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The PeaceHavens Project
Terms for Flax and Hemp
The PeaceHavens Project
Terms for Flax and Hemp
Flax and Flaxen were often used elliptically for the products of flax such as Flaxen Cloth, Flaxen yarn and Flax seed. Usually the context allows one to deduce which was intended. Flax is the English name of the annual Linum usitatissimum, a member of a large family of plants that contains annuals as well as perennials. It is of fragile appearance and sends up fibrous stalks two or three feet high, bearing blue flowers succeeded by pods containing the seeds (Flax seed), commonly known as Linseed. It is cultivated both for seed and for its textile fibres. Since the same term came to be applied to the plant as well as to the fibres, such terms as Dressed flax or Undressed flax frequently occur. Well-established in the Ancient World, the produce of flax was known in this country at least since the time of the Romans, but farmers were slow to accept that the plant could be grown in this country. Perhaps one reason for the slow up-take was its reputation of exhausting the soil, although the seed of Dantzig flax was offered for sale during the eighteenth century as a soil improver. Even so, its cultivation was fairly widespread during this period, mostly produced in small plots for the growers' own consumption. In the hope of establishing a home industry in the production of Linen, the Tudors attempted to encourage the growth of Flax and Hemp by all large farmers in this country through such means as [Acts (1532)]. The attempt was not overly successful and the manufacture on an industrial scale of Flaxen Thread, Flaxen yarn and Flaxen cloth (also known as Linen Thread, Linen yarn and Linen cloth) continued to depend largely on imports throughout the period, hence such terms as Dantzig flax and Peterborough (St Petersburg) Flax. A slow, steady growth is required to produce the finest fibres, while the best seed comes from places with a hotter climate, where growth is more rapid and the seed has a greater chance of ripening. Egypt flax seems to have been an exception to this generalisation, and to produce fibres of good quality, though it seems not have commanded the highest price [Tomlinson (1854)]. Russian flax (see Muscovy flax, Peterborough flax), growing as it did in a continental climate, tended to grow too rapidly, and although much was imported, it was not of the highest grade. Much of it was imported as Rough flax or Undressed flax to undergo further processing in this country and then used for making Sail cloth. The processing of flax followed the same lines as that for Hemp and involved many stages, of which only the most important are described. The first task was to separate the seed from the stems using a comb-like Implement called a Ripple. The stalks were then tied in bundles and soaked or retted to remove the glutinous material that held the fibres together, a malodorous process. This could be undertaken in running water, in pits designed for the purpose or on grass open to all weathers. The last was regarded as the least satisfactory as it took the longest and was the most conducive to rot and mould. Whichever process was chosen, the flax stalks required constant attention to avoid uneven or over-retting. Carelessness at this stage could lose the whole crop and at least severely reduce its value. The flax then needed to be dried rather like hay. There were attempts to expedite the process by using a kiln or stove, one such attempt being described in [Patents (1638)]. However, drying artificially does not seem to have been adopted in this country to any great extent, although Randle Holme in describing the processing of hemp and flax wrote, 'Gigging is to dry the Hemp or Flax over a Fire, made in a hole of the ground, which is called the Gigg or Gigg hole; and so laid upon a Flake, after the manner of a Kilne' [Holme (2000)]. The next step was the laborious task of braking; that is hammering the stems with a specially designed Implement called a 'brake' to render them more flexible. After this the stems were scutched with 'tewtaws' to remove the rubbish, beaten yet again, a process that began to be mechanized by the eighteenth century. Finally, the fibres were combed or heckled to separate the coarser Tow or Hards from the finer, and the long, more desirable fibres from the short. Much of the work was back-breakingly labourious. Found described as Coarse, Fine, Foreign, of last years growth, Old, Unwrought, well-grown, Wrought. Found imported from Dantzick, Sweden, Germany and Holland. Found in units of Bale, Bundle, C, Dozen, Hundred, knitchen, Last, LB, Parcel, Pound, Quarter, Stone, Ton. Found rated by the Cask, Hogshead, Hundredweight, Pound, Ton.
The Hemp Stone Weight
The Stone of hemp was supposedly fixed in 1529 at 20 LB [Acts (1529)], but this does not seem to have been made to stick. Zupko believed the hemp stone was generally 16 lb, but occasionally 20lb or even 32 lb, although his reference for this last one is dated 1820 [Zupko (1968)]. Probably the hemp weight found in one inventory [Inventories (1668)] was for weighing hemp and would itself have weighed whatever was the norm for a stone of hemp in Sussex. The Belfast stone for measuring flax equalled 16.75 avoirdupois pounds.
Stein Wolle, Federn
Stein Wolle, Federn
Vienna Austria Stein 20
The English Stone weight is 14 lbs.
The stone weight in other countries varies
TERMS USED BY THE "ENGLISH" FOR FLAX AND HEMP
BALE SIZE. The size of a bale varied considerably .. and was sold by the Ton or Cwt.
