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Weights and Measures

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Those who have looked into canal history probably encountered the mention of "Longweight" and "Shortweight" when it came to the carriage of coal, ironstone, lime etc, by boat. The longweight system made allowance for loss. 

 

With a past application to English Heritage, I did hope that the listing of Tipton Gauging Station from Grade 2 to Grade 2 star had merit for the reason the dry weight gauging was meant to get rid of the practice of longweight measurements on the BCN, even though such practices had become unlawful through earlier legislation. English Heritage did not think the reason was strong enough to make a change and went onto list, a rival application, a pub in Northfield (Birmingham) instead.

 

Que Sera Sera, as some say.

 

I recently came across mention of the Cheshire Acre, which must have been an issue for surveyors making waterways through Cheshire and their neighbouring counties, especially where land spanned the county boundary. It would appear that different areas of Britain had differing measures for their land.

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When I worked for G Maunsell & Partners, we had a standard unit of time, the "Maunsell Fortnight". As you may have guessed, it was longer, by an indeterminate amount, than a standard fortnight.

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A Derbyshire mile is typically more than 1,760 yards - or at least it feels like it if you're on foot.

More rewardingly, a Sussex Half, used to top up your almost empty pint glass for your last drink of the evening in a Sussex pub, is considerably more than 10 fl.oz, though I never actually measured one.

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Not canals but, "A baker's dozen" being 13 off.

 

Bakers in medieval England (= England between 1000 and 1500) had a bad reputation for cheating their customers by selling loaves of bread that were too light. After laws were introduced to fix the standard weight of loaves, bakers began to add a thirteenth loaf to each dozen to make sure they were not breaking the law.

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Cheshire Acres were commonly used in the Lancashire coalfields as a measure of area from which coals and cannel  might be won.  

 

N

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3 hours ago, Athy said:

More rewardingly, a Sussex Half, used to top up your almost empty pint glass for your last drink of the evening in a Sussex pub, is considerably more than 10 fl.oz, though I never actually measured one.

I had quite a few of these when living in Worthing.

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The widespread existence of regional weights and measures before imperial standards were prescribed by law (I believe the Weights and Measures Act 1878, effective 1st Jan 1879) is indicated in a late Victorian arithmetic  book I used to have. Its preface noted that it was a new edition that omitted the exercises in conversion between the local pounds, pints  etc. that had previously been present.  Until the present Imperial Gallon was made the legal standard in 1824, the Wine Gallon of 231 cubic inches (as still used in the USA) was the UK legal standard.

 

Set into the wall behind the fountains at Trafalgar Square is a brass plaque with a standard Imperial yard and its subdivisions. 

 

The lengthy article "Weights and Measures" in the 1911 edition of the Encyclopaeidia Britannica  says this about local usage:

 

"  Customary Weights and Measures  - In some districts of the United Kingdom, as well as in provincial districts of other countries  old local and customary denominations of weights and measures are still to be found in use, although their use may have been prohibited by law. So powerful is custom with the people.  [Report of the Select Committee 1892 and other later sources]   "

 

It does not provide any examples of the old UK local units, but does mention that, in 1900,  it had been necessary to make a regulation prohibiting the continued presence in school books of the old local customary units. 

Edited by Ronaldo47
Typos
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Going back 20 or 30 years, the 'slack handful' was a useful measure to check how good a hardware shop was. If they pointed you to a large open box or bag when you asked for a slack handful of 2 inch nails, you knew you were in a proper shop, not one that offered just a few nails in a little plastic bag.

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plus at the fitters'/machinists'/engineers' 'secret' measures - the smidge - the knat's.... - the nip

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1 hour ago, Pluto said:

Going back 20 or 30 years, the 'slack handful' was a useful measure to check how good a hardware shop was. If they pointed you to a large open box or bag when you asked for a slack handful of 2 inch nails, you knew you were in a proper shop, not one that offered just a few nails in a little plastic bag.

That's a new one on me: so, "slack" as in "loose"?

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51 minutes ago, Athy said:

That's a new one on me: so, "slack" as in "loose"?

As in complaints about boats moving when moored - you've got too much slack in your mooring lines.

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2 hours ago, Athy said:

That's a new one on me: so, "slack" as in "loose"?

 

Yes, as anyone who picks up a tight handful of sharp nails or screws only does it the once!

 

My usual builder's merchant still sell loose nails and screws like this, but they have the sense to use an armoured glove.

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I attach an Anderton Carrying Notice, which relates to this discussion-

 

A ton of 2,400 pounds refers to Longweight measure

 

958031.jpg

Edited by Heartland

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I remember one of my teachers, while I was still at junior school, mentioning "long tons" and "short tons", but I think he said they were American measures.

