Monday, 30 May 2016

Old Implements and Instruments from the Essex Wills

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). 

This article deals with a miscellaneous collection of words for implements and instruments which seem to have escaped notice by the main dictionaries, though some occur in provincial glossaries. As usual, the Essex Wills are the entry point, but the words are found in many other documents too, most of them non-literary.

bout hammer

From the Essex Wills:

1568 (VIII. 215) 2 ‘boute’ harness [probably an error for hammers], 1 upright hammer, 1 hard hammer

1591 (VI. 4) bowt hammer
1593 (VI. 211) 1 ‘bowte’, 1 hammer.., 1 upright hammer

1598 (XII. 69) a beckhorn, 2 boute hammers, an ouperitte [i.e. upright] hammer.

This word is known from provincial glossaries to mean a blacksmith’s heavy two-handed hammer.  Later examples are fairly plentiful, and mostly localized in eastern England. Notice that unlike many of these words, it has surfaced in ‘literature’ in the form of John Bunyan.

a1630 Faithful Friends iv. v, If my wife scold, my bout-hammer shall roar.

1648 S. Marshall Sinne of Hardnesse of Heart [Wing M783] 37 Would’st thou have the stone in thy heart broken? bring it under the  bout-hammer of Gods Word. (Stephen Marshall, B.D., was a ‘minister of Gods Word at Finchingfield in Essex’.)

a1688 Bunyan Of Antichrist & his Ruin (1692) God will..break him in pieces with his bout-hammers.

1674 in D. Yaxley Researcher’s Glossary (2003) 19  2 bont hammers 1 hand hammer [probably a transcription error for bout]

1741 Dramatick Epil. in J. Holmes Grammarian’s Geog. & Astron. (1751) 257 Vulcan was drest like a Blacksmith with a Leather Apron on, and a Bout-Hammer on his Shoulder. (This text was written for Holt School, Norfolk.)

1808 Sporting Mag. Aug. 285/2 Strong as the bout-hammer.

1830 R. Forby Vocab. East Anglia I. 37 Bout-hammer, the heavy two-handed hammer used by blacksmiths. This word is not in the Dictt. however common here and perhaps elsewhere.

1846 J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps Dict. Archaic & Provincial Words I. 201/2 Bout-hammer, the heavy two-handed hammer used by blacksmiths. East. See Aboutsledge, and Beaumont and Fletcher, iv. 289.

1852 Gentleman’s Mag. Apr. 421/2 Working the bout-hammer, at the blacksmith’s anvil.

1863 W. Gee N.E.D. Vocab. Wds. beginning with Letter B, Bout-hammer, H. [=Halliwell].

1866 J. G. Nall  Great Yarmouth & Lowestoft 519 Bout-hammer, a blacksmith's heavy two-handed hammer.

The English Dialect Dictionary has bout-hammer sb. East Anglia ‘a blacksmith’s heavy two-handed hammer’ with an oral example from Norfolk.

This may be related in some way to OED’s about-sledge n., 1678–1990, as Halliwell-Phillipps (1846) suggests. If OED’s etymology for that word is correct, bout would have to be a shortening of about; but the earlier occurrence of bout hammer in the Essex Wills and elsewhere casts some doubt on this.

OED’s bout n.², sense 2 is: a ‘round’ at any kind of exercise, a turn or spell of work; as much of an action as is performed at one time’ (the antecedent to the familiar sporting sense). It is dated 1575, and could easily be earlier. This word is said by OED to be apparently a specialized sense of bought n.¹,  a bend, a curve, a loop of rope. It’s not clear whether the hammer sense could be directly connected with this word.

course of handles

1574 (III. 311) 12 course of handles

This is shearmen’s terminology. Shearmen’s equipment not infrequently includes handles. The ‘handles’ used seem to have been counted in ‘courses’. Compare: 

1985 S. Wright in L. Charles & L. Duffin Women & Work in Pre-industrial Eng. iii. 113 In 1610, for instance, George Davis left his apprentice a pair of shears and ‘four course of handles within one month after my wife shall leave of the trade which i dowe nowe use’.

