth country. Not just in Europe.
Of course the rest of Europe wants Britain to adopt the metric system. As a partner in the EU they want Britain to use the best method to be competitive in the market place. Should Britain leave the EU and become a competitor, however, the outmoded imperial method of measurement still used in Britain would make Britain less competitive and be to the European Unions advantage.
The only countries left in the world that do not use metric measures are the US, Myanmar and Liberia. How many products from these places have you ever bought?

I was educated and went into research and industry at the beginning of metrification. All the industries I worked in used the metric system – although many items had been eartlier designed to imperial dimensions and were now “awkward” numbers. Steel pipe for example used to be,
e.g. 4 1/2″ diameter and is now 114.3mm. Still in use today because of machinery, dies and why not? In criticising the UK we need to distinguish between official (commercial and industrial) usage, and personal choice. I’ve been 6′ 1″ for a long time and intend to stay that way (barring slight shrinkage).

I rather doubt that the companies that turn out the old imperial sizes are still using the same machinery. If you stick with the old sizes then new producers have to install machinery specially made for the old sizes. Perhaps it is time to get our heads out of the sand. I think Cliff is right.

wavechange, no head in the sand 🙂 There is simply no magic in changing the size of something for no good reason. Simply using metric measurement instead of imperial is what this is about.

But there is a good reason, Malcolm. It’s crazy that industry switched to the metric system but continued to produce some goods in imperial measurements.

Wavechange, there is no point in changing actual sizes for the sake of it. Try sheet timber products for example – we get on quite happily with 2440mm x 1220mm. (8′ x 4′). What matters is using metric measures and their attributes.

I’m routing a groove for an intumescent strip in a (new) fire door. The door is 44mm thick – presumably 1 3/4″ in old money. Nothing wrong with that.

I think we confuse the metric system with the need for everything to be in easy numbers – not necessary.

Funny the Americans manage to survive as the world’s largest economy.

I’m sure we won’t agree though, and this conversation has already had most of these points made.

As you say we have done all this before, Malcolm, so let’s agree to differ.

This morning I’ve been using imperial tools because I’m working on some machinery that is as old as me. I have to put up with that, but I don’t see why Bosch has chosen to mark my replacement rear wiper blade as 280mm/12″ since it would not fit a car from the pre-metric era. Looking at their metric/imperial conversion, I wonder if it is Bosch or Botch.

Ian says:
23 July 2016

One thing the change to metric has facilitated is the “shinking packet for the same price” phenomenon.

In earlier times, something that was sold by weight as half-a-pound, would always be half-a-pound.

On conversion to metric it may have been advertised as 227g, but more likely rounded to 225g and subsequently dropped to 220g, 210g and 200g over time.

A well-known brand of chocolate used to sell quarter-pound bars (113.4g). On conversion to metric these were advertised as 112.5g – an immediate loss of one gram, subsequently dropped to 110g then 100g.

With various products being slightly different weights, the “price per kg” information is now crucial in working out the best value product.