Keywords: London commerce regulations measures quality control seals ale
Subject: Use of authorized measures
Original source: Corporation of London Records Office, Liber Albus, f. 213
Transcription in: Henry Thomas Riley, ed. Liber Albus. Rolls Series, no.12, vol.1 (1859), 335-36.
Original language: French
Location: London
Date: ca.1200


Concerning sealed measures Everyone in a ward who sells by measure – that is, gallon, pottle, and quart, quarter, bushel, half-bushel and peck – are to show all their measures four times a year to the alderman, in whatever place he wants to assign, under penalty [for defaulting] of 2s. payable to the use of the alderman. There they are to be impressed with the seal of the alderman, if they are not [already] impressed with the seal of the Chamber; [the owner] will pay 2d. for [application of] the seal to a gallon, 1d. for the sealing of a pottle, a halfpenny for a quart, 8d. for a quarter, 2d. for a bushel, 1d. for a half-bushel, and a halfpenny for a peck.

If the alderman's inspection finds any measures to be smaller than they should be, they are to be burned forthwith in the main street of the ward, so that they cannot be used again, and the name of him who was using them is to be submitted by the beadle to the chamberlain, and [the user] to be amerced appropriately. If the beadle is discovered to have put the mark on a false measure, let him be sent to the pillory.


Selling by false measure was a moderately serious crime, morally on the same level as theft (although not punished so severely). It was, however, ubiquitous. It was not limited to deliberate attempts to defraud, for some measures were made of wood and tended to shrink as they aged.

It will be noted that the smallest measure for selling liquids – ale being intended here – was the quart, which reflects the fact that, perhaps especially in towns (where the availability of clean drinking water was problematic) ale was a more common beverage than it is today. Although there was a good deal of social drinking in the Middle Ages, ale was drunk at any time of day for refreshment (often in conjunction with eating solid food, which would moderate alcoholic effects) as opposed to the modern predominance of evening consumption to produce a measure of intoxication. Consequently it tended to be purchased in larger than personal quantities (much as we buy milk today) for household supply. It was also produced in different strengths, with the thinnest (known as 'small ale') using a higher ratio of water to malt and shorter fermentation time. Ale, of all strengths, became increasingly heavily consumed as the growth of towns presented larger markets, encouraging larger-scale brewing operations with investment in equipment and dedicated brewing/retailing facilities, and as standards of living improved (following the demographic crises of the mid-fourteenth century) so that urban residents had more discretionary income.

There were frequent, but again largely futile, prohibitions by borough authorities of the sale of ale by smaller measures, which reflect personal consumption of a mug-full; it was often taverners or street vendors who were convicted of using small measures.



"gallon, pottle, peck"
A gallon (comprising 4 quarts) was approximately 4.5 litres; a pottle was half a gallon (i.e. 4 pints). The dry measure of a peck was just over 9 litres, there being 4 pecks to a bushel and 4 bushels to a quarter

The Chamber was the city's financial office, and the chamberlain its principal officer.

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Created: October 28, 2014. © Stephen Alsford, 2014