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How lovely

Looking something up for summat else I find this:

It is 7 miles 2 chains measured from London Victoria


the principal station serving the city of Brighton, East Sussex. It is 50 miles 49 chains from London Bridge via Redhill

Network Rail is still using chains to measure distances.

Now that is archaic – I know that chains exist but I couldn’t actually tell you what one is. A unit of a furlong maybe?

I even love the idea that people looking to rent a retail unti on a station platform need to know how many miles – and chains – it is from the terminus station.

Path dependence is a thing, eh?

34 thoughts on “How lovely”

  1. A chain is one tenth of a furlong or, more usefully, the length of a cricket pitch. This in turn means that 80 chains equal a mile.

    So much more dignified than all that metric crap.

  2. I know that chains exist but I couldn’t actually tell you what one is. A unit of a furlong maybe?

    It’s the reason why cricket pitches are 22 yards.

  3. When you give me all those figures, I realise I learned them many, many years ago.

    But I’m damned if I could have told you what they were before you told me!!

  4. … and each chain was divided into 4 rods/poles/perches – each of five and a half yards. Remember how it was printed on the back of your school ruler?

    Lady Chromatistes, after 50 years of marriage, still finds it strange that I quote distances in furlongs.

  5. A foot = 12 inches
    A yard = 3 feet.
    A rod, pole or perch = 5.5 yards
    A chain= 22 yards
    A furlong = 220 yards
    A quarter mile = 440 yards
    A mile = 1760 yards
    An acre = a chain x a furlong = 4860 sq. yards

    So much more satisfying than the foreign lot with their round numbers……….

  6. I believe the unit is still commonly used in Jamaica, having heard Jamaicans using it colloquially.

    It’s derived from the special chains used by surveyors for setting baselines.

  7. Thing with a ball on you traditionally pull after a jimmy or a tom tit, isn’t it? Although women generally complain we don’t. Although my experience, the complete reverse is true. And what do they do with all that paper? 404 Error – Page Missing is an almost daily event.

  8. “Bloke in Wales

    “I know that chains exist but I couldn’t actually tell you what one is. A unit of a furlong maybe?”

    It’s the reason why cricket pitches are 22 yards.”

    The ‘Chain’ evolved from measurements of ploughed land. The Anglo-Saxon acre was supposedly the amount of land that could be ploughed in a day. It became standardised as 1 x 1/10 of a furlough (a furlough being 1/8 of a mile). In 1610 one Edmund Gunter developed a measuring device for surveying purposes consisting of a 100 link chain which was known as “Gunter’s Chain” and was 1/10 of a furlough in length. A parcel of land 10 chains by 1 chains was an acre. 1/10 of a furlough soon became known as a ‘chain’ because of Gunter’s measuring device.

    Why 22 yards was decided upon as the ideal standardised length of a cricket pitch isn’t clear but having a handy measuring device (Gunter’s Chain) to ensure uniformity probably helped. Up to the 19th century cricket pitches were often marked out using a Gunter’s Chain, which were still in use.

    It’s probable that the length of the cricket pitch as 1/10 of a furlough came first – being a length people were familiar with. The chain as a measuring tool for that length came second.

  9. lucky he used a chain, I suppose. Otherwise a tenth of a furlong might have been called “a bit of string”.

  10. A chain is the length of the individual rail bits wot get jointed together to make the track.

  11. Just wait until some snowflake starts screaming it’s actually a signifier/reminder of slavery and they should stop forthwith…

  12. @ JuliaM
    A pig-ignorant snowflake since slavery was abolished in England centuries before the chain was used a measure.

  13. Chris said:
    “An acre = a chain x a furlong”

    Ooh, thank you, I didn’t know that one.
    (Not that I can remember many of the others, but I don’t think I’ve ever even heard that one)

  14. The unit of distance is irrelevant provided all parties can agree to its actual size. If you visit the Banqueting House you’ll note that the figures in the painted ceiling have all manner of heads and limbs missing. The panels were measured in London and then painted in the Low Countries (I forget exactly where), but their inch was larger than England’s so the panels were wrong.
    On a personal note I always felt shortchanged while living in Japan by their insistence on serving American sized pints in British imperial glasses.

  15. All the comments are missing the actual story. The ‘chain’, properly ‘Gunter’s Chain’, is the work of an English mathematician of the C17, Edmund Gunter, who set out to create a unit of measurement for the existing unit of land (the acre) using decimal math.

    The key is that 100 square chains = 1 acre, and 1 chain = 100 links,each of about 8″. Using this unit, any area of land, no matter how irregular in shape, can be accurately surveyed and its area calculated, using only basic decimal arithmetic and geometry.

    A chain is not the length of a cricket pitch. A cricket pitch is the length of a chain. The system came out of the unit, which regularized and standardized the system – not the other way about.

    So this decimal system of land measurement precedes the ‘metric’ system by the best part of a century. And it worked, so well that it is the basis for the surveying of almost-all of the US that was not taken from the Spanish. Jefferson’s great survey of the US following the Louisiana Purchase was carried out entirely using this system, and on a clear day it is still clearly visible from the window of your 737 across thousand of miles. It is still the standard in daily use – ask yourself why a tract of land for sale in the US is always described as measured in chains (or miles, as appropriate) but expressed in decimal acres?