The vessel Europa arrived in Dundee from Reval in 21-03-1889 with 73 bales of Codilla weighing 257 cwt.
The vessel Therese Horn arrived in Dundee from Libau in 31-12-1889 with 7 bales of Tow at 38 cwt and 18 bales of Flax at 85 cwt. (That is Codilla at 395 lbs a bale ). (Tow at 608 lbs a bale.) (Flax at 529 lbs a bale)
BARR FLAX [four bared flax] [Acts (1736)] seems to have equated barr flax with Short flax, which was deemed inferior to Long flax if used for making Sail Cloth. However, this does not make sense of the entry 'four bared flax', which sounds as if bared may have been an alternative for Headed. In which case bared flax and bar flax may be different in more ways than just in the spelling. Found in units of Stone.
BARREN HEMP was Fimble Summer hemp.
BLACK FLAX [black ditto; black and white dressed flax] is possibly Flax that has undergone the process of retting or rotting, which would have turned the stalks a blackish-brown colour. Several patents were designed to protect the apparatus or the processes for whitening Hemp and Flax, prior to weaving or Rope making, for example [Patents (1678)]; [Patents (1789)]. On the other hand, the root of the term 'black' is the same as that for 'bleach', so it may mean precisely the opposite of what one would expect, although the phrase 'black and white dressed flax' militates against this interpretation. The phrase 'black flax for grinders' could mean that the fibres were intended for Paper making. Found described for grinders in units of Cwt, LB, Quarter.
BLAE FLAX [BLUE FLAX] 'Blae' is an obsolete or dialect term for Blue or bluish Black. Blae flax is probably therefore a synonym for Blue flax. A quotation from Marshal (1788, new ed. 1796)] suggests there was a distinctive variety of flax otherwise known as 'Blue, blow or lead-coloured flax - provincially blea line'. Found in units of Stone.
BRAKEN FLAX [broken flax] is flax that had been beaten with a brake to make the fibres more flexible. The term was probably synonymous with Dressed flax, which was more common, although braking was by no means the final stage in preparing flax for spinning.
BRACK HEMP [braack hemp] from the German Bracken - to sort or inspect goods - and found under the variant 'braach' or 'braak', it is hemp already sorted. Top Grade Braach appears to have been one of the best qualities of Peterborough Hemp, above Outshot and apparently synonymous with clean. It was permitted to make Bolt for Sail cloth only out of Braach or Long Hemp or Italian Hemp, which were of similar quality. The earliest date of use was 1848 as brack hemp, but 1794 under Outshot as Braak.
BUNDLE .. Some imported flax was tied up in bundles for easy transport. The bundles were very large, weighing up to a Ton. Since bundle flax has been noted in quite small units such as LB, (a unit of 100) one must assume that bundle flax could retain its name even after the bundle had been broken up in the same way as Fadge and Kirtle flax.
CARL HEMP As well as being called Cullen and Steel hemp, it was labelled winter hemp, the latter because it was harvested at the onset of winter. Steel hemp was valued more highly than the weaker Fimble not only because it produced fibres suitable for making the ropes and Sail cloth much needed for ships, but also for its Hempseed, essential for next years crop, and for the Oil that could be extracted from it.
CODILLA (Cedilla) (Paklya) ПAKЛЯ is Scutching Tow. Broken fibres from Scutching or the Heckled Tow is used for Tow yarn, twine or stuffing. (The broken flax, the coarse part of the flax which falls off from the good flax after the first heckling process and which is made up in bundles of one pood each which are then shipped in large bundles of thirty.) Codilla is the Russian name for hemp which has the top and bottom of the stem removed, leaving stems that were shorter but more uniform and of better quality. The discarded parts were called Toppings and was specified for some sorts of Cordage.
DANSK CLOTH was almost certainly an alternative name for Germany Linen. The context of the only entry suggests that it was a Linen cloth, probably exported through Dantzig for which the variant Dansk was sometimes used. Houghton, giving the quantities imported in the late seventeenth century, shows that most Germany linen by far came through Dantzig port.
DANTZIG FLAX (Dansk, Gdańsk) During the sixteenth century flax was imported to this country from Dantzig, often as a back cargo for the merchants exporting British Lead through Hull into the Baltic.
DIGHT FLAX [dight flaxe] The noun 'Dight' is defined as the action of the verb dight, in various senses: putting in order, dressing, preparing, wiping. Thus dight flax is that which has been through a process of preparation for use; hence probably synonymous with Dressed flax found in units of LB.
DRESSED FLAX (drest) is flax that had been beaten with a brake to make the fibres more flexible. The term was probably synonymous with Bracken flax, which was less common, although braking was by no means the final stage in preparing flax for spinning.
