Market Lavington Museum

Pre-decimal weights and measures

Britain started to adopt the metric system for weights and measures from 1965, with decimal currency being used from 15th February 1971. Although we still use imperial measurements in some cases, such as miles rather than kilometres on road signs, we take for granted now that most of our units of measurement are related to one another in multiples of ten. So ten millimetres make a centimetre and one hundred centimetres make a metre.

Before decimalisation, this wasn’t the case and children had to learn their tables of weights and measures by rote. Sybil Perry (nee Baker) recalls chanting these every day when she was a pupil at Market Lavington School. On her oral history recording she demonstrated this in a fast singsong voice. One such chant would have been “16 ounces, 1 pound; 14lbs, 1 stone; 2 stones, 1 quarter; 4 quarters, 1 hundredweight; 20 cwt, 1 ton”. The chant for capacity would have included pints, quarts, gallons, pecks, bushels, quarters and so on.

Sybil remembered no practical arithmetic, but hours of conversion sums written in exercise books. In her file of Memories of Market Lavington, Sybil wrote out examples of the sort of tasks that the children were expected to do at the age of nine or ten. This shows the method used to change 1 mile, 2 furlongs, 9 chains and 3 yards into feet and finally coming to the answer that this was equal to 7,203 feet.

Imperial measures do still exist. For example, a cricket pitch is one chain, or 22 yards, long and horse races are measured in furlongs, but children are not expected to learn the relationship between these measures.