The tape measure illustrated was made by the company founded by James Chesterman in 1821. He was a pioneer in the production of measuring tapes: see an advertisement shown below.

The Chesterman ‘Constantia’ tape measure was highly regarded for its quality. It features woven linen tape contained within a solid leather, hand-stitched case, with a special waterproof lining and fitted with a brass winder, which folds flat. There is a leather strap on the back of the case so that it can be held securely with one hand while pulling the tape with the other. The tape was offered in several different lengths; both imperial and metric. The tape shown here measures 120 feet, which is longer than average.

The brass ring on the end of the tape is included in the measurement, which is taken from the outside edge of the ring. The tape could have the measurements marked on a single side or both. The most common measurements were feet and inches on the top side with ‘links’ on the reverse side. (See later). The tape was made in two different widths. 1/2 inch and 5/8 inch. Chesterman recommended the 5/8 inch as the most serviceable. It is difficult to date the item shown, but it was probably made in the 1950s or 1960s, though it could have been earlier. The case looks in good condition, but the actual tape is not shown, which could imply it is missing or damaged. It was not uncommon for the leading part of the tape to become worn.

The weaving of the linen for the tape and all the preliminary processes were entirely carried out by the skilled workers in the factory. To ensure long life and prevent, as far as possible, shrinking and stretching, the woven tapes were protected by special paints and varnishes made in-house by the company. To ensure long life for the tape, it was essential that the tape was dried, and not wound up in a damp state inside the case. Unlike some others, the leather cases were not metal lined, as should the case be crushed the tape could be jammed and impossible to wind in or out.

A tape of this sort and length was most likely used in surveying, construction and sports’ measuring. It is much longer than the sprung metal tape measures many of us have at home.

Key theme(s):


More information:

Date 1950s, 1960s
Material(s) FabricLeatherBrass
Item number MBPO294

Questions to help you remember using this item

  • If you have ever used this type of tape measure, what did you use it for?
  • What other types of tape measure have you used?
  • What have you used tape measures for?
  • Do you measure in feet and inches or centimetres?

User Stories

The tape measure discussed above was made in the 20th century, but similar products were made a century earlier.

Here is an advert from 1871 for Chesterman tape measures:

The Science Museum holds a  flexible, cloth tape measure on a reel and enclosed in leather case made by John Rabone of Birmingham. The measurements are in feet and inches on one side and links on other. (A link was a unit of length used in land surveys, named after the links of a chain formerly used by surveyors. There are 100 links in one chain. One link is equal to 0.66 feet, 0.04 rods, 0.01 chains, or 0.20 meters.)

An image of that tape measure is shown below. The tape measure came from a shipwright’s tool chest dated to the 1850s.

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