Scottish or Scots units of measurement are the weights and measures peculiar to Scotland which were nominally replaced by English units in 1685 but continued to be used in unofficial contexts until at least the late 18th century. The system was based on the ell (length), stone (mass), and boll and firlot (volume). This official system coexisted with local variants, especially for the measurement of land area.
The system is said to have been introduced by David I of Scotland (1124–53), although there are no surviving records until the 15th century when the system was already in normal use. Standard measures and weights were kept in each burgh, and these were periodically compared against one another at "assizes of measures", often during the early years of the reign of a new monarch. Nevertheless, there was considerable local variation in many of the units, and the units of dry measure steadily increased in size from 1400 to 1700.
The Scots units of length were technically replaced by the English system by an Act of the Parliament of Scotland in 1685, and the other units by the Treaty of Union with England in 1706. However many continued to be used locally during the 18th and 19th centuries. The introduction of the Imperial system by the Weights and Measures Act 1824 saw the end of any formal use in trade and commerce, although some informal use as customary units continued into the 20th century. "Scotch measure" or "Cunningham measure" was brought to parts of Ulster in Ireland by Ulster Scots settlers, and used into the mid-19th century.
- The Scottish inch was 25.44 mm, almost the same as the English (and modern international) inch (25.40 mm). A fraudulent smaller inch of 1⁄42 ell (22.4 mm) is also recorded.
foot (Scots: fit):
- 36 inches (915.9 mm; compare with the English yard of 914.4 mm). Rarely used except with English units, although it appears in an Act of Parliament from 1432: "The king's officer, as is foresaid, shall have a horn, and each one a red wand of three-quarters of a yard at least."
- The ell (Latin: ulna) was the basic unit of length, equal to 37 inches (941.3 mm). The "Barony ell" of 42 inches (1069 mm) was used as the basis for land measurement in the Four Towns area near Lochmaben, Dumfriesshire.
A number of conflicting systems were used for area, sometimes bearing the same names in different regions, but working on different conversion rates. Because some of the systems were based on what land would produce, rather than the physical area, they are listed in their own section. Please see individual articles for more specific information. Because fertility varied widely, in many areas, production was considered a more practical measure.
Area by sizeEdit
For information on the squared units, please see the appropriate articles in the length section
Area by productionEdit
- oxgang (damh-imir) = the area an ox could plough in a year (around 20 acres)
- ploughgate (plougate) = 8 oxgangs
- davoch (dabhach or dauch) = 4 ploughgates
Area by taxation/rentEdit
In western Scotland, including Galloway:
Dry volume measures were slightly different for various types of grain, but often bore the same name.
- chalder (chauder) normally understood as 16 bolls (being just under 12 Winchester quarters): 270 
- boll (bowe or (bole) equal to 4 firlots
- lippie or forpet
These volume measurements were fixed at slightly different sizes at different times. A unified weights and measures system is attributed to David I - though the first written records of this are from the 14th century. The Assize of 1426 made changes to these measures. Then the Assize of 1457 was followed by four major revisions. These involved increases in the size of the firlot, the basic unit of grain measure, and occurred in: c.1500, 1555 (modified in 1563), 1587 and 1618. This last date gave a fixed Scottish system which only changed with the introduction of English measures. An increase in the size of the firlot allowed greater taxation to be raised (as each unit collected was bigger).: 3, 171, 263, 267
Superimposed on this chronological complexity was the difference between the "legal" measures established by the assizes, and the actual measures used in the markets and everyday trade. The "trading" measure could be one sixteenth larger than the "legal" boll, and the "customary" boll a further one sixteenth larger.: 270–271
Weight equivalents of one boll are given in a trade dictionary of 1863 as follows: Flour 140 pounds; Peas or beans 280 pounds; Oats 264 pounds; Barley 320 pounds; Oatmeal 140 pounds.
