Inventory Terms in Legal Documents

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See also General Terms, Legal Terms, Occupations, Church Terms and Measurements.

Inventory words may have a variety of spellings using ‘y’ for ‘i’ or doubling of consonants for example. Certain words are only found in a limited geographical area; where this applies notes are given accordingly. The major source of words has been documents from Ledbury and Bosbury in Herefordshire.

Inventory Terms

  • Andirons - A pair of irons each with a horizontal bar, three short feet and an upright bar at the front (often a decorative feature), placed on each side of a fire to support a grill or basket or simply to hold logs on the fire.
  • Ale - Water being unsafe to drink in the 17th century, everyone drank ale. It was brewed from water, malted barley and a bittering agent called ‘gruit’ which was a mix of herbs. The brewing process killed off germs. Ale made from the 1st mash, with the highest alcoholic content, was generally reserved for men, women drank from the 2nd, slightly weaker, mash and children the third mash, the weakest of all. Hops came in later to create ‘beer’.
  • Apostle spoons - A set of teaspoons each decorated on the end of the handle with the figure of a different apostle.
  • Backsyde - Back yard, outbuildings etc. attached to a dwelling.
  • Beetle - A heavy round wooden mallet using to drive in wedges in carpentry work.
  • Bill - Short for ‘billhook’. A heavy-bladed cutting knife widely used in agriculture and forestry for cutting smaller woody material such as laying hedges.
  • Bolting cloth - A cloth for sifting out the bran from meal and flour. There was sometimes a bolting room and a bolting whitch (or tub).
  • Bouget - A leather water bottle. In heraldry, a pair connected by a wooden cross-piece for carrying on horseback.
  • Brandirons - Iron grid or trivet for supporting cooking vessels over a fire.
  • Broache - A spit. Used for holding meat over the fire to cook. Supported by cobirons.
  • Bucking cool - A washing tub.
  • Butt - A barrel of beer, wine or sherry, containing 126 gallons or later 105 imperial gallons. Equals half a ‘tun’.
  • Carpet - A cloth for covering a cupboard, table, bench, etc. made from a variety of materials; not at this period for a floor covering.
  • Cattels and Chattels - Movable property. ‘Catel’ is the Old French word used by the Normans in England (which could include livestock, hence cattle). This changed it’s spelling to ‘Chatel’ in France by the end of the 13th century. Our legal documents linked the two terms. French pronunciation also changed at this time; the Normans gave us the hard ch as in ‘chamber’ whereas back in France it became soft as in ‘chevron’. This duality still occurs; we say the i in ‘grape vine’ in the Old French manner but ‘ravine’ as in modern French.
  • Chaffer - (Chafer) Small enclosed brazier filled with hot coals for heating up drink and food.
  • Chafing dish - A dish placed on a chafer to heat up (and keep hot) drink and food.
  • Charger - Large pewter platter or dish for serving meat.
  • Chilver - (Chilvery) A ewe (female) lamb.
  • Cobirons - Irons for supporting a spit in front of the fire.
  • Coif - A plain white linen close-fitting cap covering the top, sides and back of the head and tied under the chin. It was worn by men and women indoors and under a hat or hood outdoors.
  • Cornock - (Crannock) A dry measure used for salt in Cheshire and for corn and other commodities along the Welsh borders and down to Somerset. For corn, it was usually four bushels.
  • Coffer - Wooden box or chest with a rounded top, used for storing clothes and other valuables.
  • Costrel - A small wooden keg with loops fitted for attaching to a belt. Field workers in Herefordshire filled them with cider to drink while working. The name comes from the earlier ‘pilgrim’s bottle’ which was made of earthenware but again was used to carry drinks.
  • Couch - At this time, a wooden settle which is a bench with arms and a high back, wide enough for 2 to 4 people.
  • Coverlid (Coverlet) - Bedspread, decorative or plain woven wool.
