Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Old Essex Housewares

Continuing my posts on the vocabulary of the Essex Wills and its place in English lexical history, an introduction to which can be found here.

The Essex Wills are naturally full of words for household goods. The majority are words that are still used, though the things to which they are applied may now be different in design or appearance. A large majority are words, or meanings of words, that are no longer used, but are carefully recorded in dictionaries, and especially in the Oxford English Dictionary. But a significant number have escaped notice by lexicographers and yet can be found, often in large numbers, in wills, inventories, and other non-literary documents of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (and sometimes in earlier and later documents). 

bail kettle, bailed kettle

These items occur at least five times in the Essex Wills:

1561 (I. 116), 1590 (V. 165) bail kettle 
1561 (II. 124), 1569 (II.  72), 1572 (IX. 15) bailed kettle

Surprisingly, both can be found in very recent and quite ordinary, non-regional sources:

1871 Ann. Rep. Commissioner of Patents 1869 I. 528/1 With the bail-kettle, formed after the fashion of a common tea-kettle. 
1952 Hospital Management 73 69 Bail kettles 4 sizes. 
1918 Department Store Merchandise Manuals 99 Dutch ovens are cast iron bailed kettles with a tightly fitting cover. 
1938 Bull. Business Hist. Soc. 12 63 We consign none but bailed kettles.

What is a bail? It’s the curved and hinged handle that traditional kettles used to have; OED’s bail n.sense 2 (attested from 1463):

The hoop-handle of a kettle or similar vessel.

This OED entry does not include bail kettle or any other compounds, while bailed adj.2 (1548, 1603) has only the sense ‘hooped (and covered) as a wagon’.

The Essex Wills also have:

1581 (X. 43) bailless kettle

And again, surprisingly, we can find a modern example of this:

1980 J. P. Brain Tunica Treasure 139/3 Undoubtedly, most, if not all, of these bails came from some of the bail-less kettles in the collection.

basting ladle 

I have noticed only two examples of this in the Essex Wills:

1582 (IV. 170); 1592 (VI. 33) basting ladle

There is indeed a quotation in the OED illustrating this at basting n.² 1a:

1822 W. Kitchiner Cook’s Oracle (ed. 4) 187 Put a little bit of butter into your basting-ladle.

But it is not acknowledged with a ‘lemma’ (subordinate or nested headword). It really should, as the basting ladle was an item with a certain cultural significance, often referred to:

1613 Alcilia Philoparthens louing folly [STC 4275] And with the  basting ladle did him beate.

1633 T. Heywood Eng. Traveller [STC 13315] About went his Basting-Ladle.

1638 Hocus Pocus Junior [STC 13544] Halfe hollow, like a basting-Ladle.

1639 in F. W. Steer Farm & Cottage Inventories Mid-Essex (1950) 80 In the buttery 2 basting ladles.

1649 Mercurius Brittanicus No. 4 26 Harke, harke, what a noise is here with frying pans and scummers, and basting ladels, and dripping pans.

1650 10 Dec. in G. F. Dow Probate Rec. Essex County, Mass. (1916) I. 127 A skimer & a basting ladell.

1656 S. Holland Don Zara del Fogo (Wing H2437) Butter in a Basting-ladle.

[There are four more examples in EEBO down to 1683.]

1676 Probate Rec. Essex County, Mass. (1920) III. 49 Basting ladle, 1s. 6d.

1719 in F. W. Steer Farm & Cottage Inventories of Mid-Essex 1635–1749 (1969) 247 A basting ladle of brass.

1772 F. Gentleman Cupid’s Revenge i. i. 15 When she talked of the dripping-pan, the basting ladle could not be far off.

1793 Gentleman’s Mag. Feb. 127/2 She seized the basting-ladle, and with it gave the king a severe blow on the back.

The basting ladle was both the sceptre and the weapon of the cook. He used it to beat his subordinates (and enemies) and it symbolized his supremacy in the kitchen. The term was common down to about 1870. The item, and its name, still exist of course, but the cultural connections have probably got lost.


