Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Size matters


Span is all of a lather over on Mag’s blog on a matter of size. I should never have told Mags that a span is 9 inches… oh well such is the cross one bears. As I’ve made a biblical reference, I might as well point out that Goliath (yes the very fellow slain by David) was reputed to be "six cubits and a span" tall. A cubit was generally reckoned to be the measurement from Noah’s elbow to the tip of his middle finger. Well these things were a bit variable…Or were they?

Well Noah and his arm might be but there were 12 inches to the foot, 3 feet to the yard, five yards and one foot and six inches to the rod (or pole or perch), 4 rods (or poles or perch) to the chain, 10 chains to the furlong, and 8 furlongs to the statute mile.

My allotment is nine poles. But how much is that then? And is it always the same? And why is it a pole?

The pole was the ox-goad the medieval ploughman used to control his team of eight oxen. In order to reach the leading pair he had to have a long pokey thing which had to be sixteen and a half feet or five and a half yards long.

This becomes particularly interesting when you think that each ploughman had a pretty standard measuring pole. A mediaeval ploughman with a team of eight oxen was required to till one acre a day. That was a furlong in length. Obviously a "furrowlong" was about the most four yoke of oxen could pull steadily through heavy soil before they had to rest – 220 yards.

An acre (4,840 square yards) is one furlong in length and one chain in breadth. A chain was 22 yards. OK but what’s that got to do with poles? Well it’s 22 yards – or four poles. Such a convenient length as the pole allowed easy assessment at any time in the day of how much had been ploughed of the width of the acre.

Interestingly the dividing markers between the acres were very narrow strips of unploughed land which, over the long years, as the land between them was worked and in consequence sank a little, appeared to be raised. When crop rotation allowed land to lie fallow, any games played on its rich grass would be dictated by those markers. So you might push some stumps in and throw balls at them, on a wicket 22 yards long. Gosh let’s call it cricket.

Looking down the furrow, to where the oxen turned and rested, one acre butted up to the next, and small mounds rose from the ground. They were called butts and were utilised, as butts are today, as protection for those who stood behind the archery targets. And how long was a furrow again? About 220 yards. A good distance to be deadly accurate with a longbow.



This is a picture of my younger son on the battlefield at Crécy on the anniversary of the battle last summer, excercising his right as an Englishman to shoot a bow that is much too big for him on a french field , in honour of his ancestors (who were big bastards due to all that ploughing, ox-goading and archery practice).

Categories: History_ English Language_

14 Comments:

Blogger Lucy said...

"My allotment has nine Poles. But how much is that then?"

I'm not sure, they don't charge much though.
And there was me thkning you did all the hard graft.

Thu May 11, 09:56:00 AM GMT+1  
Blogger Gavin Corder said...

Those pesky Poles - demobbed here in 1946 - I'm surrounded!

Actually there are more than a few on the allotment, one's a Battle of Britain pilot, another was the youngest tank commander at the Battle of Monte Casino. It's something of a privilege for me to be advised about the veg by these guys!

Thu May 11, 10:05:00 AM GMT+1  
Blogger Span Ows said...

Wow! Yes too many people forget their help fighting but I guess they ahd a good reason! I used to pass the Polish War Memorial on the A40 everyday going to work.

Old measuremnets are great and there is SOOOOO much info out there. As I said I shall compose one re "ounce" that will have more than a grain of truth...tsk tsk, weight joke there.

Thu May 11, 10:53:00 AM GMT+1  
Blogger Six Years Late said...

44 metres innit

Thu May 11, 11:21:00 PM GMT+1  
Blogger Lucy said...

Curiosity always comes in first place, when a problem is to be solved.

Galileo Galilei

Fri May 12, 07:46:00 AM GMT+1  
Blogger Lucy said...

Leonardo da Vinci was born in Vinci, Just thought I'd mention it.

Fri May 12, 12:20:00 PM GMT+1  
Blogger Gavin Corder said...

Lucy, that would be why he's called Leonardo of Vinci in Tuscany! Alright smarty pants, Michaelangelo's surname was Buonarroti but his full name was Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni as his Dad's name was Lodovico di Leonardo di Buonarotti di Simoni - they were still a big hazy about the whole surname concept in the 15th century...

Fri May 12, 01:09:00 PM GMT+1  
Blogger Gavin Corder said...

Don't be so relentlessly modern Six!

Fri May 12, 01:09:00 PM GMT+1  
Blogger Gavin Corder said...

Span yes a post on the old avoir du pois would be most appropriate. Best stick to weight not length in your case eh? ;-)

Fri May 12, 01:11:00 PM GMT+1  
Blogger The Great Gildersleeve said...

When I read the humour, the thoughtfullness and often enlightening views or information posted on the blogs of our select band of bloggers, it really does bring home to me in many cases what a load of(Put your own expletive in here)we often get served up in the media and that thanks heavens some of the population do think about things and are still able to have a bit of fun but are intellegent.

If you are extreme, you get the attention and the media will spin the stories to make out that what you see and hear is the norm(whatever that is)and that many of public are out of step when its the other way around.

The media needs extremes. If it does not find any, it creates them.

Sat May 13, 12:58:00 AM GMT+1  
Blogger Lightning said...

"exercising his right as an Englishman" to use a bow, hope not too many read that bit Gavin, can just see the tabloid headlines "Mother, 11 years old, said she was forced into having sex, by an attacker who threatened her with a longbow"

Sat May 13, 11:36:00 AM GMT+1  
Blogger Gavin Corder said...

Excuse me Lightning? The kid has not progressed beyond the pulling pigtails stage!

Sat May 13, 04:48:00 PM GMT+1  
Blogger Span Ows said...

Gav, I've linked you to my ounce post...oxgang

Mon May 15, 04:25:00 PM GMT+1  
Blogger alfie said...

I'm dead jealous about Crecy......

I've resolved to dig out my long bow and reinstate yet another ancient English right...... hunting Welshmen out after dark within the walls of the city of Chester......

Tue Jun 13, 12:53:00 AM GMT+1  

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