  • Cowle - Washing trough with clean water. Used with a bucking cool for the suds.
  • Cownterfet dyshes - Porringers.
  • Cratch - (Chratchet) A manger or open rack for animal fodder in a cowhouse or stable. Also used for a movable rack for winter feeding out in the field.
  • Diaper - Material, possibly from Ypres introduced here by Flemish weavers. It was a type of linen woven with diamond shaped patterns which showed up by opposite reflections of light from its surface and the spaces between filled with geometrical designs, leaves, dots, etc. It was mainly used for napkins and tablecloths.
  • Dykker - (Dicker) Quantity of ten used for counting leather hides or skins. From the Latin word decuria.
  • Eyrne - Iron.
  • Fire Dogs - ‘Dog Irons’ similar to andirons but smaller without the upright front. They were used to rest the fire irons on.
  • Fire Slice - A fire shovel.
  • Firkin - A small cask holding 8.5 gallons and equal to a quarter barrel.
  • Firme - (Forme) A form or bench.
  • Flagon - A jug with a lid for wine or beer. Often made of pewter.
  • Flock - Waste wool used as stuffing for bed pillows and mattresses.
  • Frame - Legs and cross-rails of a table which were always appraised independently from the flat top or board.
  • Frieze - Heavy coarse Irish woollen cloth with a raised nap finish on one side only formed by teaseling the cloth. The name may come from Friesland in Holland.
  • Furnace - (Fornace) Probably a vessel or cauldron for heating water for washing or for boiling the wort in brewing. Usually made of a brass alloy and often had its own fire underneath.
  • Fustian - Hard-wearing coarse linen (or cotton and flax) cloth. Probably from ‘Fustat’, a Cairo suburb, where it was first made. The forerunner of moleskin, corduroy etc. It was embroidered here with English blackwork around 1640 (Museum of London).
  • Garnish - A set of vessels for table use, especially of pewter. Garnish of pewter - complete set of twelve each of platters, dishes, saucers, cups and small flat plates. Often displayed on the cupboard head.
  • Gearing - (Geares) Harness for horses, presumably to pull the wagons, harrows and plough.
  • Gilt - (Yelt) A young female pig, particularly one which has not had piglets. Originally from the Norse word ‘gyltr’.
  • Gimmel rings - (Gemmow rings) Twin engagement or wedding rings which might be worn separately by husband and wife or by one of the couple if the spouse had died. Sometimes with inscriptions which were hidden when the two rings were worn fitted together.
  • Girdle - A woman’s loose-fitting belt.
  • Glass cage - A 17th century item of furniture for storing glasses.
  • Gredyron - (Gridiron) A platform of iron bars, with short feet and a long handle, for cooking meat over a fire.
  • Grosgrain - A closely woven silk clothing fabric which has fine horizontal ribs.
  • Halings - see Paynted clothes.
  • Harnessed - An adjective meaning ‘mounted’ or ‘decorated’, usually with gold or silver, when referring to table vessels. See Mazer.
  • Hatchel - (Hackle) A comb used to separate fibres of flax or hemp.
  • Hillinge - (Coverlett) A bed covering. Sometimes a table covering.
  • Hoggesheade - (Hogshead) A measure of beer, 63 gallons or later 52½ imperial gallons, stored in a large cask or barrel. Equals half a butt or a quarter of a ‘tun’.
  • Holland - Fine high quality unbleached linen fabric from Holland.
  • Hovel - An open-sided shed or outhouse for cattle, storing grain, tools etc.
  • Hurden sheetes - Sheets made from hurds, the coarse part of flax or hemp.
  • Husslements - (Hushelles, husoulment, householdments) Minor household goods of little value; odds and ends.
  • Jack - (Blackjack) A leather drinking vessel with the waterptoof skin side on the inside. Jacks are so-called as their silhouette resembled the sleeveless coat of the same name worn by archers. They were polished with boiled birch tree sap or tar which made them black.
