200 large Creels of sea-weed yield a Boll of barley or 12 -14 Barrels of potatoes…

The reference is to quantities witnessed towards the end of the 18thC in the Bays of Harris where ‘feannagan’, or ‘lazy-beds’, were the only possible means of cultivating the land.

In this piece I intend examining the quantities described, rather than the processes involved.

Creels are deep baskets with shoulder straps, carried over the back like a wicker rucksack.

A creel (over)full of peats can be seen here – http://gdl.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/baihig/baihig0805.jpg

The ‘boll’ and ‘barrel’ were Scottish measures and it would be another half-century before all measures were standardised into the ‘Imperial’ system, itself lasting until Britain joined the EU in 1978 and the Metric system was adopted.

(As an aside, I recall as a child having to perform Arithmetic using Tons, Hundredweight, Stones, Pounds and Ounces in a manner that would baffle schoolchildren of the same age today.)

The Scottish Boll (from ‘Bowl’), as it related to Barley, Oats, Malt, etc, was a measure of volume.

I boll = 4 firlots
1 firlot = 4 pecks
1 pecks = 4 lippies
so a boll was 4x4x4 = 64 lippies.

A lippie was 0.728 Imperial Gallons, therefore our 1 boll was about 46 and a half gallons, or 212 litres.

So our 200 creels of sea-weed produced 212 litres of Barley, about one litre per creel.

Turning to our Potatoes,

1 Barrel = 8 Gallons
1 Gallon = 8 Pints
So a Barrel was 8×8 = 64 Pints

A Pint was 3 Imperial Pints so 1 Barrel was 192 Imperial Pints, or 24 Imperial Gallons.

Although these are liquid measures, they help give us an impression of the quantity alluded to by our ’12-14 barrels of potatoes’.

So our 200 creels of sea-weed produced about 13×192 Imperial Pints of Potatoes, about 12-13 pints per creel.

The choice is ours, a litre of barley or a dozen pints of potatoes, neither represents much of a return from that creel of sea-weed, does it?

Oh, and modern-day Canadian Wheat is considered excellent if it weighs 600g per litre…

A useful set of tables giving Scottish Measures is to be found here:
http://www.fergusoncreations.co.uk/home/shaun/metrology/scottish.html

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