This is probably OED’s course n. sense 29 ‘a set of things made or used at one time; spec. of candles made at once’. OED only exemplifies (from 1552, 1572, and 1712) courses of candles.

cronge and biche hook

There are (probably) two examples of cronge in the Essex Wills:

1569 (VIII. 216) a plough, chain, a ‘cronge’ [ploughing equipment]

1570 (II. 248) 1 ‘crouge’ otherwise called a ‘biche hooke’ [ploughing context]

It seems a reasonable assumption that crouge in 1570 is a mistranscription or scribal error for cronge, given that the latter is a word found elsewhere in the context of ploughing. 

cronge is discussed on page 301 of F. G. Emmison Elizabethan Life: Disorder (1970) but the meaning is said to be unclear. 

There is an OED entry cronge n. ‘A hilt or handle’ with one 1577 example from Harrison’s Description; here the cronge is the handle of a long spit; possibly the 1842 example below has a connection with this meaning. In our case we may assume that the word refers to something handle-like. 

Other examples:

1633 Q/SR 283/28 in Essex Rev. (1953) 62 215 Unam aliam ferri aratr anglice vocatam a crouge. [The editor explains this word as OED1’s crow sb. 1 ‘A piece of plough-iron’, but surely we have again the same error of u for n as in EW 1570.]

1800 W. Lucas Let. 12 June in Annals Agriculture 35 315, I find too, that by making the crongs (as they call them) of the whippletree moveable, the lever may be lengthened at either end so as to balance the strength of unequal-sized horses.

1841 W. Lucas Let. 17 July in Farmer’s Mag. 4 213 And a second swillyard, acting as a second lever, with the sling whippletree, or weightree, attached to it, with another foot chain and crong, would still further assist in keeping the beam horizontal, and the plough upright. [Lucas is from Broomfield, Essex: this is confirmed by a similar letter of 1839 in Farmer’s Mag. 3 (1839) 445 ‘to the editor of the Chelmsford Chronicle’.]

1842 in N. & Q. (1901) 346/2 Pitch bar and dung crong [Stebbing, Essex].

1904 N. & Q. 13, 77, 146.

1955 Essex Rev. 64 165 There are numerous entries of new ‘crongs’, when associated with a way-tree (always spelt ‘weytree’); it means the hook welded on to a band fastened to the middle of the way-tree. An entirely different use of the word ‘crong’ occurs in a single entry: ‘lining dung crong’; here it is equivalent to the word, still occasionally used, and recorded by Mr. Gepp under ‘crome’.

In Early English Books Online we find 1577, 1587 Holinshed ‘vp to the verye cronge’. This, and the 1842 example above, is probably the ‘handle’ sense. The term seems not to be in the English Dialect Dictionary. 

W. Lucas (1800 and 1841 above) is helpful in showing that the cronge is attached to the whippletree, which is the same thing as the swingletree (‘in a plough..a crossbar, pivoted at the middle, to which the traces are fastened, giving freedom of movement to the shoulders of the horse or other draught-animal). The 1955 example above confirms this, and tells us that the cronge is actually a hook welded to the swingletree (waytree is another synonym for this); not strictly a handle, but certainly a means of handling something. See the discussion of biche hook below.

Etymology: could this word be a derivative of the base of OE cringan, bearing the same relationship to it as crank does to crincan? OED at crank n.¹ says that crank is ‘apparently an ablaut-derivative of the verb crinc-an, cranc, crunc-en, found (but very rare) in Old English as a by-form of cring-an, crang, crung-en to fall in battle, of which the primitive meaning appears to have been ‘to draw oneself together in a bent form, to contract oneself stiffly, curl up’. Crong could be a parallel derivative of the commoner cringan; for the difference in vowel from crank compare song (sing) and bond (bind).

On the face of it, biche hook = ‘bitch hook’. This compound occurs in the same context as one of our cronge examples, if the emendation of crouge is correct:

1570 (II.  248) 1 ‘crouge’ otherwise called a ‘biche hooke’

The example itself states that it is a synonym of cronge. This matches the evidence compiled for that word which shows that a cronge is a hook welded to the swingletree of a plough as part of the apparatus by which the plough is attached to the draught animals.

In the Essex Wills we also find:

1577 (IV. 23) A dung rake, a long saw and a short, a mattock, a shod shovel, a spade, a grinding stone and the iron to turn it, a plough with coulter and share, a plough bitch, a double hook, an axe, a hedding [recte hedging] bill, a long and short pitchfork…

This again is a ploughing term and comes next to ‘a double hook’, which suggests that it may be the same thing.