  • Joyned - Made by a joiner e.g. ‘joyned stoole’ and other quality furniture made with mortice and tenon joints and wooden pegs, not nailed.
  • Kettle - An open cooking pot or pan with semi-circular handles, one on each side, to suspend it over the fire. The modern type came into use in the 18th. century.
  • Kilderkin - A brewery cask equal in volume to half a barrel or two firkins. The word comes from the Dutch for a small cask. Based on 36 imperial gallons to a barrel, the kilderkin holds 18 gallons.
  • Kilne heyre - An open-weave horsehair cloth used for drying malt over a kiln.
  • Kine - Cows.
  • Kipe - A willow basket with a wide open mouth. Used for catching fish in a trap and also in some way in cider-making.
  • Kyrtle - (kirtle) A woman’s long dress, closely fitted to the bust, waist and hips with a rectangular neckline and tight long sleeves. It was fashionably worn with a hip belt draping down at the buckle.
  • Lachehook - A latch hook. A tool used in rugmaking.
  • Lent Grain - Oats or spring barley planted on one-third of cultivated farmland when the three-course crop rotation system was in use. The other two courses were a wheat crop and lying fallow.
  • Lynnen while - A spinning wheel for flax.
  • Male - An early word for a travelling satchel or bag later used for carrying letters. (From Norman-French malle). Hence our ‘mail services’.
  • Marke - An amount of money equal to two-thirds of a pound.
  • Maslin - A mixture of different kinds of grain, usually wheat and rye, especially when sown together. Mainly found in the 17th century when agriculture began growing wheat rather than rye for ‘bread corn’. Sowing maslin was seen as a precaution against failure of the wheat crop. The word is also used for a mixture of grain and pulses, especially oats mixed with peas. See Muncorn.
  • Matt and Corde - Of a bed. Holes were bored horizontally through the bed frame and strong cords laced through them to form a tight, netted layer which supported a woven rush mat. A matrice rested on top.
  • Matrice - A mattress for a bed made of a canvas case stuffed with straw, flock or hair.
  • Mazer - A drinking bowl. Made from hardwood with silver rim decoration.
  • Mercery - A term for expensive fabrics.
  • Messuage - A home with its adjoining buildings and adjacent land.
  • Mound - Used for a deer-resistant boundary hedge or fence on a raised bank surrounding coppiced woodland.
  • Mullen - A part of a horse’s bit, the mouthpiece.
  • Muncorn - (Bread-corn) Later word for maslin, a mixture of different kinds of grain, usually wheat and rye.
  • Must Mill - A must mill is usually concerned with the pressing of fruit, in Herefordshire probably cider apples.
  • Napery - Linen ware.
  • Odd Mark - A Midlands phrase used to indicate the fallow one-third of cultivated farmland when the three-course crop rotation system was in use.
  • Parcel gilt - Metalware particularly silver that is partially gilded. From the Old French ‘parcelle’ meaning ‘part’. Silver bowls and goblets, like this one from 1804, had gold applied to the inner surface.
  • Partlet[t] - An item of clothing worn around the neck and upper part of the chest, chiefly by women. Lace or linen forms were a kind of habit-shirt.
  • Paynted clothes - Cloth or canvas sheets, painted with biblical, classical or mythical scenes, patterns of flowers or trees, mottoes or figured designs. A cheap substitute for tapestry, used mainly as wall or bed hangings to keep out draughts, and also for bed covers.
  • Peel - A wooden or iron tool used to lift loaves of bread in and out of the oven. It consists of a flat rounded blade attached to a wooden handle.
  • Pillion - Pad or cushion attached to the rear of a saddle for a second person to ride.
  • Pillow beeres (Also pillow codds and pillow drawers) - Pillow cases.
  • Pine - (Pin) Small cask holding half a firkin which is 4½ gallons.
  • Pipe - Large cask holding two hogsheads, 126 gallons.