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Weights and measures were, I believe, always locally variable.

For example

 

https://www.angloinfo.com/dordogne/discussions/general/logs-what-volume-is-a-brass

 

A brass, as is written here should be a brasse and is derived from bras, an arm, and is the measure from finger tip to finger tip.

Around here they talk of cordes and stères.

 

Years ago in Belgium I remember my Scottish landlord saying how he had to buy copper pipe by the metre length but by the inch diameter.

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2 minutes ago, Stilllearning said:

 

 

A brass, as is written here should be a brasse and is derived from bras, an arm, and is the measure from finger tip to finger tip.

Around here they talk of cordes and stères.

 

 

So, the equivalent of the ell used as a measurement of cloth (45 inches I think).

 

What (apart from a rope) is the "corde"? I have heard of a "cord of wood" which I assume is a measurement. Any connection?

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Just now, Athy said:

So, the equivalent of the ell used as a measurement of cloth (45 inches I think).

 

What (apart from a rope) is the "corde"? I have heard of a "cord of wood" which I assume is a measurement. Any connection?

I suspect that as usual the normans and their descendants brought the measure over with them, as they did with so many things.

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Thanks for posting the old notice. I believe that the ton of 40 cubic feet is still used internationally to estimate the cargo-carrying capacity of ships' holds. There is also the register ton of 100  cubic feet used for measuring the internal capacity of merchant ships for the purpose of registration, and the ton displacement of 35 cubic feet of sea water, used for other vessels such as battleships, representing the amount of sea water displaced and hence the actual weight of the vessel. 

 

Funnily enough, yesterday I came across an old post in this thread from September 2010 on oil lamps where some sources of spares were given. On trying one in Germany I found they stock a replacement glass chimney for an oil lamp for which I had been unable to find a UK supplier for nearly a decade: result! Browsing their site, it appears that, in Europe, wick sizes for old lamps are still expressed in terms of "lines" of the inch of the old French foot. The old French foot was just over  13 English inches. The subdivision of 1 inch into 12 lines seems to have fallen into disuse in the UK in the inter-war period. I was never taught it at primary school in the early 1950's, but it appears in a table of weights and measures on the back cover of an old school exercise book dating from the 1920's.

 

I have an old physics book which quotes verbatim passages from some of the early experimenters such as Newton. It seems that English physicists were then using the pre-decimal French units, such as the French foot (specifically, the Paris foot) and French pound. Interestingly, the metric metre, although said to represent an exact integer decimal submultiple of a quadrant of the earth's circumference, is almost exactly equal to three French feet, or half a French fathom (toise).  

Edited by Ronaldo47
Typo, futher note on use of old french units

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Reminds me of a cartoon. Woman enters butchers and asks for the big lump of steak marked £5 under the glass.

 

Butcher puts his hand under glass to get the steak and his hand looks massive.

 

A thing I've noticed in real life is most people have no concept of what an acre is.

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5 hours ago, mark99 said:

A thing I've noticed in real life is most people have no concept of what an acre is.

 

For all practical purposes its the area occupied by a block of full length narrowboats, three boats long by 30 boats wide.

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15 hours ago, Derek R. said:

Tightly stacked, 4' deep x 4' high x 8' long.

https://cutthewood.com/diy/how-to-measure-a-cord-of-wood

6x6x3 in Hampshire where I grew up, we got a free cord every year from the estate where we lived.

 

An acre is about 65x65. Yards

Edited by Stilllearning

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21 hours ago, Ronaldo47 said:

I believe that the ton of 40 cubic feet is still used internationally to estimate the cargo-carrying capacity of ships' holds. There is also the register ton of 100  cubic feet used for measuring the internal capacity of merchant ships for the purpose of registration, and the ton displacement of 35 cubic feet of sea water, used for other vessels such as battleships, representing the amount of sea water displaced and hence the actual weight of the vessel. 

 

 

This measurement is actually based on 'tuns' - barrels of wine - which is why is is a measure of volume rather than weight.

 

Tam

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14 hours ago, mark99 said:

A thing I've noticed in real life is most people have no concept of what an acre is.

 

It's a unit they are not used to but have only heard of in farming terms (hundred acre wood for example). A friend bought a house with a garden of nearly an acre - as gardens go it's big, but not "If I'm not back by nightfall send a search party" big.

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Surely it's commonly used to express the size of plots of land on which houses are built (or, to put it another way, the area of a garden + the house). I remember that, when my parents bought a plot on which to have a house built, it was a third of an acre. Our current house stands in a quarter of an acre.

 

I think it is based on the somewhat inexact measure of how much land could be ploughed in a day - which surely depended on the skill of the ploughman, and the strength and disposition of his horses or beasts.

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