The Search for the Middle of England
There’s something special about being at the centre of things. You are the bullseye, the focus of attention, the heart of the matter. It comes as no surprise therefore that the field of contenders vying for the title of being the very middle of England is a crowded one.
It’s easy to see why there are so many claimants to the crown. After all, how do you define the middle of what is, indisputably, an irregular shape? The question is not dissimilar to other equally contested titles, like the country’s oldest pub or school. These all have more than one candidate – it all depends on which rules you use.
Runners and Riders in the Middle of England Chase
Following British legal tradition, the twin pillars of patronage and precedence tend to carry considerable weight. One claim in particular stands out to be the centre of England, that of Weedon Bec in Northamptonshire. This was chosen in the time of the Napoleonic Wars as the dead centre of the country. It was argued (not unreasonably) that this position would take the longest for an invading army to reach. It was even designated as a safe haven for the royal family should old Boney ever cross the Channel.
This claim had the additional benefit of being supported by armed force. It was decreed that if there was to be a last stand then it would be a spectacular one. A huge barracks and arsenal was built that, at its height, covered 150 acres and employed 500 men. The stronghold even had its own spur off the Grand Union Canal to speed the royal family there, although whether it’s possible to speed anywhere by canal is open to question.
The power of precedence over patronage is demonstrated by the strength of the claim from Meriden, near Coventry. Meriden nestles in a small section of green belt half way between Birmingham and Coventry in the parish of Solihull. Like the early explorers, Meriden has taken the route of planting something physical in an attempt to cement its case. Not a flag, but a sandstone pillar on the village green, which some say is over five hundred years old. Like Weedon, Meriden’s claim is based on a calculation that it lies at the furthest point from the sea of anywhere in the country.
When it comes to tangible symbols, Lillington just outside Leamington Spa out-trumps Meriden with its Midland Oak. Locals insist this marks the absolute, no doubt about it, dead centre of the country; although the exact provenance of this claim is unknown. As a precaution perhaps, in 1988 Lillington got the Duke of Gloucester to unveil a plaque recording the oak’s importance. Isn’t the current oak standing at the spot much too young though? Don’t worry, they’ve got that covered. It was grown from an acorn from a tree grown from an acorn from the original. Apparently.
Just as the business of claim and counter claim seems to be building up into an impenetrable fog the distant sound of hooves can be heard from the Ordnance Survey, who rode to the rescue in 2002 with an arbitration. Showing a truly English sense of fair play they decided to ignore all the competing claims and came up with their own definitive, unarguable, candidate.
Their calculations homed in on a modest farm in Leicestershire. The good men and women of the Ordnance Survey decided that if you wanted to stand in the very centre of England then you should head for a spot in the grounds of Lindley Hall Farm just outside Fenny Drayton, a mile or two north west of Hinckley.
The OS grid reference is 362964. Or if you want to be really precise its position is 52° 33’ 51.52” North and 1° 27’ 54.57” West. This is a degree of precision which seems to brook no argument. The method by which the Ordnance Survey arrived at this point follows a similar force of undeniable logic. Borrowing from the science of geometry they decided to arrive at the centroid or barycentre of the country. Stay with me on this. The centroid is the intersection of all the hyperplanes that divide an object X into two parts of equal moment about the hyperplane. In other words, it is the average of all points of X.
Brilliant! Most of us can understand a bit of geography. However, make the basis of your argument mathematics and you are unlikely to meet too many challengers. In an age where science rules, notions of romance and precedent are promptly swept aside and the title of being the centre of England is given incontrovertibly and without prejudice, to humble little Fenny Drayton in Leicestershire.
Just to make things plain, in 2013, a six foot high monument made out of a railway sleeper was installed to mark the spot – just to make sure.
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