Monday, 20 June 2016

Clampole, cubit, pentysing, and underset

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 and farm 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). Please note that I record the absence of terms from Early English Books Online not in order to criticize that inestimable resource but to highlight the gap between the language we find in non-literary texts and that of the printed book, especially the literary text.

Here are four timber and building terms from the Essex Wills:


1559 (I. 52) new boards, planks and clampole

1560 (I. 294) timber, board and clampole

Examples outside the Essex Wills:

1559 in Genealogist (1919) 84 To the said Thomas all my part of the tymber borde and clampole now growing or being upon my lands called Myllers.

1603 in F. G. Emmison Eliz. Life: Disorder (1976) 82 Clampole and all my tools.

1603 in F. G. Emmison Eliz. Life: Disorder (1976) 82 The Colchester wages assesment of 1583 gives those of splitters of ‘cloboard and clampell’ and ‘a clampole to make a yielding tub’..occurs in a will of 1592.

1969 P. L. Hughes Tudor Royal Proclamations: later Tudors (1588-1603)  292 Gloss., Clampell, clamp, ship’s plank.

This is evidently timber in some form, possibly (if the 1969 example below is definitive) planking. I have not found the term in any dictionary yet and there seems to be no obvious etymology. In the OED, clamp n./1 sense 3a is ‘one of the thick planks in a ship’s side below the shelf-piece which support the ends of the deckbeams’, but this is timber after it has been worked into a very specific form, which is not what the examples suggest clampole is. In the second 1603 example, clampole is to be used to make a yielding tub. This might be constructed from flat staves bonded together like a piggin.


This occurs at least six times and denotes some kind of timber; it can be either a mass noun, a count noun, or a premodifier (cubit log):

1566 (III. 455) To the poor people of Brightlingsea 4 loads of cubit

1568 (VIII. 213) the cubits in my yard...the cubit in my house and the logs...

1576 (IV. 117) 1 load of wood, part cubit, part logs

1579 (IV. 166) 1 load of billet and 1 load of cubit

1583 (IV. 178) 20 loads of wood of cubit logs and brush or billet

1594 (VI. 157) half a load of cubit every year

Further examples:

1571 in F. G. Emmison Elizabethan Life: Essex Gentry’s Wills (1978) 188 To my wife for life 300 of good and able cubit from the woods belonging to the manor.

1595 in F. G. Emmison Elizabethan Life: Essex Gentry’s Wills (1978) 125 she shall yearly have 80 cartloads of cubit wood of the wood in Braswick, Kelpastures, Shrittes Woods and Chesterwell Woods and 10 cartloads of logs of the doted trees there for her necessary firing.

In theory this could be an application of cubit meaning a measure of length, but against this is the fact that otherwise cubit is very much a learned word, in general use occurring only in the Bible, and that the context seems to imply a kind of wood, sometimes contrasted with logs, sometimes with brush or billet, which strongly suggests that it is a kind of firewood. The example from F. G. Emmison Elizabethan Life: Wills of Essex Gentry and Merchants (1978) above tends to confirm this.

There is a discussion of this word in:

1890 East Anglian (New Series) 3 76 In 1749 there is a bill ‘for Extrodnareys for Flowers familey’, which has some curious items. 
For a Hogs Head - - - - 00 01 04. More 9 pound of pork - - - 00 02 03. More for a Bushel of wheat & Grinding - - 00 04 03. . . More for 7 Bundles of hop poles - - 00 04 01. More for 13 faggets of Cubit-wood - - 00 03 03. for 2 pair of Showes - - - 00 05 00. More for 49 faggets of Cubit-wood on Dec: the first 00 12 03. 
It will be remembered that in the accounts of 1735, we noticed the phrase ‘cubet to the pore 20 fagits’, &c. From the present entries it appears that cubit-wood is a technical term, indicating faggots of a certain size or quality. Guesses on the subject are fairly obvious, but I have not found the term elsewhere. Can anyone explain it?

This query is re-presented in

1893 Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society 16 In 1735 occurs the curious item — Cubet to the pore, 20 fagits, which is somewhat explained by another in 1749 — More for 49 faggets of cubit-wood 00 03 03. It was apparently the technical term for a particular kind of fagot, and several conjectures are possible, but as I know nothing and cannot find the term elsewhere.

The term is entered in the English Dialect Dictionary Supplement: 

Cubit-fagot, or –wood, sb. Suf. Ken. Meaning unknown. Suf. More for 49 faggets of cubit-wood 00. 03 .03 , Litt. Cornard Par. Accs. (1749); In 1735 the charge occurs ‘cubet to the pore 20 fagits’ (CD.). Ken. (F.H.)

Apart from this a search on Google Books seems not to uncover anything; there seems to be nothing on Early English Books Online. The evidence suggests that it is an eastern counties word.


This term occurs once in the Essex Wills and is no mystery; simply a gerund and verbal noun formed from the word penthouse; the evidence does not suggest that it is regional dialect.

1556 (I. 73) for ‘pentysing’ (penthousing) of the Court loft 

There are several further examples:

[1579] in C. H. Cooper Annals Cambridge (1843) II. 367 On the 6th of October, 1579, Lord North the High Steward, sent letters urging the town to accept £20 from Dr. Hatcher towards the charges of paving and penthousing the new fish market at the Peas Market Hill.

1617 in M. Statham Accts. Feoffees Town Lands Bury St. Edmunds 1569–1622 (2003) 248 And of 4s.5d payde to Edmund Raby for penthowsinge windowes at St Peters.

1631 R. Brathwaite Whimzies (STC 3591) 56 A broad-brim’d hat or’e-pentising his discontented looke.

1656 in R. Bird Jrnl. Giles Moore (Sussex Rec. Soc.) (1971) 33 For 1 hundred & 4 foote of penthousing Board.

[date?] in Rec. Honourable Soc. Lincoln’s Inn: Black Books Vol. II  (1897) 361 14s. for 300 boards for ‘pentising’.


This is apparently a structure normally attached to a larger building. It does not correspond to any of the three meanings of underset n. in the OED. The verb underset has the meaning (sense 1a) ‘to support or strengthen by means of something (esp. of the nature of a post or prop) placed beneath; to prop up.’ This then perhaps means ‘a prop or support’, though the examples seem to suggest something more. 

1592 (VI. 162) a ‘honder sette’ belonging to the headhouse..a ‘honder set’ next the church

1595 (VI. 180) the underset adjoining and abutting on the south end of my house

1598 (XII. 43) the ‘underset’ to be set up at 1 end of the cottage of 8 foot long

1601 (XII. 180) my messuage where I dwell and the underset adjoining

Compare the following: 

Skelton Magnyfycence An olde barne wolde be vnderset. 
1649 C. Hoole Easie Entrance to Latine Tongue [Wing H2681] a prop, Fulcrum, eri. n.  undersets, TibĂ­cines, um. n. the prick-

1661 T. Blount Glossographia, Fulciment, a prop or underset.

1688 R. Holme Academy of Armory Stays, Shores,  Undersets, Pillars, Wall-Plates

1736 N. Bailey Dictionarium Britannicum, A Prop, a support, an under-set.

1795 J. Hamilton Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language in Miniature (ed. 16) 92/2 Ful'ciment, s., a prop, an underset, a stay. (Johnson’s Dict. has the definition ‘that on which a body rests’.)

1880 M. A. Courtney Gloss. Words W. Cornwall in Gloss. Cornwall, Colpas, a prop or underset to a lever. (OED at colpice | colpas n.)

No comments:

Post a Comment