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Farm Production in England 1700-1914$

M. E. Turner, J. V. Beckett, and B. Afton

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780198208044

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198208044.001.0001

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(p.245) Appendix 2 Measurement and Weighting Problems in Farm Records

(p.245) Appendix 2 Measurement and Weighting Problems in Farm Records

Farm Production in England 1700-1914
Oxford University Press

One of the most complex problems we faced in using farm records was inconsistency of unit, whether in terms of area or measure.

The size of the acre and the volume measure used varied over time and space. Although the acre was officially standardized by Edward I at 40 roods by 4 roods, or 4,840 square yards, there were many customary variations. In Lancashire in the eighteenth century, a customary acre of 7,866 sq. yards was used.1 The same sized acre, and known as the Cheshire acre, was used in Cheshire at the beginning of the nineteenth century at the time when the 1801 crop returns were collected.2 At West Dean in Sussex an acre of 107 rods, or two-thirds of a statute acre, was used.3 In Dorset, the pre-enclosure customary acre in use at Charlton Marshall was c.63 per cent of a statute acre.4 At other locations in Dorset and Wiltshire, the customary acre was 3,630 sq. yards or 75 per cent of an Imperial acre.5 According to Primrose McConnell’s Agricultural Note-Book, customary acres in England ranged from just under 48 per cent of an Imperial acre in Leicestershire to nearly 212 per cent in Cheshire and Staffordshire.6

Crop volumetric measures also varied over time and location, and they also varied from crop to crop. Wheat might be measured in bushels, but the size of the bushel varied. In 1824, the Act for Ascertaining and Establishing Uniformity of Weights and Measurements replaced the 7.76-Imperial (p.246)

Table A2.1 Variations in measurements




Worcestershire, Oxfordshire


3 bushels

Cambridgeshire, Suffolk


4 bushels

Hampshire, Wiltshire, Essex


4 bushels



5½ bushels



½ bushel

Ford, Northumberland


2 bushels

Middleton, Northumberland


6 bushels


old boll

8 bushels

Sheffield area


3 bushels

Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Sussex


5 quarters



1 bushel

Sources Worcestershire RO, BA 1551 705:41/3; Warwickshire RO, CR 1635/128; Cambridgeshire RO, R55/7/8/15; Suffolk RO, Ipswich, HC 423/B1/1; Wiltshire RO, 929; Essex RO, D/DU 251; Centre for Kentish Studies, U593/A3; Northumberland RO, 414/14; Berwick-upon-Tweed RO, ZSI/82; Northumberland RO, ZDE 19/4/17; Sheffield AO, MD3518 and WWM A 1380; Hampshire RO, 2M37/342; Isle of Wight RO, BRS/J/1; East Sussex RO, Hook; Nottinghamshire AO, DD 872/16.

gallon, Winchester bushel, with the 8-gallon Imperial bushel. From this time the Imperial bushel became the only legal bushel, though other-sized bushels had been commonly used.7 At West Dean in Sussex, for example, the bushel measure for wheat changed from 9 to 8 gallons in 1789.8 In some locations, the bushel was given a weight equivalent. For example, in Newton, Cumberland, the bushel weight for wheat was 14 stone.9 Many other measures were used beside the bushel. These were often local and not standardized around the country. Table A2.1 lists some of the units found in the archives compared with the Imperial equivalent.10 The variations can be (p.247) confusing. For example, in one document from Ford in Northumberland, both the old boll and the new boll were used.11

The measurement of livestock weights was also complex, as we show in Chapter 6.

There are several ways to resolve the problems caused by the different units of measure. Often individual documents provided clues. For livestock weights, the unit could often be found by comparing the price per pound with the total price, and hence deriving the total weight of the animal. With corn, the unknown unit could sometimes be calculated in much the same way. At North Waltham, Hampshire, for example, grain was measured in loads, quarters, and sacks. The maximum number of quarters used before a load was registered was four.12 This suggests that there were five quarters in a load. The resulting calculation can be checked using contemporary printed sources. Appendix A to the Second Report of the Parliamentary Commissioners on Weights and Measures (1820) provides an index to the various units in use in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth. These were largely extracted from the General Views of the various counties published by the Board of Agriculture.13

Many of the nineteenth-century cyclopedias and notebooks have similar, though generally less complete lists. One of the best can be found in John Morton’s Cyclopedia of Agriculture.14 As useful as these lists and indexes are, it would have been a mistake to rely solely on them since the most important evidence was found within individual documents. A single example can demonstrate this. In Dorset, according to the Index from the Commissioners on Weights and Measures, a customary acre was generally 134 perches or 83.75 per cent of a statute acre. According to Primrose McConnell, the acre in Wiltshire and Dorset was 75 per cent of a statute acre. However, to use either of these rates to convert the area found in a document from Charlton Marshall in Dorset would result in a considerable error in yield. On several pages of the document the farmer shows the statute equivalent relative to the customary acre used on the farm. The amount used varied slightly but his measure of the customary acre was approximately 63 per cent of a statute acre.15


(1) Lancashire RO, DD Bl 54/11.

(2) See M. E. Turner (ed.), Home Office Acreage Returns: (HO67) List and Analysis Part1 Bedfordshire–Isle of Wight (London: List and Index Society, 189, 1982), 71–3.

(3) West Sussex RO, MP1477.

(4) Dorset RO, D1/5339.

(5) P. McConnell, Note-Book of Agricultural Facts and Figures for Farmers and Farm Students (7th edn. London, 1904), 32.

(6) Ibid. 32.

(7) C. M. Watson, British Weights and Measures as Described in the Laws of England from Anglo-Saxon Times (London: John Murray, 1910), 85, 97.

(8) West Sussex RO, MP1477.

(9) Cumbria RO, Carlisle, DX/408/1.

(10) See also an indication of the variations in these volumetric measures at the time of the 1801 crop returns in M. E. Turner, J. V. Beckett, and B. Afton, ‘Taking Stock: Farmers, Farm Records, and Agricultural Output in England, 1700–1850’, AgHR 44 (1996), 30–1.

(11) Northumberland RO, ZDE 19/4/17.

(12) RUL, HAN P 285.

(13) Second Report of the Commissioners on Weights and Measures, BPP, VII (1820), appendix A. Reproduced in AHEW vi. 1117–55.

(14) J. C. Morton (ed.), Cyclopedia of Agriculture (London, 1855), 417–18, 720–7, 1123–7.

(15) AHEW vi. 1117; McConnell, Note-Book, 32; Dorset RO, D1/5339.