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Money and Measures

Until 1973 , when Britain joined the European Union, the country used a variety of non-metric measures which may be unfamiliar to many. When you see how complicated these units could be the wonder is we waited so long to simplify things.


After 1824 the system of measures used in the United Kingdom was known as the Imperial System. The principle units of length were

  • the inch [25.4 mm],

  • the foot, made up of twelve inches [304.8 mm]

  • the yard, made up of 36 inches [914.4 mm].

  • the rod [or perch] 5 ½ yards or 16 1/2 feet long.

  • the chain which was 22 yards or four rods long

  • the furlong of ten chains

  • the mile made up of 8 furlongs or 80 chains or 1760 yards or 5280 feet.

A measure that was occasionally found mentioned is the ‘lug’. This is a peculiar unit as it sometimes refers to length and sometimes to area. This is generally regarded as the same length as a rod at 16 1/2 feet. In area it encompassed 30 [some have it to be 40 ]square yards or approximately the size of a perch. It is worth noting thought that the lug [which was until recently used to measure allotments] was variable. Warne in his diary notes it is 16 1/2 feet but the commentary to the diary makes mention of another source referring to the Dorset Lug of 15′ 1″.


In Martin’s day areas of land were measured in Acres, Roods and Perches. The acre was originally defined as the area of land that could be ploughed in a day and since this resulted in a rectangular strip that was how the acre was conceived of. Supposedly when the strip was measured it was found to be a rectangle of land 40 rods long [220 yards] by 4 rods [22 yards] wide. In practice virtually every county differed slightly in their definition of what constituted and in addition to the statute acre, there were also ‘customary’ acres.

Now, metaphorically, it is necessary to hang on to your hat because an acre could be considered as any of the following ;

  • a rectangular area 220 yards long × 22 yards wide = 4840 square yards. Originally this was reckoned to be the area that  plough team of 8 oxen could plough in one day. Plough teams were ‘encouraged’ in their work by the use of a goad or ‘rod’ which was 5.5 yards [16.5 feet long ]and this could also be used to measure the land so an acre could also be …

  • ….an area of land 40 rods by 4 rods long or 160 square rods. To add to the confusion however a square rod was known as a perch so the acre could also be viewed as 160 perches.

  • 4 roods. Yet another unit. The rood contained 40 perches so that 4 roods made up an acre.

Note that until about the 16th century there was little conception that the acre could be anything other than a rectangular area. It was only in that century that people began to understand that an acre could be any shape so long as it was 4840 square yards. In Dorset of course they did things differently ! According to Curtler in his Short History of English Agriculture the Dorset acre was only 134 perches in area.

The invention of the Gunter’s chain in 1620 whilst seemingly more complex actually simplified things greatly. It was the equivalent of four rods long at a total length of 22 yards but it was divided up into 100 links of 7.92 inches thus effectively decimalising the measurement process. Now the acre could be conceived of as

  • an area of land ten chains long × one chain wide. As the chain was divided into 100 links the acre could be also be envisaged as

  • an area 1000 links long × 100 links wide = 100,000 square links.

At first sight it may not seem that an acre of 100,000 square links is particularly convenient but oddly it was. All linear measures were first converted to the number of links and the area calculated in square links using the trigonometric formula appropriate to the shape of the land concerned.

If several areas of land had to be combined or subtracted with each other it was relatively easy to do so using the decimal measures. Once all the calculations were completed using the decimal system the conversion to acres roods and perches needed be done only once, right at the end.

Suppose that a field was 530,500 square links.

Its area in acres would be 530,500 ÷ 100,000 = 5.30500 acres.

To calculate the number of roods multiply the remainder by four.

0.30500 × 4 = 1.22000 so the number of roods is 1

To calculate the number of perches multiply the remainder by forty

0.22000 × 40 = 8.8000 which is rounded up to 9.

Thus our 530,500 square links have been reduced to 5 acres 1 rood and 9 perches.


Volumetric measures started with the pint [1.74 litre] , the quart [two pints] and then moved up to the gallon [8 pints]. When used to measure grain two gallons comprised a ‘peck’ and eight gallons a bushel [36.4 l]. Even larger still was the quarter which was eight bushels. This neat little rule of multiples of eight fell down when liquids were measured a hogshead in Dorset being 63 gallons !


