Tudor Weights and Measures

Although weights and measures have always been preserved with great care, hardly any British weights survive that are older than the time of Henry VII. A very rare set of standard English wool weights, mostly 7 lb weight and dating from 149I, is still in existence. These are bronze, shield-shaped, and have holes at the top for slinging across the saddle-bow; the face bears the royal arms, in addition to other arms and marks.

The standard English measure of capacity was the Saxon bushel. One of King Edgar's is still preserved at Winchester, whence the common names Winchester Quart and Winchester Bushel have been handed down. These were reauthorized by Edward III, who was a great law-maker, in 1352. There also exist numerous fine old Winchester bushels, cast in bell metal, including one from Henry VIII's reign. These measures comprised the Elizabethan standards for a bushel, quart, gallon and pint, and were in service until 1824. A set of standard measures was kept in all the sixty chief towns in the kingdom. There is also in existence a set of Elizabethan avoirdupois weights, comprising 7, 14, 28 and 112 lb; they are of bronze and were cast in bell form. The standard of length was the same as that of the old ell, 36 inches.

Very stringent laws applied to false weights. For instance, the Letterbooks of the City of London record whole series of bad deliveries on that score, for the unscrupulous tradesman was as ready to cheat then as at any time since. In those days, coal was sold in 8-bushel sacks, although it was often found that they contained only six. Offenders were tried before the Sheriff and they usually confessed. They were then ordered to stand in the pillory while their sacks were burnt under them; and in addition the coal was forfeited 'for the use of the Sheriffs'. (17)

The famous Elizabethan merchant trader and traveller Anthony Jenkinson, who with his pack-mules wandered over much of Russia and south-west Asia, took with him a 1 lb and a 1 oz brass weight to measure his drugs and other small things when among those semi-savage races. (18)

17 CITY OF LONDON, Calendar of Letter Books (1907, 1911), I,K, etc.

18 HAKLUKT, R. 1926 edn., 2, p. 8