Burgh Weights and Measures

In Scotland, like most of the rest of Western Europe, weights and measures were based on the system of measurement used by the Romans. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the systems began to change, and by the mediaeval period Scottish weights and measures were different from those used in both England and in other parts of Europe.

Weights were divided into troy and avoirdupois. Troy weight was used by silversmiths to measure gold, silver and gemstones and apothecaries used it to measure small amounts of chemicals. Avoirdupois weight was used to measure everything else.

Weights and measures were regulated by burghs, and the public weighing machine or "tron" was often the centre of the community where public meetings and punishments took place. Length standards were frequently physically attached to the burgh building or tolbooth so that they were accessible. This was usually the same building where tolls, customs and taxes were collected, and where the council chamber, court room and guardhouse were located.


From the twelfth century onwards the Scottish parliament attempted to standardize local measures, but national standards were not imposed until 1661, when a parliamentary commission decided that certain burghs would be responsible for keeping standards. All other measures were compared against the standard to ensure that they were all the same. Edinburgh kept the 'ell' for linear measure, Linlithgow the 'firlot' for dry measure, Lanark the 'troy stone' for weight, and Stirling the 'pint' for liquid capacity.

The Act of Union introduced English measures into Scotland in 1707, but this just meant that both English and Scottish measures were used! It was only after the Imperial Weights and Measures Act of 1824 that Scottish weights and measures gradually disappeared, to be replaced by English or Imperial measures.

During the late 1700s European intellectuals became interested in the idea of dividing or multiplying measuring units decimally by units of ten. This metric system took its name from the unit for linear measure, the metre, and was adopted by many countries throughout the world. The Metric Weights and Measures Act 1864 introduced metric units to the UK, but these were not compulsory. From 1868 onwards attempts were made in parliament to abolish Imperial measures, but it was not until 1969 that they began to be phased out. Finally, in 2000, it became illegal to sell anything in Imperial weights or measures except draught beer which is still sold in pints.


There were no shops in mediaeval Dumfries. Buying and selling took place on Wednesdays and Fridays, the town's market days, at stalls or booths in the High Street. Only a burgess could run a business or carry out trade in the town. People paid a fee in order to become a burgess, and also agreed to defend the town when it was attacked.

The town council regulated all trade, and the production and sale of everything, from food and drink to fuel and clothing were strictly controlled. Anyone who breached the conditions could be fined, imprisoned or even banished from the town.

The only days when people other than burgesses were allowed to trade within the town were fair days. Dumfries had three fair days, in February, July and September. On fair days luxury goods from overseas were sold, and jugglers and acrobats travelled to the town to entertain the crowds.

By the 19th century fairs had become an occasion when farm and domestic servants changed their employers. Today the fair occurs in the form of a funfair.

Standard Weights and Measures

Local inspectors checked all weighing and measuring equipment used by people trading in the area. The inspectors had their own sets of weights and measures, and those that they used every day were called working standards. Other sets that remained in the office were called local standards, and were used solely for checking that the working standards were still correct. The local standards were themselves checked by government officers who held another set of standards. At the end of this long chain were Imperial Standards, to which all other weights and measures should correspond.

These weights and measures have come from the local government department responsible for maintaining trading standards. Many are no longer required because of standardisation, metrication and changes in the structure of local government.

Many have a portcullis stamped on them. This is the stamp of approval by the central government department responsible for checking the local inspector's weights and measures.

Dry Capacity

The basic unit of dry capacity was the boll, from the word bowl. A quarter of a boll was a firlot, a fourth lot. A quarter of a firlot was a peck and a quarter of a peck was a forpet, a corruption of fourth peck, or lippie, from the Anglo-Saxon leap, meaning a basket. Sixteen bolls made a chalder or chaldron, from the French chaudron, meaning a kettle.

Lippies, pecks, firlots, bolls and chalders varied depending on what was being measured.

According to the standard measure of Linlithgow, adopted in 1661,

For wheat, peas, beans, meal etc.

Scots                                     Imperial                                                 Metric

1 lippie (or forpet)                0.499 gallon                                         2.268 litres
1 peck = 4 lippies                1.996 gallon                                         9.072 litres
1 firlot = 4 pecks                  3 pecks 1.986 gallons                        36.286 litres
1 boll = 4 firlots                    3 bushels 3 pecks                              145.145 litres
                                                1.944 gallons
1 chalder = 16 bolls            7 quarters 7 bushels 3 pecks           2322.324 litres
                                                1.07 gallons

For barley, oats, malt etc.

