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Obsolete Scottish units of measurement

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Obsolete Scottish units of measurement

Scottish or Scots units of measurement are the weights and measures peculiar to Scotland which were nominally replaced by English units in 1685 but continued to be used in unofficial contexts until at least the late 18th century. The system was based on the ell (length), stone (mass), and boll and firlot (volume). This official system coexisted with local variants, especially for the measurement of land area.

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. "Scotch measure" or "Cunningham measure" was brought to parts of Ulster in Ireland by Ulster Scots settlers, and used into the mid-19th century.[5][6]


The Royal Mile in Edinburgh was used as the standard for a Scottish mile
The ell (Latin: ulna) was the basic unit of length, equal to 37 inches.[7] The "Barony ell" of 42 inches was used as the basis for land measurement in the Four Towns area near Lochmaben, Dumfriesshire.[8]
Scottish inch
As in England.[2] A fraudulent smaller inch of 142 of an ell is also recorded.[9]
foot (fit)
12 inches.[3][9]
yard (yaird)
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."[10]
fall (faw)
6 ells, or 222 inches. Identical to the Scots rod and raip ("rope").[11]
Scots mile
320 falls (1973⅓ yards), but varied from place to place. Obsolete by the 19th century.[12] The Royal Mile in Edinburgh is longer than an English mile (1760 yards) but roughly the length of a Scots mile.


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 (ruid)
  • Acre

Area by production

Oxgangs, Edinburgh named after the Scottish unit.

Eastern Scotland:

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

Area by taxation/rent

In western Scotland, including Galloway:


Dry volume

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



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 (unce)
  • Pound (pund)
  • Stone (stane)

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

See also


  • 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)
  • 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


  1. ^ .
  2. ^ a b .
  3. ^ a b c "Act for a standard of miles" (16 June 1685). APS viii: 494, c.59. RPS 1685/4/83.
  4. ^ Union with England Act 1707 (c. 7), art. 17.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Act of 11 March 1427, RPS 1427/3/2.
  8. ^ .
  9. ^ a b Act anent the foot measure (29 September 1663), RPS 1663/6/81.
  10. ^ Act of 10 March 1432, RPS 1432/3/12.
  11. ^ "fall, faw", Dictionary of the Scottish LanguageDictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue online edition.
  12. ^ "mile", Dictionary of the Scottish LanguageScottish National Dictionary online edition.
  13. ^

External links

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