Remarkably, there is a lumbering term bitch hook, attested, as far as I can see, only in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, which is (see quot. 2007 below) ‘a grab hook on the doubletree of the horse’; the doubletree being ‘the cross-piece to which the swingle-tree of a carriage, plough, etc. is attached’ (OED), i.e. the exactly analogous part of the apparatus.

?1960 British Columbian Lumberman 44 10 The woods crew pre-set the chokers, which are immediately attached to the ‘bitchhook’ when the rigging is skinned back from the landing and spotted by the rigging-slinger.

1967 O. W. Blake Timber down the Hill 131 Bitch-Hook, extension hook to lengthen crotch line.

2007 D. MacKay Lumberjacks 95 The line was fastened to a ‘bitch hook’, a grab hook on the doubletree of the horse which then pulled the log quickly and easily up onto the growing pile once the cant-hook men had placed it in proper position by rolling it up a little ramp.

2008 Concise New Partridge Dict. Slang 59 bitch hook, an all-purpose quick-release hook for use with a tractor and chain CANADA, 1992

This would appear to be very much the same kind of thing; if it is, the term survived unrecorded for 400 years, surfacing in North America (the English Dialect Dictionary seems to have nothing on this).

The word doghook n. in the OED, which you might expect to have some connection with bitch hook, is of similar age (1528), though only in sense 1 ‘a hook used for leading a dog’; it does, however, have another sense (2a) ‘an iron bar with a bent prong, used to join parts of machinery, secure or hoist a log, etc.’, which dates only to 1821, but has overlap in sense with dog n.1 19a ‘a grappling iron with a spike for clutching an object to be hoisted (as a log or a barrel), or for driving into a log to secure it for sawing, transportation, etc.’ which dates back to 1538. It is not difficult to imagine that a bitch hook could be a variety of dog hook, rather as there are male and female screws, etc.

lathe or layer 

These are terms in the Essex Wills for what is almost certainly the same thing, an implement used in the making of cheese, paraphrased as a press in the quotation of 1543. The settlements from which the wills come are given in the lists below.


Frating 1571 (III. 250) a cheese ‘leathe’ in the kitchen

Little Bentley 1584 (V. 173) 1 ‘lathe’ to make cheese

Langford 1588 (XI. 18) a lathe to make cheese

Tolleshunt Major 1592 (XI. 38) my cheese lathe and cheese press

South Hanningfield 1594 (XI. 169) cheese lath

Halstead 1596 (XII. 201) 1 moulding board, 1 lathe, 2 pair of quernstones

Fingringhoe 1597 (XII. 166) cheese lathe

Little Waltham 1597 (XII. 167) cheese lathe

Chelmsford 1599 (XII. 211) a grindstone, a lathe, an elmen plank in the sollar

Southminster 1580 (X. 119) the ‘lathe’, half the motes, an old cheese bread

South Hanningfield 1602 (XII. 129) cheese lathe

Examples outside Essex Wills (one apparently from Kent and two from Essex):

Church Commissioners: Rochester Capitular Estates CCRc_T137_01 (Medway Council City Archives) 30 September 1396. In the dairy a defective churn, a ring and a cheese lathe not appraised.

1543 Will of John Smyth 10 May in Trans. Essex Archaeol. Soc. (1865) 3 60 Item, a chese lathe or presse for chese. Item, thre chese breades.

1638 in F. W. Steer Farm & Cottage Inventories of Mid-Essex 1635–1749 (1969) 77 One cheese laethe, tow pootes, one braspoot.

layer (also lare):

Ramsey 1571 (IX. 128) cheese layer

Ingatestone 1574 (IX. 23) cheese-layer

St Osyth 1574 (IX. 60) cheese layer

Great Bromley 1577 (IV. 106) 2 saucers, a cheese ‘lare’, my great hutch

Ardleigh 1582 (IV. 158) 1 little table which should serve for a cheese, 1 ‘lare’

Ardleigh 1582 (IV. 158) 1 cheese ‘layre’

Havering 1588 (V. 97) a cheese layer with a great weight

Ramsden Bellhouse 1589 (V. 89) 1 cheese layer and the better half of my cheese motes

Example from outside the Essex Wills (still from Essex):

1574 Inventory of the goods and chattals of Henry Sydaye of Paglesham in Calendar of Queen’s Bench Indictments Ancient 639, Part II (Essex Record Office T/A 428/1/35) Item the chese lare and the troff to it and ij chese mottes iiijs.

