Barleycorn (unit)

The barleycorn is a former English unit of length[1] equal to 13 of an inch (i.e. about 8.47 mm). It is still used as the basis of shoe sizes in English-speaking countries.

A chart of Imperial and customary units.


Grains of barley

Under the c. AD 1300 Composition of Yards and Perches, one of the statutes of uncertain date that was notionally in force until the 1824 Weights and Measures Act, "3 barly cornes dry and rounde" were to serve as the basis for the inch and thence the larger units of feet, yards, perches and thus of the acre, an important unit of area. The notion of three barleycorns composing an inch certainly predates this statute, however, appearing in the 10th-century Welsh Laws of Hywel Dda.

In practice, various weights and measures acts of the English kings were standardized with reference to some particular yard-length iron, brass, or bronze bar held by the king or the Royal Exchequer. The formal barleycorn was 1108 of its length.[2]

The English statute notwithstanding, the barleycorn was also frequently taken as a measure of length equal to 14 of an inch.[3]

As modern studies show, the actual length of a kernel of barley varies from as short as 0.16–0.28 in (4–7 mm) to as long as 0.47–0.59 in (12–15 mm) depending on the cultivar.[4][5] Older sources claimed the average length of a grain of barley being 0.345 in (8.8 mm).[6]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Barley corn", Britannica, Edinburgh, 1769
  2. ^ Zupko, Ronald Edward (1977). British Weights and Measures: A History from Antiquity to the Seventeenth Century. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-299-07340-4.
  3. ^ OED. "barley-corn, n.".
  4. ^ Ullrich, Steven E. (2011). Barley: Production, Improvement, and Uses. p. 454.
  5. ^ Sýrkorová, Alena; et al. (2009). "Size Distribution of Barley Kernels" (PDF). Czech Journal of Food Sciences. 27 (4): 249–58.
  6. ^ "Brewing". Supplement to the Encyclopædia Britannica. 2. Edinburgh. 1824. p. 462.