[Math Lair] Curiosities of Measurement

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This newspaper article is from page 3 of the July 4, 1907 edition of the Waterford [Ontario] Star. The article indicates that the article was originally printed in the London Globe.

Curiosities of Measurement.

The standard yard prevails throughout the United Kingdom, but the length of the English, Scots and Irish mile is different in each, which is the more curious, seeing that the English and American miles are identical. But the occasional local variations in our English acre are the more remarkable. These were, perhaps, originally due to the inexactitudes of ancient land surveying, which was comparatively of such a free and easy description that the acres of neighboring counties, not to say adjacent parishes, sometimes varied.

A book published in the reign of Edward VI. gives the following curiously native instructions on the subject: "Stand at the door of a church on Sunday and bid sixteen men to stop, tall ones and small ones, as they happen to pass out. Then make more put their left feet one behind the other, and the length thus obtained shall be a right and lawful rood to measure the land with, and the sixteenth part of it shall be a right and lawful foot."

This is almost laughable; but we have only to apply to one of the other dictionaries to find that anything like exactness, whether of definition or fact, is quite a modern scientific development. And the story of the acre is a case in point. It was supposed to have be reduced to a common standard in 1805, but it was not until 1824 that we enacted the statute acre of 4,840 square yards.

With the loose system of measurement prevailing for the greater part of that long interval, it is not surprising that the so-called "acre" was too often what the local wiseacres happened to make of it. By long use and want it seems probable that the discrepancies thus arising occasionally crystallized into customs, of which some examples still survive. A Welsh acre was formerly twice as large as an English one, while a Scottish acre is larger than ours by more than 1,000 square yards.

According to authority, there are seven different measures still in use by which the acre may be variously defined. Lancashire has within her borders acres measured on a customary local scale, while the so-called Cheshire acre is even larger than that of its Welsh neighbor.—From the London Globe.

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