Marks and Remarks
Food for the Mind and Eye

No. 0059, April 24, 2015


A Bushel and a Peck

Copyright 2015 by S. W. Paul Wyszkowski

     This serene sylvan scene shall serve us as a relaxing background for a lesson on traditional British measures of quantity. You know, like apples come in bushels and pecks, cherries in buckets, oil comes in barrels and wheat in sacks. If you look into the matter you will discover that there are many more traditional measures, some, thank heavens, not much used these days. To help me keep the relative sizes of these various measures straight in my mind I had set them to rhyme (long time ago when I was young and foolish). We came across that rhyme the other day while purging old papers and Prickles thought you might enjoy it. So here it is:

     The British System of Measures

     Two pecks make a bucket (simple things I like),
     Two buckets make a bushel, two bushels a strike.
     From here on, however, someone stacked the deck:
     A kilderkin contains a strike and a peck;
     A strike and a bushel will make up a sack,
     Two strikes make a coomb and then things slip back:
     A barrel is a coomb plus a bucket, of course,
     Two coombs are a seam, but to make things worse
     A seam is a quarter, and to further muck it,
     A puncheon is a quarter plus a peck and a bucket.
     A butt is something to take you aback:
     It's a quarter plus a barrel plus a peck and a sack.
     Two butts plus a barrel plus a coomb make a wey,
     And two weys make a last I'm happy to say,
     And you will be happy to learn (I don't doubt it)
     That the last is last, no two weys about it.

     "Are these for real?" Prickles is incredulous. Absolutely - check them out on the Wikkipedia and do the math. It's a very British system. Remember that before the Brits were dragged kicking and screaming into a decimal system of currency (they drew the line at the euro) they had the farthing, ha'penny (worth two farthings, I think), penny (a.k.a. sterling), tuppence, sixpence, the shilling or bob (twelve pence), the pound (of sterling which used to be silver once and 240 of them weighed a pound), and the guinea - the currency of the wealthy equal to one pound [sterling] plus a shilling. "You gotta love those Brits," says Prickles.

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