DRESSED HEMP [drest hemp; dressed hempe; dress'd flax and hemp] is hemp that is fully prepared and ready for the spinners. In [Rates (1657)] imported hemp is divided into three categories; the most dearly rated at £7 Cwt was 'Hemp short dressed', next at £5 Cwt came 'Hemp called Cullen and Steel Hemp and other sorts of dressed hemp, and finally at only £1 Cwt 'Rough Hemp'. The differential remained in [Rates (1784)], although by this time there were only two categories: 'dressed' and 'rough or undressed'. Found described as Black, for grinders, and for shoemakers and country shopkeepers, Green, White and for sale measured by Dozen.
DUTCH FLAX was probably a term applied to any flax exported through the Dutch ports like Antwerp and Amsterdam. Most of it would have come from the Low Countries. Its characteristics may have differed from that exported through the Baltic ports such as Peterborough Hemp and Dantzig hemp, but if so the distinctions are no longer known. It was probably identical with or similar to Flanders flax and Holland flax. Found in units of LB
EGYPT FLAX was imported from Egypt. Although most hot countries produce inferior flax, which prefers a cooler climate in which the growing period is longer, Egypt flax is an exception, and was of a desirable quality [Tomlinson (1854)]. Richard Rolt wrote that Egypt exported 'flax of several sorts', but does not go into further detail [Rolt (1761)].
EGYPT HEMP [egipt hemp] is imported from Egypt. Valuations varied from 8d, 11½d the LB and £4 4s the Cwt, which suggests it was sometimes cheaper and sometimes dearer than Baltic Steel hemp, which was consistently valued at 9d-10d the LB. In 1694 Egypt hemp and Green hemp both valued at 11½d LB. Found for sale by Cwt, LB.
EGYPT TOW [egipt towe] In the single entry noted, Egypt tow was positioned among the Flax, though it could have been the poorest grade of Egypt hemp, which has also been noted. Whether it merely came from that country or had characteristics that made it distinctive is not now known. Found in units of Hundred, LB
ELBING was a German linen from the area of the River Elbe in Germany. The two entries in the Books of Rates, respectively for 1643 and 1657, are ambiguous, but they suggest Elbing may have been a synonym for, or very like, Dansk cloth or Queensborough canvas. Found described as Double - Ploy, Spruce in units of the Bolt of 28 Ell, Ell.
ELINDA CLOTH was a textile in the form of a Linen cloth. It was included among Linen in a list given by John Houghton of goods 'Exported by Certificate' in 1682-3 [Houghton]. All but one of the other linens in the list were from northern Europe and were measured by the Ell. Why Elinda cloth was measured differently is not clear. The term has not been found in the dictionaries or in any of the authorities on textiles. Found exported by the Parcel.
ELL [elne; ellne; elle; ele; el] was a linear unit of measure varying in length in different countries and regions. The English Ell equalled 45 inch, but 54 inch in Shropshire, the Scottish Ell was 37 inch and the Flemish 27 inch. It was commonly used for measuring Linen, particularly that which was imported, throughout the period. For other fabrics it virtually died out during the seventeenth century. The term was usually singular when preceded by numerals, in other words '9 ell'.
ENGLISH FLAX [english flex; english fflax] has been noted in more than one case immediately adjacent to an entry concerning flax from a different place, as '20 heads Holland's flax & stone 02 14 00', followed by '2 stone 7 li English flax at 6/p stone 00 15 00' [Inventories (1701)]. This suggests that the descriptor English was only added when it was necessary to contrast with that which had been imported. Whereas imported flax has been noted measured usually in large units, flax designated as English was sometimes also present but in units more often found in shops. A typical couple of entries are 'Eight stone of english fflax 01 08 00' followed by 'A Hundred of Rigisco fflax 02 04 00' [Inventories (1717)]. Growing flax in this country came with the risk of the stalks being discoloured by the not infrequent heavy rainfall in late summer and early autumn. This was hard to remove by subsequent processing [Tomlinson (1854)]. Apart from this, the spring rains and moist summers typical of this country produced ideal growing conditions, though English farmers were slow to adopt flax as a field crop during this period. Found described as Dressed, Fine in units of LB, Stone.
ESSINGS FLAX was a term found only once among the goods of a substantial London tradesman [Inventories (1670)]. It is likely that his Essings flax was imported from the Baltic, but apart from that there is no clue to its quality or its place of origin. The inland town of Essen is unlikely as European flax were almost always identified by the port from which they were exported. Found in units of Hundred, LB
FADGE FLAX presumably refers to flax that has been packed securely in a Fadge for easy handling. Such flax was imported. It has been noted in the inventory of a rope maker in Newcastle upon Tyne. It appears to have been common in trade terminology to combine the unit of packing and/or the unit of measure with the name of the commodity, to specify a particular type or quality, as for instance in Bundle flax, Kirtle flax etc. Found in units of C, LB, Quarter.