No examples in the English Dialect Dictionary.

Here is a map showing the distribution of these words.

There may be no pattern here at all—or there may be some significance in the fact that the layer/lare forms are on the south-western and north-eastern edges and the lathe ones occupy a roughly oval central area.

These terms must be synonyms for ‘cheese ladder’, explained in the OED in the following quotation at ladder n. 3a:

1688 R. Holme Acad. Armory iii. 335/1 A Cheese Ladder..serveth to lay over the Cheese Tub for the Cheese Fat to rest upon, while the Dairy Woman presseth the Whay out of the Cruds. The cheese fat or vat is a wooden hoop with a loose bottom, both parts perforated with holes to let out the whey.

The English Dialect Dictionary explains cheese ladder as ‘a wooden framework to support a sieve through which milk is strained into colers or into the cheese-tub’; also at ladder sb. 2

Cheese ladder in early modern English is local to several counties, including Cheshire, Gloucestershire, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Warwickshire, and Worcestershire; in the nineteenth century it is the general term for this implement.

Lathe is probably lathe n.3 sense 1 ‘a supporting structure, stand, or scaffold’, even though the evidence for this (quot. 1476 only) is so thin; the Danish word lad which shares its early Scandinavian etymon has the general sense ‘supporting structure’.  The cheese-making sense, then, may be just the last remaining trace of this.

As regards layer or lare, there is a very slightly better evidenced English word lare n.2 (OED) meaning ‘turner’s lathe’ which is etymologized by OED as ‘? connected with LATHE n.3’. 

The English Dialect Dictionary has lare sb. ‘Obs. Dev. a turner’s lathe’; cites Horæ Subsecivæ (1777) 243 and Grose (1790) MS. Add. (M.); also Cotgrave Tournoir, a turners wheel, called a Lathe, or Lare.

So if lare could mean, or even be a variant form of, lathe in the wood-turning sense, and there also existed in Essex the synonymous terms cheese lathe and cheese layer/lare meaning ‘a support for the cheese (vat)’, it seems likely that these are forms of the same word, even though the phonological details are unclear. It is even perhaps possible that ladder, layer, and lathe are all alterations of an original form.

One further item in the Essex Wills that may be relevant is 

1586 (V. 317) turning laver

It is possible that ‘laver’ here represents a form of lathe. Turning lathe is a well-established term for what we now call simply ‘lathe’, though not attested in the OED as early as this. 


In the Essex Wills, apparently a double plural of screw.

1567 (VIII. 146) the pan bound the best, 2 ‘scruces’, best joined cupboard

1568 (VIII. 211) 2 pair of ‘skrouses’, 1 ‘genne’ and 1 ‘trysse’

1570 (II. 86) 2 pair of ‘scruses’ with all my ‘lystyng shores’ [perhaps read lyftyng shores] and the implements

1589 (V. 124), 1589 (XI. 173) 3 pair of ‘scruses


1588 (XI. 157) my 2 pairs of ‘skrewes

OED records no occurrences of a double plural form of screw, and nor does it enter any sense of screw that might come in a pair; but compare these examples, where pairs of screws seem to be a large lifting device:

1791 Gentleman’s Mag. Oct. 889/2 Four pair of screws for raising ships that are stranded, in order to their being repaired.

1819 Blackwood’s Edinburgh Mag. June 357/1 The Admiralty yacht, lately under repair in Woolwich dock-yards, was, on the 12th instant, raised from her bearings sufficiently high to have the bottom of her keel coppered, by the application of a single pair of screws, under the direction of Mr W. Hookey, assistant builder. The vessel is one of 120 tons, having on board 30 tons of ballast, with all the stageing, &c. attached. The whole operation was performed by eight men, in five minutes; and Mr Hookey is decidedly of opinion, that he could, by the application of ten such pair of screws, which are those used in his bending machine, raise any frigate in the service.

In the Essex Wills 1570 example, the ‘scruses’ could be such a lifting device, if for ‘lystyng shores’ we were to read ‘lyftyng shores’; cf. the use of this term in:

1843 Architect, Engineer, & Surveyor  Jan. 43/2 The exterior angles of the tower at the north-east and south-east corners had given way. Two lifting shores of strong timber, 14 inches square, shod with iron at each end, were immediately inserted.

