22
Aug
2014
0

Is Haltwhistle the centre of Britain?

One of the most common questions we are asked in Ordnance Survey’s Press Office is ‘where is the geographic centre of Britain?’ Most recently, the BBC got in contact with us, framing their article around the question of Scottish Independence and the effect that would have on the centre of Great Britain. The question continues to bubble up as it always has been a contentious issue with many differing views on locations – and even how you define the centre, define Great Britain, and how you measure it.

As you’ll see in the BBC article, the town of Haltwhistle in Northumberland proudly proclaims itself to be the centre of Great Britain as it is mid-way along the mainland’s longest line of longitude; and there is a stone cross in Meriden, near Coventry, claiming to be the geographical centre of England. Some people claim the point farthest from the sea must be the centre (a spot just east of Church Flatts Farm, about a mile south-east of Coton-in-the-Elms, Derbyshire), but others don’t think this can accurately be called the centre…so, where is the centre of Great Britain?

The truth is, that there can be no absolute centre for a three dimensional land mass sitting on the surface of a sphere and surrounded by the ebb and flow of sea water. If you consider the movement of tides on a beach, the shape of the object will change on a constant basis. Another contributing factor is how far you consider the coast to stretch up river estuaries. Different projections, scales and methods of calculation will all produce different results.

How do we measure it?

We calculate the centre of Great Britain using the gravitational method. In basic terms, the principle calculates the point at which the object would balance horizontally on the head of a theoretical pin – its centre of gravity. The gravitational method has been used as a scientific application by everyone from Captain Cook to NASA.

What do we define as Great Britain?

We take it as the mainland and the 401 associated islands shown at the 1: 625,000 scale of mapping. This works for us at Ordnance Survey as it reflects the full extent of our geographical remit. We made the calculation by linking our 1: 625,000 database with a computer programme based on the gravitational method.

If you want to find out more about the difference between Great Britain and the United Kingdom, visit our previous blog.

Where is the centre of Great Britain?

Working on the basis above, the centre is a location 7 km north west of Dunsop Bridge, Lancashire, by Whitendale Hanging Stones on Brennard Farm in the Forest of Bowland (SD 64188.3, 56541.43).

Looking only at the mainland of Great Britain, the location is 4 km north west of Calderstones Hospital near Clitheroe, Lancashire. The mainland result confirmed the findings of analogue experiments carried out by a Brigadier Winterbotham, reported in the Geographical Journal in 1941.

However as with all such calculations, the level of accuracy is limited by the scale of data used. At the 1: 625 000 scale, the precision of the reference will be to a few hundred metres.

As we’ve said above, any claim to be at the centre is open to interpretation and we’re completely relaxed about that. The location of Britain’s true centre may never be entirely clear but the calculations we have made are as close as we feel we can get to answer a question that is likely to generate debate for many years to come.

In the meantime, take a look at all of the centres that we have calculated using the gravitational method:

Centre of Great Britain – the computer calculation resulted in a location 7 km north west of Dunsop Bridge, Lancashire, by Whitendale Hanging Stones on Brennard Farm in the Forest of Bowland (SD 64188.3, 56541.43).

Centre of England – on Lindley Hall Farm, owned by the Farmers. To be precise, it puts the centre at grid reference SP 36373.66, 96143.05. (The islands of England were included in the computer calculation).

Centre of Wales – the centre, about 2.5km (1.5 miles) from Cwmystwyth. The Ordnance Survey grid reference is SN 79728.22, 71704.43.

Centre of Scotland – the location is between Blair Atholl and Dalwhinnie. Grid reference NN 66784.93, 71599.4. Just three kilometres to the west is the beautiful Loch Garry and Dalnaspidal hunting estate.

Centre of England & Wales

• With the Isle of Man: 414238, 293479 (close to Oak & Ash pub on Calder Drive, Walmley)
• Without the Isle of Man: 415322, 293007 (in a field to the East of Walmley near the A38)

### 10 Responses

1. Simon Lytton

Are your calculations based on a 2D or a 3D representation of Britain? In other words, if Wales were to be flat, and East Anglia mountainous, but the shoreline remained the same, would it push the “centre of gravity” eastwards?

1. Hi Simon

Good question – and I’m fairly sure that it is based on a 2D representation, but I’m going to double-check with our team of experts who work these things out. I’ll get back to you ASAP.

Thanks, Gemma

I checked with the team Simon and they’ve confirmed that it was calculated on a 2D representation – thanks, Gemma

2. Rob

I’m old enough to remember the outrage when Wembley Stadium was being built, and how it should be in the centre of the country. What would be more interesting, and unfortunately probably closer to the final destination of Wembly, would be to weight the model based on population.

1. Hi Rob

Yes, one of our Twitter followers suggested this too. It’s not something we’ve worked out ourselves, but @MurrayData says that using a population weighted approach centre of GB is approximately 433924E 309573N (Measham Rd Swadlincote Leics.)

As our blog says, there are so many different ways to define the centre of Great Britain, it always makes for an interesting debate.

Thanks, Gemma

1. Brian Wood

Time to reactivate debate? Noting that the UK Parliament is about to vote on arrangements for developing the Westminster ‘HQ’ is it too ‘academic’ to consider relocation/ recentring? Whilst appreciating that the ‘answer’ depends significantly on the question (and the data?) …
– I understand that Morecambe is supportable as a ‘geographic’ centre of the UK.
– Recognizing that ‘national’ representations are ‘adjusted’ by virtue of devolved responsibilities and that constituency populations vary, is there a kind of weighted centre that might take such into consideration?
– Also recognizing that such as Morecambe (and other candidates) are not necessarily especially accessible (let alone equaly so) from all parts of the UK, might there be a ‘communication- centred’ centre (London? Heathrow? Birmingham New Street? Spaghetti Junction? Crewe? ‘Northern Powerhouse’?)
– Maybe a (weighted) centre of centres?? Equisomething between London, Cardiff, Belfast, Edinburgh (or Glasgow?) …
Enough?
Brian

3. Cedric Auchere

Hi. Great article. I would like to know where the centre of England would be but for the disproportionate impact that Channel Islands would have on the method. So basically where would the centre of mainland England be?

1. Jocelyn

Hello Cedric. The Channel Islands aren’t included when working out the centre of GB as The Channel Islands are only included when talking about the British Isles. Hope this helps, Jocelyn