FIMBLE HEMP [phemble] was the male plant of HEMP, Cannabis sativus, or the fibres extracted from it. Due to a misunderstanding of the nature of the plant, which did not match early-modern ideas of gender, the faster growing and less robust male was given female names. As well as being called Fimble, it was labelled barren hemp (because it did not bear seeds) and summer hemp (because it was harvested during August). The results of very small experiment of growing hemp legally in the 1970s suggested that Fimble would have represented only a small fraction of the crop [Trinder and Cox (1980)]. Fimble hemp fibres were finer and shorter than those from Steel hemp (the product of the true female plant) and were used primarily for domestic purposes; it being made up into Sheets. Found for sale measured by Stone.
FLANDERS FLAX from the Flanders is found valued at less than Kirtle flax and Muscovy flax, although according to [Caulfeild and Saward (1885, facs.1989)] Flemish flax is the best for Lace making. Due to drought in the summer months the crop could not always be harvested successfully, and this cause alone resulted in harvest failure every two or three years [Tomlinson (1854)]. It was probably identical with or similar to Dutch flax and Holland flax. Found described as Coarse in units of Cwt, LB, Quarter.
FLAX HARDS [hurds of flax] was the poorest quality of flax and the flax hards were combed out from the better material such as Long flax. Found in units of Hundred.
GREEN FLAX was pulled from the ground before the seeds were ripe, which was seen by some as producing better quality fibres than those from plants allowed to ripen [Vancouver (1808, new ed. 1969)]. It seems to have been a speciality of Scottish production and it is possible that the short summers and the cooler and damper climate there meant that it was difficult to ripen the seed, making it of less moment if it were sacrificed to production of better fibres.
GREEN LINEN CLOTH; Linen cloth from Scotland was labelled Green when it was traded unbleached and ready for whitening. By the second half of the eighteenth century, it was a speciality of Fife. How it differs from Brown linen cloth is not clear, and Forsyth in his commentary of Scotland (1806) is ambiguous, writing that 'Large quantities ... are... exported ... in an unbleached state; that is, under the name of brown linen, and green linen.' Forsyth (1805-1808), Shortly after the union of Scotland and England Parliament attempted to regulate the manufacture of green linen cloth and that of Scottish Brown linen. Much of both according to the act was intended for bleaching into White linen.
GREEN HEMP [green housewife's hemp; green drest hemp] according to Tomlinson, the external marks of a good hemp brought up from the south to St Petersburg were that it was 'green and free from spills' [Tomlinson (1854)]. This gives a new meaning to 'green', which normally means growing, new or young. Here the desirable characteristic of green hemp is the greenish tinge as found in well made hay. In one example [Inventories (1694)], Egypt hemp and green hemp were coupled together, both valued at 11½d LB, although whether they had any characteristics in common other than valuation it is impossible to say. Found described as Dressed, Housewife in units of LB, Stone.
HEAD (H) A unit of measure for flax consisting of '12 'stricks' (strikes) each of 'about ten handfuls' tied up into a bunch. According to Randle Holme, twelve of these bunches would make a Kirtle, hence Kirtle flax however, there is a suggestion that the number of stricks in a head was not fixed, with Narva flax and Peterborough flax each being defined as either 9 headed or 12 headed., as in '5 Tons of 9 headed Narva Flax, 5 Tons of 12 headed Narva Flax, 4 Tons of 9 headed Petersburgh Flax' and 'about Ten Tons of Twelve-Head Peterborough Flax'. It was also not used exclusively with flax. Hemp was also measured by the head, but possibly in smaller units, since '3 head' and '2 head' hemp have been noted. It seems that 'Head' may also have been used occasionally as a unit of measure for Silk.
HECKLING was to dress flax by separating it into its finest fibres. The flax hecklers of Dundee established a reputation as the most radical and stroppy element in what was a famously radical town and by 1800 were already operating as a powerful trade union, to the extent that in 1809 a local employer noted that they were to some extent in control of the trade, dictating wages, conditions and bonuses (mostly alcoholic). The Heckling Shop, said another observer, was frequently the arena of violent harangue and ferocious debate. One heckler would be given the task of reading out the day's news while the others worked. When they moved from factory floor to public meeting, they then fired off interjections designed to tease or comb out truths that politicians might prefer to conceal or avoid. Thus heckling entered the world of political debate, combining an incisive comment or question with spontaneous wit - quick-fire challenges enjoyed by those speakers who could deal with them and amuse their audience with a ready riposte.
LETTOW FLAX [lettis flax] Also 'lettis flax', this was an imported flax. The first part of the term was a location descriptor and may refer to Litauen (Lithuania), which borders onto the Baltic. Found in units of Hundred, Quarter, LB
LEWKES HEMP is presumably hemp from the Flemish town of Liège (in Flemish Luik) more noted for the production of Iron and Velvet. Seems to be just another sixteenth century hemp.