A familiar word used in a way that is difficult to interpret. It occurs in the Essex Wills as a ‘premodifier’ (a subordinate word standing before a noun so as to describe it) to characterize various  household items: bell candlestick occurs at least 8 times; e.g. 

1561 (I. 214) 2 bell candlesticks of latten

1577 (IX. 48) 1 of my best latten bell candlesticks 

bell chafer occurs once (reference unavailable) and two examples occur with pan:

1566 (II. 225) her bell brass pan

1567 (VIII. 126) a brass bell pan. 

One might guess that this has some relationship with OED’s bell-metal n. meaning ‘an alloy of copper and tin’. But in our examples, bell co-occurs with brass and latten (an alloy similar to brass), which would seem to rule that out. Perhaps it refers not to material, but to shape, style, or method of manufacture.  There seems to be no evidence on EEBO, but the following earlier and later examples are found:

1554 in E. Peacock Eng. Church Furniture (1866) App. 187 Item too bell candillstickes. Item one lesse candillstick of bell fasshion.

1590 Will of Helen Ford, widow, St Nicholas in S. Lang & M. McGregor Tudor Wills Proved in Bristol 1546–1603 (1993) 17 [modernized text] To her daughter Joan one platter and one bell candlestick.


Some part of a manufactured article. There are five examples of chine in the Essex Wills: 

1559 (VIII. 138) a dozen of pewter or broad chines

1559 (VIII. 139) a dozen of broad chines pewter

1574 (III. 113) 1 bedsteadle..hath a broad chine

1575 (IV. 39) my brass pan with the broad chines

1597 (VI. 98) the best of my two brass pots with the broken chine.

Evidently this is not OED’s chine n.1 ‘fissure’ or chine n.2 ‘backbone’. It might be connected in some way with chine n.3 sense 1 ‘the projecting rim at the heads of casks, etc., formed by the ends of the staves’ (dating from before 1475) in that it clearly refers to some material object that may or may not form part of a larger whole. The objections to this view are that (a) the context is domestic rather than coopery, (b) the material involved seems to be metal, except in the case of the ‘bedsteadle’, and (c) the OED’s chine is a rim formed by the ends of the staves rather than a continuous surface.

Compare also these examples of the derivative adjective chined:

1562 (I. 152) 1 broad chined [platter]

1567 (II. 49), 1569 (II.  89) broad chined

1602 (VII. 58) broken-chined candlestick

It does look as if the thing referred to is the rim of a plate or pot, or the base of a candlestick. But why are Essex Wills’ chines only either ‘broad’ or ‘broken’?


This item occurs only once:

1582 (V. 13) the ‘colefatte’ in the brewhouse

Since fat was an earlier form of the now standard vat, perhaps this is coal vat. We normally think of a vat as a container for liquid, but OED’s vat n.¹, sense 3a, is ‘a cask, barrel, or other vessel for holding or storing dry goods’ and sense 3b is ‘formerly used as a measure of capacity for coal’. These correspond to fat n.¹, senses 3 ‘a cask or barrel to contain dry things’ (1540 onwards) and 4 ‘used as a measure of capacity’ (1413 onwards).

A few examples from outside the Essex Wills lend support to this idea:

[date?] in Pre-Reformation Rec. All Saints’ Church, Bristol (2004) 259 Item for nails and for hauling the bars to the cole fate [?coal vat] - 20d. Item for clamps of iron to the cole fate - 7d. Item for 9 studs to the cole fate.

1700 C. Povey A discovery of indirect practices in the coal-trade [Wing P3040] Every  Coal Fat Containing Sixty six Gallons.

