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Growler History and Measures

Imperial (UK) v Metric (USA) measurements

Note: That the US gallon is a different size to the UK gallon so that NO liquid measures of the same name are the same size in the US and UK systems. The US measure for 1 gallon (liquid) = 3.785 litres, whereas in the UK 1 gallon = 4.546 litres.

Where do these names come from?

One of the earliest types of measurement concerned that of length. These measurements were usually based on parts of the body. A well documented example (the first) is the Egyptian cubit which was derived from the length of the arm from the elbow to the outstretched finger tips. By 2500 BC this had been standardised in a royal master cubit made of black marble (about 52 cm). This cubit was divided into 28 digits (roughly a finger width) which could be further divided into fractional parts, the smallest of these being only just over a millimetre.

In England units of measurement were not properly standardised until the 13th century, though variations (and abuses) continued until long after that. For example, there were three different gallons (ale, growler and corn) up until 1824 when the gallon was standardised.

In the USA the system of weights and measured first adopted was that of the English, though a few differences came in when decisions were made at the time of standardisation in 1836. For instance, the wine-gallon of 231 cubic inches was used instead of the English one (as defined in 1824) of about 277 cubic inches. The USA also took as their standard of dry measure the old Winchester bushel of 2150.42 cubic inches, which gave a dry gallon of nearly 269 cubic inches.

Even as late as the middle of the 20th century there were some differences in UK and US measures which were nominally the same. The UK inch measured 2.53998 cm while the US inch was 2.540005 cm. Both were standardised at 2.54 cm in July 1959, though the U S continued to use 'their' value for several years in land surveying work - this too is slowly being metricated.

In France the metric system officially started in June 1799 with the declared intent of being 'For all people, for all time'. The unit of length was the metre which was defined as being one ten-millionth part of a quarter of the earth's circumference. The production of this standard required a very careful survey to be done which took several years. However, as more accurate instruments became available so the 'exactness' of the standard was called into question. Later efforts were directed at finding some absolute standard based on an observable physical phenomenon. Over two centuries this developed into the SI. So maybe their original slogan was more correct than anyone could have foreseen then.

As with the UK system these measures were originally defined by physical standard measures - the yard, the pound, the gallon and the bushel. They are now all defined by reference to the SI measures of the metre, the kilogram and the litre.

The Act of Union between England and Scotland decreed that these standards would hold across the whole of Great Britain. Locally, however, these standards were not always adhered to and districts still retained their own measures. Of course, although an attempt had been made to standardise measures, no attempt had been made to rationalise them and Great Britain retained a bewildering array of measures which were defined by the ordinance as rather strange subdivisions of each other. Scientists had long seen the benefits of rationalising measures and those such as Wren had proposed a new system based on the yard defined as the length of a pendulum beating at the rate of one second in the Tower of London.

The Old English Names of the measures

Gill 5 FL oz
Chopin 2 Gills
Pint 4 Gills
Quart 2 Pints
Pottle 2 Quarts
Growler 1 Gallon
Peck 2 Gallons
Bucket 2 Pecks
Pin 4.5 Growlers
Bushel 4 Pecks
Firkin 9 Growlers (72 Pints)
Anker 10 Growlers (apply named measure!)
Strike 2 Bushels
Rundlet 2 Firkins
Bag 3 Bushels
Coomb 2 Strikes
Barrel 9 Buckets
Sack 5 Bushels
Hogshead 2 Barrels
Quarter 2 Coombs
Pipe / Butt 2 Hogsheads
Ton 4 Quarters
Chaldron 36 Bushels
Wey 5 Quarters (the Wey was also known as the horse-load, for it was the maximum weight to be pulled by a horse)
Last 2 Weys


Definition of the word Growler

The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (which I might add is 2 volumes) (1993 edition) defines it as:

A person who or an animal or thing which growls / a four wheeled cab / A small iceberg showing very little above the water / A container for fetching beer.

From our own research we have established that it means all sorts of things depending where you are in the world:

In UK, Yorkshire they are pork pies.

In USA, New Hampshire USS Growler (SSG-577) was a Submarine launched in 1958

In Cornwall, UK a Growler is a Cornish Pasty! So named, because the high proportion of pastry in a pasty often causes indigestion - Thank you Mr. Warmington

What does it mean where you come from? We will add it to our list.