LONG FLAX was the best quality with long fibres.
LONG HEMP was hemp of the best quality particularly for making rope for which purpose the top grade was required. Found described as Clean and for sale measured by the ton. Most probably grown in the south where conditions are better suited to producing a robust plant with strong, long fibres. It was used particularly for making Cordage for which purpose the grade called 'Riga Rhine hemp' was regarded as the best and Codilla the worst, with Outshot and Pass hemp in between.
LOOSE FLAX was possibly flax from the Flemish town of Liège (in Flemish Luik), but more likely flax that had not been bundled up, unlike Fadge flax, Kirtle flax, etc. and found in units of 100, LB.
MANINGBURG FLAX (likely Marienburg flax) possibly flax from a place called or rendered Marienburg. However, Maningburg flax has been noted as having been associated with Rigisco flax, which suggests that it may have been another of the varieties of flax in which the descriptor indicated as much a distinctive way of packing up the flax as a place of origin.
MUSCOVY FLAX [muscovie flax; muscovia fflax; muscove flax; musco flax] is flax from Russia from the region round Moscow probably imported largely from Dantzig or Peterborough, and hence Dantzig flax and Peterborough flax or Riga. This area enjoys a relatively short, but hot growing season, so that the flax tended to grow too rapidly and hence rather coarsely. Although much was imported from these parts, the flax was not of the highest grade [Tomlinson (1854)]. Linen cloth was also woven in the region, hence Muscovy linen. Found in units of Bundle, C, LB, Quarter, Stone and rated in Hundredweight of 112 LB.
MUSCOVY LINEN [muscovia linnen] was linen from Muscovy and other areas often loosely designated as Russia. According to John Houghton's list of imports in 1694, some 'Muscovia linen' came from Dantzig, but over five times as much came from Sweden [Houghton]. There was a large number of named linens from this area, and Muscovy linen was probably a generic term that could have included any of them. Most were Coarse linens that sold at a low price. Found described as Narrow and imported from Dantzig, Sweden at rated by the 100 Ell containing 6 Score of Ell.
MUSCOVY YARN [muscovia-yarn; muscovia or spruce yarne; muscovia or spruce raw linen yarn; muscoua yarn] was Linen yarn imported from Muscovy and probably from other areas bordering the Baltic, often being associated with Spruce yarn [Rates (1582)]. It was distinguished in the Books of Rates from other linen yarns, but is not found in the shops under this name. Found in units of LB and rated by Cwt of 112 LB.
NAVAL STORES were all those articles or materials made use of in shipping or in the navy, such as Bowsprits, Masts, Sails, Pitch, Ropes, Spars, Tar, Turpentine, Yards, etc. and the Hemp, Flax and Tow required to make sails and ropes [Acts (1769)]. Essential for national security, there was continued anxiety about English dependence on supplies from the Baltic. The American colonies were seen as a suitable alternative and their production therefore encouraged.
NARVA FLAX. Narva is a large city and port in Livonia bordering the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea. Like other flax exported from Baltic ports it was almost certainly grown well inland and carried by river to the coast. Found described as 9 headed, 12 headed in units of a ton.
OUTSHOT was the second grade of both Peterborough hemp and Riga hemp, below respectively Brack hemp or Clean and Rhine. The several grades of Peterborough hemp were called respectively: Clean hemp or first, the next was Outshot or 'seconds', then Half Clean or 'thirds', and finally Codilla.
OUTSORE was a variety of hemp mentioned only once as one of several types advertised by a Liverpool merchant. It is probably a printer's error for Outshot Hemp, particularly since it has not been located elsewhere. If it was a genuine variety, like all the other varieties this merchant stocked, a hemp suitable for making Rope and/or Cordage.
PASS HEMP was the third quality of Russian hemp and next inferior to Outshot hemp, but above Codilla. In (1744-50) described it as 'a very coarse, shaggy, cheap Sort, used altogether for roping'. Found in [Inventories (1671)] in which Riga hemp was given as an alternative label and it was valued at 22s Cwt compared with Rhine at 27s
PATER NOSTER FLAX sometimes abbreviated to Pater Noster, this is another term like Bundle flax, Fadge flax, Kirtle flax, etc. in which the descriptor is a unit of measure for flax. The Pater Noster, according to Randle Holme consisted of ten handfuls in a strick (or Strike) and weighed two pounds. Confusingly, he elsewhere defined a strick as consisting of ten handfuls. It would seem that some particular types of flax were bundled up in this way and so became a label even when the flax was in different units of measure as in the Dictionary Archive where it has been noted in units of Cwt, LB, Quarter and tons.
