The metric system in Britain 1851-1979

An investigation of the implementation of the metric system in Britain 1851-1979

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Frederik Hyttel

Undergraduate dissertation for a degree in History, Bath Spa University

[UKMA is pleased to publish this dissertation as a contribution to the history of metrication in the UK. However, its publication does not imply that UKMA necessarily agrees with its conclusions.]


(see link below for full dissertation)

While Britain was among the first countries to appreciate the merits of an internationally uniform system of weights and measures, by 1980 she was still one of the last not to have adopted the metric system, having been overtaken even by her former colonies. This is an investigation of the reasons for this failure, tracing the developments from the Great Exhibition in 1851 over the rise of continental competition, to a new century of economic decline, wars and rationing, and ending in the political feud between Labour and the Conservatives from the mid-1960s to the Thatcher administration in 1979. Using a variety of sources including records of Parliamentary debates, official reports and publications and internal correspondences, as well as private publications and proceedings of pressure groups on both sides, this dissertation aims to show how the continued application of the Victorian principle of non-compulsion and progress through freedom created a political environment defined by its lack of long-term planning; an environment in which a major metrological reform would be difficult, if not impossible.

© 2009 Frederik Hyttel

Full dissertation