 Scots                                     Imperial                                                 Metric

1 lippie (or forpet)                0.728 gallon                                         3.037 litres

1 peck = 4 lippies                1 peck    0.912 gallons                       13.229 litres

1 firlot = 4 pecks                  1 bushel 1 peck 1.650 gallons         52.916 litres

1 boll = 4 firlots                    5 bushels 3 pecks 0.600 gallons    211.664 litres

1 chalder = 16 bolls            11 quarters 5 bushels                        3386.624 litres

                                                1.615 gallons







Liquid Capacity


The basic unit of liquid capacity was the Scots pint. The pint was sometimes referred to as the jug or joug. 8 pints made a gallon, from the old French galon or jalon, meaning a jar or bowl. Half a pint was a chopin, from the French liquid measure, the chopine, and a quarter of a pint was a mutchkin, from the small cap, a mutch. A sixteenth of a pint was a gill, from the Old French, gelle, a wine measure or flask. 

According to the standard measure of Stirling, adopted in 1661, 


Scots                                     Imperial                                                 Metric


1 gill                                       0.749 gill                                               0.53 litres

1 mutchkin = 4 gills             2.996 gills                                             0.212 litres

1 chopin = 2 mutchkins      1 pint 1.992 gills                                  0.848 litres

1 pint (or joug) =                  2 pints 3.984 gills                                1.696 litres

2 chopins

1 gallon = 8 pints                 3 gallons 0.25 gills                             13.638 litres




The main units of linear measure were the foot and the mile. Traditionally the foot was the length of a man's foot and the inch was a twelfth part of a foot. The ell, from the Latin ulna, meaning forearm, was traditionally the distance from the elbow or shoulder to the wrist or finger-tips. The furlong was traditionally the distance an ox could pull a plough before needing a rest, literally a furrow long. The mile, from the Roman mille passus or passuum, was based on the Roman linear measure 1000 paces. 

According to the standard ell of Edinburgh, adopted in 1661,



Scots                                     Imperial                                                 Metric


1 inch                                     1.0016 inches                                      2.54 centimetres

1 foot = 12 inches                12.0192 inches                                    30.5287 centimetres

1 ell = 3 and 1/12th feet      1.0027 yards (37.0598 inches)        94.1318 centimetres

1 fall (or fa) = 6 ells             1.123 poles (6.1766 yards)               5.6479 metres

1 chain = 4 falls                   1.123 chains (24.7064 yards)           22.5916 metres

1 furlong = 10 chains          1.123 furlongs (247.064 yards)        225.916 metres

1 mile = 8 furlongs              1.123 miles (1976.522 yards)          1.8073 kilometres








The basic units of area were the rood and acre. The rood, from the word rod, meaning a measuring rod, was the equivalent of 40 square falls. The acre corresponded to the size of a ploughed field, probably from the Anglo-Saxon word acer or aecer, meaning a field.


According to the standard ell of Edinburgh, adopted in 1661,



Scots                                     Imperial                                                 Metric


1 square inch                       1.0256 sq. inches                               6.4516 sq. centimetres

1 square ell                          1.059 sq. yards                                    0.8853 sq. metre

1 square fall (or fa) =          1 pole 7.9 sq. yards                            31.87 sq. metres (38.125 sq. yards)

36 square ells

1 rood = 40 square falls     1 rood 10 poles 13 sq. yards            12.7483 ares (1525 sq. yards)

1 acre = 4 roods                 1.26 acres (6100 sq. yards)              0.5099 hectare





The basic unit of weight was the Scots pound.  16 pounds made a stone, from the word stone, meaning a small piece of rock.  A sixteenth of a pound was an ounce, and a sixteenth of an ounce was a drop or drap.


Troy Measures were used by gold and silversmiths and apothecaries.


According to the standard measure of Lanark, adopted in 1661,


Scots                            Imperial                                   Metric


1 drop (or drap)                    1.093 drams                                         1.921 grammes

1 ounce = 16 drops             1 ounce 1.5 drams                              31 grammes

1 pound = 16 ounces         1 pound 1 ounce 8 drams                 496 grammes

1 stone = 16 pounds          17 pounds 8 ounces                          7.936 kilogrammes


Tron Measures were used for large quantities and varied from burgh to burgh.


According to the standard measure of Edinburgh, adopted in 1661,



Scots                            Imperial                                   Metric


1 drop (or drap)              1.378 drams                              2.4404 grammes

1 ounce = 16 drops        1 ounce 6 drams                        39.04 grammes

1 pound = 16 ounces      1 pound 6 ounces 1 dram           624.74 grammes

1 stone = 16 pounds      1 stone 8 pounds 1 ounce           9.996 kilogrammes

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