PETERBOROUGH FLAX refers to flax exported from Russia through the Baltic port of St Petersburg (later Leningrad), then often anglicised as Peterborough. Like so many other terms for flax, Peterborough flax came to be used as a label for a particular way of packaging, and indicated the number of heads tied up together. For Peterborough flax this was in bunches each containing either nine or twelve heads. Randle Holme describes the methods and labelling of flax in some detail, though his explanations are not overly lucid. Calculating from the details he gave, nine head of Peterborough flax would probably have weighed between four and five pound. Found described as 9 headed, 12 headed in units of a ton.
PETERBOROUGH HEMP was imported through the north Russian port of 'Peterborough', (St Petersburg) but probably grown in the south where conditions are better suited to producing a robust plant with strong, long fibres. According to Tomlinson, it was brought by water to Peterborough mainly in the spring and summer. There it was sorted by sworn agents called brackers who made it up into bundles, each of which was tagged with its place of origin, the date and the name of the sorter [Tomlinson (1854)]. The several grades of Peterborough hemp were called respectively: Clean hemp or first, the next was Outshot or 'seconds', then Half Clean or 'thirds', and finally Codilla. Brack hemp appears to have been an alternative name for the top grade [Tomlinson (1854)]. Whatever the name, Peterborough's top grade was regarded as second only in quality to Rhine, the top grade of Riga Hemp. Peterborough hemp of the best quality was used particularly for making rope for which purpose the top grade was required. Found described as Clean and for sale measured by the ton. Most probably grown in the south where conditions are better suited to producing a robust plant with strong, long fibres. It was used particularly for making Cordage for which purpose the grade called 'Riga Rhine hemp' was regarded as the best and Codilla the worst, with Outshot and Pass hemp in between. Outshot was the second grade of both Peterborough hemp and Riga hemp, below respectively Brack hemp or Clean and Rhine.
POUND FLAX was found in an inventory of a rope maker in Newcastle upon Tyne [Inventories (1670)]. Like many other terms relating to flax, the descriptor 'pound' seems to have indicated the unit of weight in which it was packaged. Found described as heckled in units of Dozen, LB
QUARTER FLAX is found in an inventory of a rope maker in Newcastle upon Tyne [Inventories (1670)]. Like many other terms relating to flax, the descriptor 'quarter' seems to have indicated the unit of weight in which it was packaged. This was probably the quarter CWT (that is, 28 LB) rather than a quarter of a pound, but there can be no certainty about this unless further evidence comes to light. It was apparently valued slightly less highly than Pound flax. Found in units of LB
QUEENSBOROUGH [quinsborow; quiesbrow] sometimes found under the variants 'Quinsborough' and (possibly) 'Quinton'. An old name of the German town, Konigsburg, situated on the Baltic coast and a substantial port in the early-modern period. However, goods qualified by the term were not necessarily made in the town, even if they were exported from it. Exports were typical of all the ports situated around the Baltic and included Flax, though the term Queensborough flax has not been noted presumably because flax exported from Queensborough was readily identifiable by its packaging, the town name became also the label of a specific unit of measure. According to Randle Holme, a Quinborough' consisted of 'three bands in a bunch' weighing 42 POUND - the same incidentally as a 'Podola', the Polish woollen measurement.
QUINSBOROUGH is the "English" nickname for KONIGSBERG.
REFUSE FLAX [refuse of hemp and flax] An inferior grade of Flax, it is identical with or similar to Flax hards.
RHINE also found as 'rine, rein', the term comes from the German 'reinhanf', meaning literally 'clean Hemp'. The term was applied to a fine quality of Russian hemp imported through the Baltic port of Riga; often called Riga Rhine. In one document it was valued at 27s the Cwt as compared with Pass hemp or Riga hemp at 22s [Inventories (1671)].
RIGISCO FLAX [rigitska flax; ragisco flax] This is another term like Bundle flax, Fadge flax, Kirtle flax, etc. in which the descriptor is a unit of measure for flax. The 'Rogisca', according to Randle Holme consisted of five Head weighing three pound. It seems from the many examples of this type of label, that some types of flax were bundled up in a particular way and so became an identifier even when the flax itself was in different units of measure, appears as Fine in units of Bundles, Cwt, Hundred, LB, Quarter.
RING FLAX was a term found only once among the goods of a substantial London tradesman [Inventories (1670)]. It is likely that his ring flax was imported from the Baltic, but apart from that there is no clue to its quality or its place of origin. Found in units of Hundred, LB
ROUGH FLAX [rough or undressed flax; fflax in the rough] A term sometimes found contrasted with Dressed flax, hence flax less processed, and perhaps not yet ready for spinning. [Acts (1737)] seems to have equated rough flax with Undressed flax. Found in units of Bundle, Hundred, Parcel, Stone.
