Obsolete scottish units of measurement

Scotland had a distinct system of measures and weights until at least the late 18th century, based on the ell as a unit of length, the stone as a unit of mass and the boll and the firlot as units of dry measure. This official system coexisted with local variants, especially for the measurement of land.

The system is said to have been introduced by David I of Scotland (1124–53), although there are no surviving records until the 15th century when the system was already in normal use. Standard measures and weights were kept in each burgh, and these were periodically compared against one another at "assizes of measures", often during the early years of the reign of a new monarch. Nevertheless, there was considerable local variation in many of the units, and the units of dry measure steadily increased in size from 1400 to 1700.[1][2]

The Scots units of length were technically replaced by the English system by an Act of the Parliament of Scotland in 1685,[3] and the other units by the Treaty of Union with England in 1706.[4] However many continued to be used locally during the 18th century. The introduction of the Imperial system by the Weights and Measures Act 1824 saw the end of any formal use in trade and commerce, although some informal use as customary units continued into the 20th century.

Length


ell 
The ell (Latin: ulna) was the basic unit of length, equal to 37 inches.[5] The "Barony ell" of 42 inches was used as the basis for land measurement in the Four Towns area near Lochmaben, Dumfriesshire.[6]
Scottish inch 
As in England.[2] A fraudulent smaller inch of 142 of an ell is also recorded.[7]
foot 
12 inches.[3][7]
yard 
36 inches.[3] Rarely used except with English units, although it appears in an Act of Parliament from 1432: "The king's officer, as is foresaid, shall have a horn, and each one a red wand of three-quarters of a yard at least."[8]
fall 
6 ells, or 222 inches. Identical to the Scots rod and raip ("rope").[9]
Scots mile 
320 falls (1973⅓ yards), but varied from place to place. Obsolete by the 19th century.[10] The Royal Mile in Edinburgh is longer than an English mile (1760 yards) but roughly the length of a Scots mile.

Area

A number of conflicting systems were used for area, sometimes bearing the same names in different regions, but working on different conversion rates. Because some of the systems were based on what land would produce, rather than the physical area, they are listed in their own section. Please see individual articles for more specific information. Because fertility varied widely, in many areas, production was considered a more practical measure.

Area by size

For information on the squared units, please see the appropriate articles in the length section

  • Square inch
  • Square ell
  • Square Fall/Faw
  • Rood
  • Acre

Area by production


Eastern Scotland:

  • Oxgang (Damh-imir) = the area an ox could plough in a year (around 20 acres)
  • Ploughgate (?) = 8 oxgangs
  • Daugh (Dabhach/Davoch) = 4 ploughgates

Area by taxation/rent

In western Scotland, including Galloway:

Volume

Dry volume

Dry volume measures were slightly different for various types of grain, but often bore the same name.

Fluid

Weight

Weight was measure according to "Troy Measure" (Lanark) and "Tron Measure" (Edinburgh), which were standardised in 1661. In the Troy system these often bore the same name as imperial measures.

  • Drop/drap
  • Ounce
  • Pound/Poon
  • Stone/Stane

Various local measures all existed, often using local weighing stones.

See also

Bibliography

  • Collins Encyclopedia of Scotland
  • Weights and Measures, by D. Richard Torrance, SAFHS, Edinburgh, 1996, ISBN 1-874722-09-9 (NB book focusses on Scottish weights and measures exclusively)
  • This article incorporates text from "Dwelly's [Scottish] Gaelic Dictionary" (1911).
  • Scottish National Dictionary and Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue
  • Weights and Measures in Scotland: A European Perspective R. D. Connor, et al. National Museum of Scotland and Tuckwell Press, NMSE Publishing, 2004, ISBN 1-901663-88-4

References

External links

  • Scottish Weights and Measures on Scottish Archive network (SCAN)
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