Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Legal Acre

Farming with a plow in the early days certainly had its troubles. When settlements got to the size that several families shared the land, who was suppose to know what could be planted, were to raise the chickens, were to graze the cattle, slop the pigs, and herd the sheep? Exactly how much land was needed to feed my family?

The farmers of the day came up with a system known as "the legal acre". This was based upon the barleycorn measurements outlined in the last post titled: "Leaps and Bounds". Remember that 3 lengths of the barleycorn defined the "inch". Three inches made a "palmbreath", and 3 palmbreaths made the "foot". The yoke became the next unit of measurement seeing how every farmer had his plow and yoke.

There was 4 feet in the short yoke, 8 feet in the mid-yoke, 12 feet in the armpit yoke, and 16 feet in the long yoke. A "rod" was defined as the long yoke (16 feet) in the caller's hand [the one doing the plowing] with the middle peg of that yoke in his other hand, and as far as he reaches with it with his arm stretch out. This method would set the measurement of the legal acre. The width would be one rod, and the length would be 30 times the rod. Thus, the legal acre was 16 ft. wide by 480 ft. long. [7,680 sq. feet] There was to be 4 such acres in the "toft" (homestead). So there you have it. A family (homestead) had roughly 4 legal acres to make a living. You could plow long rows before you had to turn around!

The measurements are taken from: "Hywel Dda The Law", translated and edited by Dafydd Jenkins, Gomer Press, 1990, p. 121.

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