    I always smile when people belittle very-old systems like this, as though our ancestors were all ignorant fools and so-called ‘modern’ and ‘rational’ systems are somehow ‘better’. They display their ignorance both of history and of math.



  16. National Rail counts the number of arches along its lines. Hence the name of a (very good!) micro-pub in Strood, the 1050 from Victoria, being the number of the arch in which it is located, not, as might be supposed, the time of a train’s arrival.

  17. “llamasJune 17, 2023 at 10:29 am

    All the comments are missing the actual story”

    Ahem. Me @7.35 a.m.

  18. This thread is most educating.
    I was only ever taught the metric system. “Chain” is something I don’t remember ever hearing of until today.

    I’m 54. Metric has deep roots now.

  19. @ Andrew C. – Fair enough, you described many details of the system. But what counts is the whole system and how it developed.

    Edmund Gunter didn’t ‘develop a measuring device’ so much as he developed the mathematical, decimal system for measuring land area in terms of existing units, from which the measuring device was derived. At the time, an acre was an imprecise unit, for which there was a nominal definition but no practical means of defining on the ground, as it were. Prior to his system, there were no common, repeatable and agreed standards for measuring lengths used in surveying – Gunter took the standard foot from existing yard standards and developed his solution, standardising the previously-imprecise measures of length like furlongs and miles in terms of the chain – which allowed accurate land area surveying to be performed for the first time, and using decimal math, which had previously been less-than-convenient. It wasn’t that there was some standard acre that defined the length of Gunter’s chain – it was that Gunter took the theoretical idea of an acre and created a mathematical system tying length, area and decimal math into a single, standard unit that could be carried and used anywhere, using realistic units for the task. It’s not too much to say that his system was the first accurate, repeatable, reliable, referrable and practical system for measuring land area. Which is why it is still in use today and it works so well.

    It’s obvious that the cricket pitch followed the chain and not the other way about. When Gunter’s chain was developed, the game of cricket as we know it today didn’t even exist.

    Obliged to you.



  20. In the world of commercial retail the agents (who depend on customer money) advertise in square feet e.g. this shop and the square metres isn’t mentioned.

    The government (who get public money) describe the same property in square metres for the purpose of taxation and the square footage isn’t mentioned.

    This is really common. The tenancy agreements get drawn up in sq feet, the business rates gets paid based on sq metres.

    How did this schism between people who generate tax and people who collect it come about? Genuinely don’t know.

  21. In my younger days when I did whatever odd jobs I could find I did some work as a chainboy, that’s the guy who carries the surveyors equipment and holds things etc. Thankfully you no longer had to literally carry chains.
    No doubt modern wokery would deem this job title unacceptable today

  22. And please not to forget the 63,360 inches in a mile that gave the basis of our main land survey maps trhoughout the Empire. Yanks were still using the 1:66360 scale when I last looked.

  23. BniC

    Worked as a builder’s labourer more moons ago than I care to recall. Had a job constructing a large fence. Had to start by locating the survery pegs. Found three quite easily. Fourth was somewhere in a huge mass of tangled bamboo roots. Spent several hours swearing and cursing while swinging a mattock to no avail. Stopped for a cuppa whereupon a bright thought struck me. Said to the fed-up boss, “Perhaps we should be measuring in links not feet”. Got a bonus that week.

    The ancient survey plans had not mentioned the measuring units used. Our chain tape of course had links on its back and feet on its face but it was a day and age where builders had long abandoned links and were dedicated to feet and inches.

  24. Dr Rodgers, as I was told in Junior school,just turn the 3’s round and it spells bEEbo. Very useful!

  25. The historical context is interesting. For simple surveyors like me, a chain is 66 feet. There are are 100 links in a chain, each one equaling 0.66 feet. A rod (also called a pole) is 16.5 feet. A lot of the older deeds and land descriptions in the US use these units, so the conversion to US units is useful.

  26. “I did not know that definition of an acre. Learned the rest 60 years ago.”
    I learned an acre about 55 years ago, forgot it almost immediately with no consequences, and then learned it again when that film “the wall” came out 40 years ago.

  27. I always smile when people belittle very-old systems like this, as though our ancestors were all ignorant fools and so-called ‘modern’ and ‘rational’ systems are somehow ‘better’.

    If one understands what imperial measures were used for one can see how clever they were. For instance to get to an ounce from a pound, keep dividing in half. And, of course, pounds & ounces were used for small measures. There’s no easy relationship between pounds & ounces to hundredweights & tons because no one using one series would be using the other. Same with length. People who were using feet & inches were different from the people were using chains, furlongs & miles. One’s measuring a table, the other a field.

  28. Without imperial units we would lose that lovely coincidence of the number of inches in a mile (63360) so closely matching to the number astronomical units in a light year (63241). If that were metricated (to 100000 cms per kilometre) we would freeze to death. Even the tidy binary value of 2^16 = 65536) would be enough to completely offset global warming.

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