A national housebuilder is purchasing a development site in North Yorkshire. The land is unregistered and the root of title document is a 1928 conveyance that describes the land as being “several closes of land containing nine acres, two roods and twelve perches or thereabouts“.
Fortunately, the conveyance contains an adequate plan but the description did get our team talking about some of the weird and wonderful terms of measurement our predecessors used in the pre-decimal age:
Chain: 22 yards (20.12 metres), the name comes from a 17th Century system of land measurement whereby a chain used by Edmund Gunter for measuring distances proved so popular that ‘Gunter’s Chain‘ became the accepted standard length for surveying. A chain remains familiar today as the length of a cricket pitch from one wicket to the other.
Furlong: 10 chains (220 yards). Familiar from horse racing, a furlong is 201.2 metres or 1/8th of a mile. The name itself is a derivative of ‘furrow long’ and came about as rectangular medieval arable fields were split in to long thin strips (aka furrows) with each strip being ‘a furrow long’.
Perch: This is nothing to do with fish! Instead, a perch is 25.92 square metres (30.25 square yards) being one square rod. A rod being 5.5 yards or one quarter of a chain (keep up at the back, please!).
Rood: 1,011m2 or 1,210 square yards exactly. A rood is one furlong by one rod (or 40 perches if you prefer). Legislation enshrined in various Allotment Acts dictates that traditionally, allotments should be one quarter of a rood in size – this being sufficient land to feed a family of four for a year.
Acre: Probably still familiar to most people, this equates to approximately 4,050 square metres and is so sized as being the area of land that can be ploughed by eight oxen in one day.
Both the housebuilder and the Land Registry now have sophisticated laser measuring equipment and CAD packages to delineate plans – much more accurate and commercial but perhaps not quite as romantic as the world of perches, roods and chains.
That said, as lawyers we still come up against challenging documents. A few years ago we were trying to establish the location of some consecrated land close to a church in Southwark. The Victorian document described the land in question as being “20 paces from the south west corner of the nave” and begged such questions as: “Is the nave still in the same place?” “How far is one pace?” And even: “Did 19th century surveyors have smaller legs then we do today?”
If you know any Victorian surveyors then answers on a postcard please…