One of the staple agricultural products, wool, had it’s own measures. Fleeces were on average about 2 1/2 pounds in weight so

2 or 3 fleeces formed a ‘clove’ of 7 lb’s

Four cloves formed a ‘tod’ and for some reason

6.5 tods made a weight.

2 weights made a sack

The only reference we have to the sale of wool comes in 1821 when John Martin sold wool at Wraxhall. The sack had by this time been replaced by the pack.

Wool 1821 82 Fleeces & Lambs Wool at 1s / lb 1 pack 1 weight & 29lb 2oz


Prior to 1971 British money was composed of pounds, shillings and pence. There were twelve pence to the shilling and twenty shillings to the pound. There were a range of coins available for use. The shilling and penny of course and slightly smaller in size, the half penny, and smaller still the quarter penny also known as the farthing. All these were circular coins but the threepenny bit was twelve sided. There was also a ‘tanner’ worth sixpence and a half crown worth two shillings and sixpence. There were paper notes for ten shillings, the pound and five pounds. Unlike today Martin might place the pound sign behind or even above the amount .

Frequently he did not use any notation just entering the numbers separated by hyphens or full stops. £10 2s 6d might thus be represented 10-2-6

Pre Decimal value


Post Decimal value


¼ d

No equivalent


½ d

No equivalent


1 d There were 240 pence in a pound, 12 pence in a shilling.

Halfpenny [now removed from circulation]

No Equivalent coin 2 pence


Threepenny bit


1.5 p [approx]

Sixpence [tanner]




1 s, 1/- with a small s over the one. There were 20 shillings to the pound.


Florin [Two shillings]


Half crown

2/6 d

No equivalent coin approx 12.5p

Ten shilling note

10 s, 10/- with a little s over the 10.

50 p coin

One pound note

£1, 1 with £ over the 1

One pound coin

One guinea [One pound one shilling]

£1 1s 0d


It is difficult to equate modern values to ancient ones and various methods are available. A full discussion of the issues surrounding the different forms of wealth can be found at

I have tended to go for the easy option and use the currency converter at the National Archives . This shows the value, in 2017, of £1 in each decade covered by the diaries. As you can see it’s value went up and down considerably. They show visually how many cows, sheep, could be bought for this sum of money as well as it’s worth in the number of weeks wages that the average labourer could have been paid.














Although it is not relevant to our story it should be remembered that historical dates have always been a problem. As late as the thirteenth century the first day of the year was reckoned from Christmas Day. Unfortunately from the twelfth century the church began its year on the 25th March a practice that was then adopted by the civil service in the fourteenth century. This style continued for three hundred years when an act of parliament decreed that the new year should in future commence on the 1st January 1753 was the year when this change would occur. The confusion that followed for historians may be imagined for how which year were they to allocate any event occurring between 1st January and 25th March? One way of getting around this was to write the date as follows 24th February 1654 5 .The top figure was the church/legal year with the bottom being the year calculated from 1st January 1753.

Until 1962 Acts of Parliament were dated according to what was known as the regnal year. Calculating this was not without problems but as an example what we today call the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 was originally cited as “An Act for the Amendment and better Administration of the Laws relating to the Poor in England and Wales 4 & 5 Will.4. c76”. William 4th began his reign on 26th June 1830. Regnal year 4 was between 26th June 1833 and 25th June 1834 whilst Regnal year 5 was 26th June 1834 and 25th June 1835. The act was passed in parliament before the 26th June 1834 but only received the royal assent in August 1834. Thus the act is referred to as 4 & 5 William 4. There was only one session of parliament during this time. Each session was divided up into chapters and this act was passed in the 76th chapter. In practice this meant the it was the 76th Act passed in the reign of William 4th. In some cases there were more than one session; in 1714 The Riot Act was passed 1 Geo 1 Stat. 2. c. 5. The first year of George Firsts reign was 1714, this act was passed in the second session and was the fifth act of that session.

Sweet & Maxwell’s ‘Guide to Law Reports and Statutes’ ,which is available on the internet, gives a list of the regnal years.