An Engineer in Wonderland – Anglo-Saxon metrology rules your feet


In mindlessly browsing Wikipedia after my last blog on metrology, I came across something that I am hoping is true

In this article on English units of measure, it claims that the length of a barley seed – a barleycorn – was once the standard from which English measurement was derived, and that it is still in use.

It was three barleycorns to the inch.


That makes a metric barleycorn 8.4666mm.


But more importantly, it is still in use because English shoe sized are one barleycorn apart, starting at size 13 which is 13in, and then dropping by one barleycorn in length per shoe size.


I do hope that is true.


Talking of metric barleycorns, for wonderfully mixed and varied justification of odd units, also check out decimal dozen, metric foot, metric mile and metric (decimal) inch.




If you can answer this, respond below, or to alice@electronicsweekly.



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  1. Thanks Alan.
    Now there is a big hole in the ‘fact’ that
    size 13 = 13in.
    If you have a size 13, 12, 11, 10 or 9 feet, or any other size for that matter, can you measure your feet in inches and forward the figures please.
    A quick measure around here suggests
    size 12 = 1foot is a better reference point for shoe sizing.

  2. Alan Grant Dominey

    Were this to be true (or at least accurate) the scaling would need to be up (and down) from a UK size 11 at 11 inches.
    Based on the fact that I am a size 9 and my foot is 10 and 1/3 inches long.
    This would mean that a size 13 would be 11 and 2/3 inches – this seems more reasonable . . . .

  3. Thanks Dr Bob
    It boggles my mind that anyone ever got anything measured accurately in Tudor times.
    And, you would have to wait until the barley harvest or Sunday to recalibrate your instruments.

  4. A better measurement is the Rod.
    In the 16th century the lawful rod was decreed to be the combined length of the left feet of 16 men as they left church on a Sunday morning.

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