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  Scottish Weights and Measures: Distance and Area

Until the middle of the 19th century a wide diversity of weights and measures were used in Scotland. Standardization took place from 1661 onwards, and in 1824 an act of parliament imposed the English versions of Imperial measures and defined the proportions of older measures to Imperial measures.

image of phrase 'Eleven eln coarse tow cloth at ten pence p[er] Ell'

Extract from the inventory of a tailor:
Eleven eln coarse tow cloth at ten pence p[er] Ell


The main units of linear measure were the foot and the mile. The foot was, traditionally, the length of a man’s foot and the inch was a twelfth part of a foot (from the Latin word uncia, meaning ‘a twelfth’, which is also the root of the word ounce). The ell (from the Latin Ulna, meaning ‘forearm’) was traditionally the distance from the elbow or shoulder to the wrist or finger-tips). A fall (from the Old Norse fale, meaning a ‘pole’ or ‘perch’) was the equivalent of the English pole. 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) = 36 square ells 1 pole 7.9 sq. yards 31.87 sq. metres (38.125 sq. yards)
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

For more information about specific weights and measures and the development of Scottish weights and measures click on one of the following:

Background and Further Reading
Dry and Liquid Capacity
What was meant by the 'ferd corn' or the 'third corn'?