ROUGH HEMP. Randle Holme wrote of 'Hemp in the ruff' and equated it with undressed Hemp [Holme (2000)]. In [Rates (1657)], imported hemp is divided into three categories; the most dearly rated at £7 Cwt was 'Hemp short dressed', next at £5 Cwt came 'Hemp called Cullen and Steel Hemp' and other sorts of dressed hemp, and finally at only £1 Cwt 'Rough Hemp'. Assuming that this adequately reflects quality, undressed hemp was a fairly poor grade. The differential remained in [Rates (1784)], although by this time there were only two categories: 'dressed' and 'rough or undressed'. Found described by Muscovy, Spruce rated by the Hundredweight.
SCUTCHING TOW (Paklya, Codilla) is HeckledTow. Broken fibre from Scutching, Heckling used for Tow yarns.
SHORT FLAX consisted of the shorter fibres separated out from Long flax in the process of combing or heckling. In many ways it was deemed inferior to Long flax as evident in [Acts (1736)], where the term was equated with Barr flax and not to be used to make Sail cloth. However, short flax had its own desirable characteristics, being more suitable for felting and for spinning with other fibres such as Cotton, Silk, Wool or Worsted. [Tomlinson (1854)].
SHORTS is often found in the form of 'short hemp', defined it as 'the toppings and tailings of hemp which are used to make bolt-ropes', which denotes ropes sewn all round the edge of a sail to protect it. The term was also employed to 'note the distinction between the long hemp used in the making of staple-ropes that is ropes made from Peterborough hemp, the clean grade, or Riga hemp called Rhine and inferior hemp'. According to another quotation shorts were used also to make Candlewick.
SNAIL [snayl; snait; snaile] is a poor quality of Flax, similar to or identical with Snouting and Tow.
SNOUTING is a poor quality of Flax, similar to or identical with Snail and Tow.
SPRUCE FLAX (Prussia) [spruce muscovie, and all flax; spruce muscovie and all flax undrest] is flax from Prussia, probably identical with or similar to Dantzig flax From the occasional references it was imported as Uundressed flax [Rates (1657)]; [Rates (1660)]. Found rated by the Hundredweight of 112 LB.
SPRUCE HEMP [spruce moscovia and all other rough hemp] Spruce hemp is a term applied to Hemp imported from Spruce (i.e. Prussia). According to the entry in the 1660 Book of Rates it was imported unprocessed as Rough hemp [Rates (1660)]. Other hemps from the same sort of area, but perhaps of better quality were called Riga hemp and Peterborough hemp. Found rated by the Hundredweight of 112 LB.
STEEL HEMP is the female plants of Hemp, Cannabis sativus, or the fibres extracted from it. Due to a huge misunderstanding of the nature of the plant, which did not match early-modern ideas of gender, the slower growing and more robust female was given male names. As well as being called steel hemp, it was labelled Carl hemp and winter hemp, the latter because it was harvested at the onset of winter. Steel hemp was valued more highly than the weaker Fimble not only because it produced fibres suitable for making the Ropes and Sail Cloth much needed for ships, but also for its Hempseed, essential for next years crop, and for the Oil that could be extracted from it. Although steel hemp has been noted in the sixteenth century and the early seventeenth, it only became common in the stock of retailers and merchants after the Restoration (1660). Found measured for sale by Bundle (of 25 LB), LB, Quarter and rated by the Hundredweight.
STONE: The stone or stone weight is an English and imperial unit of mass now equal to 14 pounds. Before the early 19th century, as in England, the stone varied both with locality and with commodity. For example, the Belfast stone for measuring flax equalled 16.75 avoirdupois pounds. The most usual value was 14 pounds. Among the oddities related to the use of the stone was the practice in County Clare of a stone of potatoes being 16 lb in the summer and 18 lb in the winter. See the Hemp Stone Weight lower down this page.
STRING FLAX was a term found only once among the goods of a substantial London tradesman [Inventories (1670)]. It is likely that his string flax was imported from the Baltic, but apart from that there is no clue to its quality or its place of origin. Found in units of Hundred, LB.
SUFFOLK HEMP was a Textile; a Hempen cloth made in or attributed to the English county of Suffolk. It should not be confused with Suffolk Cloth. In 1574 a monopoly for making the coarse hempen cloths, Poldavis and Mildernixin Ipswich and Woodbridge was granted to the Collins brothers, and this may have led to the establishment of an urban linen industry in Suffolk. However, towards the end of the seventeenth century, several writers proposed the expansion of the British Linen industry with the dual result, as they thought, of reducing the country's imports bill and of finding employment for the poor. Yarranton (1677), who claimed to know 'something of Linen', responded that such a scheme would not succeed in Suffolk. It appears that Yarranton was right, since the linen manufacture declined during the seventeenth century despite attempts to establish immigrant French and Dutch weavers. Even using pauper labour does not seem to have been profitable. The paucity of evidence for the eighteenth century makes it difficult to estimate the extent of hemp manufacture in Suffolk, but Evans believes that it was generally uncompetitive compared with European imports and mainly served local markets. Nevertheless, a Suffolk grocer had considerable quantities of unspecified hempen cloth that may in another area been labelled Suffolk hemp, while a 'Linen and Woollen Draper' of Birmingham, selling up in the 1790s, was advertising by name 'Suffolk Hemps [and] Russian and Home made Sheetings', suggesting that some Suffolk linen attracted a wider market.