Shore here would be OED’s shore n.³ 1a ‘a piece of timber or iron set obliquely against the side of a building, of a ship in dock, etc., as a support when it is in danger of falling or when undergoing alteration or repair; a prop or strut.’ 

The following quotation, where scruses and shores are paired, seems to match the 1570 one above; if so, this is dealing with large-scale items for building repair:

1885 S. Tymms & J. R. Thompson Handbk. Bury St. Edmund’s (ed. 5) 91 The first Market Cross of which we have any record was erected by the Guildhall Feoffees in 1583-84, but was so badly built that twenty years after it was necessary to put ‘scruses and shores to uphold the same’.

The 1568 example may possibly contain words for two other mechanical devices, if genne is gin n. and trysse is trice n. (for the latter, see below).

But the 1567 example (the only one not in a pair) looks like a small domestic item. Are these examples relevant to it?

1605 Acct. in A. Constable Mem. George Heriot (1822) 202 Item, put to v great diamondis, v needles, and v scrues of gold, weighing xvj penyweight, inde ij li. viij s. Item, for making the said needles, and puting to the said scrues, ij li. x s.

1648 Will of Sir Edmund Bacon, Bart. in S. Tymms Wills & Inventories from Reg. Commissary Bury St. Edmunds (1850) 217, I give him alsoe my chaine of beads with scrues.


1568 (VIII. 211) 2 pair of ‘skrouses’, 1 ‘genne’ and 1 ‘trysse’

Possibly a later example of trice n.1, ‘a pulley or windlass’ (1357–1462); the three OED examples are from Ely, Promptorium (Norfolk), and Norwich. Given that skrouses may be a form of screw, and hypothesizing that genne is a form of gin n.1 3 ‘mechanical contrivance’, it would fit the context.  The English Dialect Dictionary has trise v. Lincs., Dorset, Somerset ‘to lift up, raise’.


Essex Wills examples:

1583 (IV. 91) 2 wimbles, a wrybit, and a mattock

1584 (V. 24 2) axes, 1 wrybit and 1 broad chisel

This is clearly some sort of tool used by a carpenter: wry suggests something set at or incorporating an angle (cf. wry adj. 2a) and bit is normally the sharp end of a piercing tool (bit n.1 6: at present attested from 1594, later than this word). Note from the examples below that this term was carried across to New England, where it is quite commonly attested. Note also the variant spellings rye bit(t).

Earlier and later examples from outside Essex Wills (no evidence from Early English Books Online; the word is not listed by Holme in Acad. Armory):

[?a1547] in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII: Preserved in the Public Record Office, the British Museum, and Elsewhere, Volume 1, Part 2 1098 An ax, a wrybit and an awger.

[?date] in A Book of Strattons: Being a Collection of Stratton Records from England and Scotland, and a Genealogical History of the Early Colonial Strattons in America, with Five Generations of Their Descendants, Volume 1 (1908) 160 A cross cut saw, a handsaw, a hamer a perser stock, a wry bit, 3 axes, 2 wedges, a paire of beetle rings.

1652 Inventory of James Lindale of Duxburrow in Mayflower Descendant (1909) 11 90 It 2 chissels one wrybitt and an auger.

1671 Will & Inventory of John Barnes in E. A. Stratton Plymouth Colony (1986) 451 Item 3 Iron wedges 4 augers a wrybitt a handsaw an adds a bilhooke.

Possibly in: R. A. Salaman Dict. Tools used in Woodworking & Allied Trades (1975). 

1685 in C. M. Whipple A history of William Whipple of Dorchester, Massachusetts and Smithfield, Rhode Island, Whipple, 1652-1712 (2006) 24 Among his tools were a froe, a Rye bit, iron square, small jointer, carving tool, axe , clearing plane, whetting steel, wimble stock and bits, soding iron, compasses, and brass rule for a chalk line.

[?date] in Early Rec. Town of Providence (1894) 132 3 Chizells, i Gouge 00-01-04 2 Augers & a Rye bitt 00-02-00 2 bench hookes 2 hand sawes a drawing knife.

[?date] in E. B. B. Butler & M. M. M. Butler Planters Early New England (2009) 328 A croscutt saw, a hand saw, a hammer, a perser stock a wry bitt, 3 axes, 2 wedges.

It seems surprising that this everyday carpenter’s tool has escaped the notice of lexicographers.

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