1858 P. L. Simmonds Dict. Trade Products 398/1 Vat, a large wooden or metal cistern or tub;..The old London coal vat contained 9 bushels.


cragg seems to be a word of incredibly limited distribution, and hence it’s not in the OED. The Essex Wills contain as many examples as are to be found elsewhere:

1582 (X. 177) crages

1596 (VI. 188) 1 hand basket, 1 cragg, a brewing tub

1602 (VII. 142) 3 milk bowls, 1 ‘crage’, 1 biggest brewing tub

The English Dialect Dictionary has an entry for cragge, sb. It tells us that it is obsolete, found in Essex and southern counties, is also written cragg, and means ‘a small beer-vessel’. Previous lexicographers who recorded it are Ray (1691) and Grose (1790). The latter means Francis Grose’s Glossary of Provincial and Local Words, which gives exactly the same definition. He may well have simply borrowed it from:

1691 J. Ray A Collection of Words not generally Used [Wing R 389] 94 (South and East Country Words) A Cragge; a small Beer-Vessel.

The etymology is not established.

cup dish

This looks like a fairly obvious compound of cup and dish. What could it have meant? My first guess was that the cup dish was the partner of the cup before the word saucer had that application, which, according to the OED, it acquired only around 1700 (and if you think about it, it’s an odd use of a word which originally meant ‘a receptacle for condiments’). Alternatively, cup in this compound could be cup n. 1b ‘a hollow vessel of wood or metal, used for drinking’, in which case cup dish would be a kind of tautological compound. It occurs at least three times in the Essex Wills:

1585 (V. 51), 1585 (X. 201) cupdish

1598 (XII. 44) a cupdish, 2 dishes, 1/2 dozen trenchers

It is also found in these works (via Early English Books Online):

1648 J. Goodwin Neophytopresbyteros [Wing G1183] 133 What mighty waves are here raised in a  cup dish of water?

a1646 J. Gregory Gregorii Posthuma (1649) [Wing G1926] The P├Žonians adored the Sun under the form of a Cup-dish.

1657 E. Wright Certain Errors Navigation [Wing W3689] chapter xvii, This pin must be made of lattin, with a very sharp point, and is to be fastned upright in a round box of wood, which must be of the fashion of a great  cup-dish, containing the rose within it, being covered above with a clear round glasse.
This last quotation describes the making of a sea-compass. Since the rose was round, and could swivel in any direction on the pin, I suspect that the box was roughly hemispherical, in which case the second interpretation of cup dish may be correct.

curble, curbled 

There are several examples in the Essex Wills:

1560 (I. 257) a cauldron (that for Joan with a curble)

1591 (XI. 150) 1 brass ‘curble’ as it hangeth in the kitchen

[no date] (I. 180) a cauldron with a ‘cerbbell

1596 (XII. 201) 1 great brass pan hanged with a kirble

1601 (XII. 179) 1 curbled pan and my best copper kettle

OED’s curble n. has two senses.

sense 1: = curb n. 1, which is ‘a chain or strap passing under the lower jaw of a horse’ (1598) 
sense 2: = curb n. 8, which is ‘a frame round the top of a well’ (?1780)

The sense of the word in the Essex Wills is not in the OED and is unclear, and the examples are earlier than the senses in the OED. It must refer to some kind of attachment to a kitchen implement by which it hangs: compare OED’s curb n. 8b ‘a framing round the top of a brewer’s copper’. Possibly it referred to the apparatus for raising and lowering a cauldron or pan over the fire; compare:

1857 T. Wright Dict. Obs. & Provincial Eng., Kirble, the windlass of a well.

I have found one other example from the eastern counties:

[date?] in East Anglian (1900) 8–9 383 Item I give to Agnes my wief the cownter table in the hall the cupborde in the hall and the great panne with the curble and also all the beds and bedding.

