Random facts of the day: some traditional measurements!

https://sites.google.com/a/wrps.net/lhschemistry/_/rsrc/1461015140094/unit-3-labs/units-of-measurement/Us%20Survey%20units.jpg?height=251&width=400

Random piece of general knowledge (many thanks to The Old Farmers Almanac):

1 league = 3 miles = 24 furlongs

In other words, there are eight furlongs to a mile. So how long is a furlong? 660 feet, or 40 rods (one rod being 5 ½ yards). Seen another way, a furlong is equal to one eighth of a mile: equivalent to 660 feet, 220 yards, 40 rods (1 rod = 5 1/2 feet), or 10 chains (one chain, therefore, being equal to 66 feet).

Originally, it was the length of the furrow in one acre of a ploughed field – thus, the name: one “furrow long” – in the old open-field system of medieval England, in which acres were usually long and narrow, and was the distance a team of oxen could plough without resting. From there, it passed into the British Imperial and U.S. customary system of measurements. An acre was reckoned as one furlong in length (naturally), and one chain in width, and was considered to be the amount of land one man, behind one ox, could plough in one day.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/39/Anthropic_Farm_Units.png/400px-Anthropic_Farm_Units.png

Other oxen-derived measurements include an oxgang (from the same root as our contemporary word “going,” with the implication of walking *), the amount of land tillable by one ox in a ploughing season (an area which could vary from village to village, but was typically around 15 acres), a virgate, the amount of land tillable by two oxen in one ploughing season (thus, two oxgangs), and a carucate, the amount of land that could be tilled by eight oxen in a ploughing season: equal, naturally, to 8 oxgangs or 4 virgates. Thus, these measurements were not random or arbitrary, they described what could be done on them, in a way that was very useful and informative for an agricultural society!

*  That derivation still exists, though somewhat concealed by changes in the language, and our understanding: a “gang” is a group of people who go (walk) around together. And the archaic English word “gangly” refers to a person or (usually young) animal who appears to be “all legs,” and therefore seems made for walking! Also, a “chain-gang” is not just a group of people joined by a chain; they are chain-gang: that is to say, they are walking chained, rather than free.

On a related note, the furlong was historically considered to be equivalent to the Roman stade (from which we get “stadium”), itself derived from the Greek stadion ~ and it was, although approximately: the old Roman measurement was actually 625 feet. The Romans reckoned eight stadia to the mile, and (as remains the case in our English measurement, albeit using furlongs) three miles to the league. Thus, the Roman mile was a little shorter than ours is. A league was considered to be the distance a man could walk in one hour, and the mile (from mille, meaning “thousand”) consisted of 1,000 passi (paces: five feet, or two single steps of two-and-a-half feet each).

https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/proxy/kt0RpmdwysRDICsYv2fk1p1CQ2HmONAHkV_mdCZtmx-gTr9ieNl6lJieYNEsxs5-UuTF-0sVGBTtfhkIffR0iHE27Q

Now you know probably more than you ever wanted to about ancient land-measurements!

(Additional information gleaned from Wikipedia, and from my own knowledge of things medieval!)

London’s last working shire horses revive centuries-old tradition of cutting rare hay meadows | Daily Mail Online

Ham House head gardener Rosie Fyles said: 'There's something really special about witnessing the sights and sounds of this centuries-old rural tradition in the heart of London today. We know these flood meadows have been part of the London landscape since the 17th Century and would have been used for grazing and ploughed for hay and feed'

London’s last working shire horses are reviving the centuries-old tradition of cutting rare hay meadows without heavy machinery to encourage the return of wild flowers.

Source: London’s last working shire horses revive centuries-old tradition of cutting rare hay meadows | Daily Mail Online

There are some things draft horses – or “heavy horses,” as they’re known in England – can do better than any tractor, and one of those is protecting the ecosystem that they’re working:

Despite weighing up to a tonne, the heavy horses are still lighter than tractors and compact the soil less as they plod the fields, which helps plants and wildlife to flourish…

The National Trust said it decided to return to the traditional method of managing the land because of its many benefits for nature. The horses are a throwback to a bygone era of farming, before the invention of the internal combustion engine. Their remarkable stamina also mean they can work well into their 20s and can mow an average of 10 acres of grass in one day.”

And of course, the “exhaust” they produce fertilizes the land, rather than polluting the air; and unlike tractors, they can breed their own replacements!

Heavy horses back at work in London, even if it is only on one select site… Perhaps Jethro Tull (the band, not the 18th-century agriculturalist) was prophetic:

In these dark towns folk lie sleeping
As the heavy horses thunder by,
To wake the dying city
With the living horseman’s cry.
At once the old hands quicken,
Bring pick and wisp and curry comb:
Thrill to the sound of all
The heavy horses coming home…

— Jethro Tull, “Heavy Horses

Jethro Tull – Heavy Horses

Believe it or not, though I have liked Jethro Tull for many years (and passionately loved their album Songs from the Wood, which has been one of my favorites since late high school / early college days), I just listened seriously to this one, and read the lyrics, for the first time the night before last. Wow! I did not know what I was missing:

Let me find you a filly for your proud stallion seed
to keep the old line going.
And we’ll stand you abreast at the back of the wood
behind the young trees growing
To hide you from eyes that mock at your girth,
and your eighteen hands at the shoulder
And one day when the oil barons have all dripped dry
and the nights are seen to draw colder
They’ll beg for your strength, your gentle power
your noble grace and your bearing
And you’ll strain once again to the sound of the gulls
in the wake of the deep plough, sharing.

Standing like tanks on the brow of the hill
Up into the cold wind facing
In stiff battle harness, chained to the world
Against the low sun racing
Bring me a wheel of oaken wood
A rein of polished leather
A Heavy Horse and a tumbling sky
Brewing heavy weather.

Again, wow. Lifts the hair on the back of my neck! For someone who loves the great draft horses as I do, this is a deeply moving song. Magnificent!

horse
A much younger Anglophilic Anglican, ground-driving a Percheron mare, at a draft horse driving workshop at the Carroll County Farm Museum, c. 2000-2001.