|Name||Scottish units||US customary units||English units||Metric units||Notes|
|gill of spirits||6+3⁄5 cubic inches|
|gill of ale or beer||0.014 gal||0.053 L|
|mutchkin||4 gills||0.056 gal||3 gills||0.212 L|
|chopin||4 mutchkins or 16 gills||0.224 gal||0.848 L||Derived from the French measure chopine, from c. 13th century.|
|pint (Scots) of spirits||2 chopins||28+7⁄8 cubic inches|
|pint (Scots) of ale or beer||2 chopins||0.448 gal||3 pints||1.696 L||a.k.a. joug, tappit hen; 105 cubic inches;|
|gallon of wine or spirits||8 pints||231 cubic inches, 35 gills in a gallon of spirits|
|gallon of ale or beer||8 pints||3.584 gal||3 gallons||13.638 L||846 cubic inches|
|hogshead of ale or beer||54 gallons or 16 gallons|
|hogshead of wine or spirits||63 gallons|
- drop (drap)
- ounce (unce)
- pound (pund)
- stone (stane)
Various local measures all existed, often using local weighing stones.
See also the weight meanings of the boll under the dry volume section, above.
- Collins Encyclopedia of Scotland
- Weights and Measures, by D. Richard Torrance, SAFHS, Edinburgh, 1996, ISBN 1-874722-09-9 (NB book focuses on Scottish weights and measures exclusively)
- This article incorporates text from "Dwelly's [Scottish] Gaelic Dictionary" (1911).
- Scottish National Dictionary and Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue
- Weights and Measures in Scotland: A European Perspective R. D. Connor, et al. National Museum of Scotland and Tuckwell Press, NMSE Publishing, 2004, ISBN 1-901663-88-4
- Simpson, A. D. C. (2005), "Interpreting Scots measurement terms: a cautionary tale", in Kay, Christian J.; Mackay, Margaret A. (eds.), Perspectives on the Older Scottish Tongue, Edinburgh: University Press, pp. 139–52.
- Connor, R. D.; Simpson, A. D. C. (2004), Weights and Measures in Scotland: A European Perspective, Edinburgh: NMS/Tuckwell Press, ISBN 978-1-901663-88-4.
- "Act for a standard of miles" (16 June 1685). APS viii: 494, c.59. RPS 1685/4/83.
- Union with England Act 1707 (c. 7), art. 17.
- Andrews, John Harwood (1985). Plantation acres: an historical study of the Irish land surveyor and his maps. Ulster Historical Foundation. p. 126.
- Hall, Anna Maria (1842). Ireland: Its Scenery, Character, &c. How and Parsons. pp. 198, fn. Retrieved 15 May 2015.
We notice the Scotch acre, chiefly because it is the measure employed in some of the northern Irish counties.
- "Act anent the foot measure". The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707. 29 September 1663. 1663/6/81. Retrieved 20 June 2021.
- Act of 10 March 1432, RPS 1432/3/12.
- Act of 11 March 1427, RPS 1427/3/2.
- Sinclair, John (1793), The statistical account of Scotland, Edinburgh: W. Creech, p. 240.
- "fall, faw", Dictionary of the Scottish Language – Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue online edition.
- "mile", Dictionary of the Scottish Language – Scottish National Dictionary online edition.
- Connor, R D; Simpson, A D C; Morrison-Low, A D (2004). Weights and Measures in Scotland: A European Perspective. Edinburgh: NMSE Publishing. ISBN 1-901-883-884.
- "Oxford English Dictionary". OED. Retrieved 11 August 2021.
- Simmonds, P L (1863). A dictionary of trade products, commercial, manufacturing, and technical terms: with a definition of the moneys, weights, and measures of all countries, reduced to the British standard. London: Routledge, Warne & Routledge.
- "Nipperkin". World Wide Words: Investigating the English language across the globe. Retrieved 11 September 2016.
- Donn, Benjamin (1758). "A new introduction to the mathematicks: being essays on vulgar and decimal Arithmetick (1858)". Retrieved 11 September 2016.
- Wood, L. Ingleby (1904). Scottish pewter-ware and pewterers. London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co., Ltd. pp. 122–124. ISBN 9785872622604. Retrieved 11 September 2016.
- "Scottish Weights and Measures: Capacity". Scottish Archive Network. Retrieved 11 September 2016.
- Morrison, C. (1820). The Young Lady's Guide to Practical Arithmetic. London: Ogle, Duncan, & Co. p. iv. Retrieved 11 September 2016.
- Tinwell, William (1805). A treatise of practical arithmetic and bookkeeping, by single entry (Fifth ed.). M. Angus and Son. p. 21. Retrieved 11 September 2016.
- Scottish Weights and Measures on Scottish Archive network (SCAN)