There seems to be nothing relevant in Early English Books Online.

kettle brass

Presumably a kind of brass from which kettles are made. Four examples occur in the Essex Wills:

1569 (II.  242) kettle brass

1576 (III. 208) kettle brass pot

1581 (X. 3) kettle brass

1584 (V. 51) 1 posnet of kettlebrass

Additionally we find:

1655 E. Terry Voy. to East-India (1777) 14 These Boos and Baas, as they call them, were formerly bought in great plenty, for small quantities of kettle-brass, and iron hoops taken off our empty casks, which were all for this long voyage hoop’d with iron.

1913 M. Bell Old Pewter vii. 12 Harrison, in a ‘Description of England in Shakespeare’s Youth’, when eulogising English pewterers and pewter, says: ‘I have also been informed that it consisteth of a composition which hath 30 lbs. of kettle-brass to 1000 lbs. of tin, whereunto they add 3 or 4 lbs. of tin-gloss (in modern parlance, bismuth)’.


Used several times in the Essex Wills as a premodifier with the names of kitchen containers (kettle, skillet). The OED has a section of compounds that covers this use ‘with the sense “having the capacity of one pottle”’, i.e. (sense 1b) half a gallon or 2.3 litres; but OED does not have these compounds:

1558 (VIII. 111) pottle skillet

1575 (IX. 5), 1584 (V. 5), 1553? (II. 143) pottle kettle


There are three examples of stample in the Essex Wills:

1563 (I. 221) 1 brazen mortar with the ‘stample’ thereof

1572 (III. 281) a latten mortar with the ‘stampell’

1578 (IV. 191) my spice mortar and the ‘stampell’

Evidently this means ‘pestle’. Equally obviously it must be a derivative of stamp, with the -le ending found in the names of devices.

But there seem to be no other examples of this noun elsewhere. Only a verb stample is traceable, but it has a corresponding sense:

a1500 MS Balliol College 354 f. cvii in S. J. Ogilvie-Thomson The Index of Middle English Prose. Handlist VIII: Manuscripts containing Middle English Prose in Oxford College Libraries (1991) 10/2 Take a quantitie of vineger as mvche of the iuse of rue a quantitie of grenes and a quantytie of sowre bucade stample them well together.

1597 W. Langham Garden of Health [STC 15195] Stample it and apply it warme.

1599 R. Perceval Dict. Spanish & Eng. [STC 19620] Machucàr, to stample with pestle.

1630 T. Bonham The Chyrugians Closet [STC 3279] Boyle them in the broath of flesh, then stample and straine them... Boyle the hearbes in aq: q.s. vnto tendernesse, then stample them.

1896 W. W. Skeat Nine Specimens of Eng. Dialects Vol. 32 40 ’A striv’th vor stample ’e abroad. [Glossed as ‘tread upon’.]

tinker’s kettle

Perhaps this is a variety of kettle obtainable from a tinker (as opposed to a blacksmith, say?). Judging by the last example below, it was a superior kind. These are some of the examples in the Essex Wills:

1569 (II. 89)  a latten chafing dish, a tinker’s kettle

1575 (IV. 39) a brass kettle called a tinker’s kettle

1588 (XI. 203)  the greatest kettle, a tinker’s kettle, a smaller kettle

1588 (XI. 203) an old tinker’s kettle of a pottle

1592 (XI. 42)  a great kettle, a tinker’s kettle, a posnet

1596 (XI. 53) tinker’s posnet

1600 (XII. 94) my best kettle called the tinker’s kettle

There is a discussion of its meaning in F. G. Emmison Elizabethan Life: Morals and the Church Courts (1976), page 27, which says that a clause in a will ‘“The tinker’s kettle commonly used to wash vessels in” tells of other uses’. It shows that this must have been a reasonable large open vessel. Similarly the expression is defined in Southampton Records Series (1992) 35, page 477 as ‘a pot or cauldron’.

It is possible to find various proverbial and allusive uses of the expression, e.g. ‘to sound worse than a tinker’s kettle’ or ‘the coin may mend a tinker’s kettle’; but these seem to depend on a literal meaning ‘a kettle owned or used by a tinker’ and not to indicate a particular kind of kettle.

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