SUMMER HEMP was Fimble and it was harvested during August.
TEAR OF FLAX is 'fine flax, or dressed flax, having all the course Hards taken from it'. In other words, it is Dressed flax heckled to remove the flax hards and other coarser grades. Found in units of Dozen.
TEAR OF HEMP [teer of hemp; teare of hempe; hemtere] Tear denoted fine, delicate, of the best quality; said especially of Flour and Hemp. The definition is supported by a quotation saying that most comes from the summer hemp (the Fimble). On the other hand, Randle Holme defined 'Teer of Hemp' as the 'long and strong Hemp', the same definition he gave for Steel hemp and Nicholas Blundell used it for making Sailcloth, again suggesting a meaning similar to the one Randle Holme had given it several decades earlier. To add to the confusion, an early eighteenth century dictionary defined it as the 'finest dressed part made ready for the spinner', which suggests a stage in the preparation, rather than an absolute quality. The term was used elliptically both for Hempen Yarn and for a high quality of Hempen Cloth, and it has also been found used to describe a Cloth to be used to make Shirts. Found as the cloth to make Sheet, Shift, Shirt and found for sale measured by the Dozen, Ell, Hank, Lea.
TOPPED HEMP has the top and bottom of the stem removed, leaving stems that were shorter but more uniform and of better quality. The discarded parts were called Toppings or, in the case of Russian hemp, Codilla. Topped hemp was specified for some sorts of Cordage.
TOPPINGS are the tops of hemp, according to [Acts (1785)] from which the 'staple' part had been taken away. The same act prohibited its use for making cable. However, it was used to make a poor quality yarn.
TOW (KUDEL) KУДEЛЬ, KУДѣЛЯ, KУДѣЛЬЯ, KУДEЛЬH is the coarse broken part of hemp or flax after the Heckling and Scutching processes, also called Hards.
TOW [towne; towe] Particularly during the early part of the period, 'tow' was quite commonly used as a variant of 'two'. Although it may mean the unworked stems of Flax or hemp before it is Dressed or heckled. Most commonly the term referred to the fibres of Hemp or Flax, even Wool, prepared for spinning into Yarn by scutching, although it could also have referred to the shorter fibres of Hemp or Flax separated by heckling from the longer, finer, long-stapled fibres called Line. In this form it was a component of Naval Stores. Like most other Textile raw materials, it was used elliptically; for example, to mean Towen cloth.
TOW YARN is the short broken fiber of flax, hemp, or jute used for yarn, twine, or stuffing.
UNDRESSED FLAX and HEMP .. see Rough flax and hemp. (flax undrest; flax drest and undrest) was not yet heckled, possibly as harvested. Randle Holme gives a confusing definition that may have been intended to mean fully processed apart from the final heckling or ordering of the stems. [Acts (1731)] seems to have equated undressed flax with Rough flax, as does [Acts (1737)]. Found in units of C, LB, Mat, Quarter and rated in Hundredweight of 112 LB.
Found for sale measured by: Bag, C, LB, Mat, Stone, Ton and rated by the Hundredweight, Tun.
WATERED [wtd; wattered; watterd; watred; water'd; waterd; water; wat'] was applied to flax and hemp that had been rotted or retted to remove the fleshy part of the stems prior to preparing the fibres for spinning.
WELL HEMP There are a sprinkling of examples of well hemp in the Archives, and while the contexts indicate hemp as such, rather than Hempseed, Hempen cloth or Hempen yarn, there are no further clues to its meaning. The term possibly referred to hemp retted in a pool that could be refreshed with water from a well, making for a better product. However, with well hemp at 4½d LB and long hemp at 8d, suggests that the quality of well hemp was not high.
WHITE HEMP; The term shows that the possibilities of whitening hemp were being explored in the late-seventeenth century, even when it was intended for Cordage [Patents (1678)]. It is probable that in one hand bill this term was used in the sense of a whitened product rather than one that was intrinsically white, and indeed, the Black hemp that was associated with it in the document was not so processed.
WHITENING HEMP and FLAX; Several patents were designed to protect the apparatus or the processes for whitening Hemp and Flax, prior to weaving or Rope making. See Black flax.
WINTER HEMP As well as being called Steel hemp, it was labelled Carl hemp, the latter because it was harvested at the onset of winter. Steel hemp was valued more highly than the weaker Fimble not only because it produced fibres suitable for making the ropes and Sail cloth much needed for ships, but also for its Hempseed, essential for next years crop, and for the Oil that could be extracted from it.
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