Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Two mutchkins equal one chopin

I mentioned in an earlier post that my daughter and son-in-law keep bees, as well as growing vegetables, on their allotment in London. I read this morning that so many Londoners are anxious to own allotments that waiting lists are now for 10 years or more and that councils are being encouraged to reduce the size of allotments to enable more people to grown their own vegetables. An allotment traditionally measures 10 rods (30ft by 100ft), enough to keep a family of four supplied with vegetables for a year.

In her article on allotment gardening, Lila das Gupta says, "By sparing the rod, we are in danger of spoiling the plot." She goes on to explain why smaller allotments will defeat the object of recreational gardening for city-dwellers, but that sentence made me go on to think about the lovely old names for measures which we used to recite in primary school but never actually used. The metric system may be easier to learn but centimetres and litres don't sound nearly so romantic as firkins and chaldrons.

Here are some I've recalled (and had to check up on). Do let me know of any that I have missed or mistaken:

12 inches = 1 foot
3 feet = 1 yard
5 yards, 1 foot and 6 inches = 1 rod, pole or perch
4 rods (poles or perches) = 1 chain
10 chains = 1 furlong
8 furlongs = 1 mile

An English acre = 1 furlong length by 1 chain width. This was the measure of land that a man with a team of 8 oxen could plough in one day. Furlong is a corruption of furrowlong.

Peck = 2 gallons
Bushel = 4 pecks
Chaldron = 36 bushels
Firkin = 9 gallons
Hogshead = 52 gallons

Dry goods could be measured 'heaped' or 'striked' i.e. levelled off.

I found the Scottish word for a half pint measure is a chopin and half a chopin is called a mutchkin.

I'm sure we are all relieved that we don't have to use these archaic measures but they do roll beautifully off the tongue.

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