  • Porringer - (Pottinger) Bowl for soup or porridge (pottage), often with two flat handles.
  • Posnet - Small metal pot for boiling with a handle and three feet.
  • Powdering tub - A round wooden vessel in which meat such as beef and pork was powdered or salted. Also known as ‘Salting tub’ or ‘powdering trough’.
  • Presse - A large cupboard usually for ‘linnens’.
  • Quissions - Cushions.
  • Rackyrons - Rack irons. Vertical iron bars hanging from a fixed bar in the chimney, with holes, hooks or ratchets to take pothooks by which to hang pots and kettles.
  • Rother beasts - Horned cattle (not as it sounds ‘other beasts’).
  • Safe - A ventilated chest or cupboard for protecting provisions, particularly meat, from insects and vermin.
  • Sarsenet - (Sarcenet) A fine, soft silk fabric, formerly from Italy. The origin may be a material made by the Saracens. It was used for women’s garments in the 19th century.
  • Saye - A fine serge material. A woven woollen fabric with a twill finish used for coverings and hangings.
  • Settell - A high-backed wooden bench.
  • Shefe and stocke - Sheaf and stook (of corn). Six sheaves propped up together formed a stook.
  • Shippen - Cowhouse, stable or just a shed.
  • Showle - A shovel.
  • Skeel - A shallow wooden vessel for holding milk or cream. Sometimes described as a ‘kneading skeel’.
  • Skomar - (Skimmer) A perforated circular flat pan with a long handle. Either of iron for taking the ashes from the hearth, or of other metal for use as a cooking ladle.
  • Sley Hook - A weaver’s tool used for pulling the warp threads through spaces in the sley or reed when setting up a loom for weaving. The sley is a movable beam which acts like a comb and slides down the warp threads to press down each newly-placed row of weft threads.
  • Sollars - An upper room in house etc. e.g. attic.
  • Spytt - Spit. For roasting meat over a fire.
  • Stammel - Coarse woollen cloth used for undergarments and usually dyed bright red. From Middle English stamyn, Latin stamen, a thread.
  • Strike - (Raser) A measure of dry goods equal to 2 bushels or 8 pecks. 4 strikes made a quarter and 20 strikes a load or wey.
  • Table Borde - The flat top of a table, always appraised separately from the frame or trestle on which it stood, being fixed with removable wooden pegs.
  • Tabby - Material, watered silk.
  • Tallet - A first-floor hayloft.
  • Tankard - Smaller than a flagon this lidded straight-sided mug was widely used, being made in wood (example from the Mary Rose) and pewter (around 1685).
  • Tester - A wooden canopy over a bed.
  • Tewtaw - A rough comb for removing the husk from flax or hemp. This process is known as ‘scutching’.
  • Thrum Cloth - Coarse woven cloth where the tufted ends of the warp threads are left loose to form a fringe or tied into tassels.
  • Tinnet - Brushwood left when coppiced wood has been trimmed.
  • Trammel - A series of rings or links, or other device, to bear a crook at different heights over a fire; the whole being suspended from a transverse bar (the crook tree), built in the chimney.
  • Treen Ware - Wooden ware = made from trees.
  • Trencher - Wooden plate, round or square, on which food was served.
  • Trendle - A round or oval tub; Also a suspended metal hoop to which tapers were attached to form an early type of chandelier. From the Old English tryndel which describes a circle or ring. See truckle bedde.
  • Tressylles - Pairs of wooden supports for the flat table board. Usually a square vertical timber with two triangular blocks, one supporting the board, the other forming the foot of the trestle.
  • Trevytt - Trivet. A three legged stand to hold pots of food over the coals, on the hearth and at the table.
  • Truckle bedde - (Trundle bedde) A low bed on wheels stored under a standing bed and wheeled out when needed. From the Old English tryndel (see trendle) The word ‘trundle’ has come to mean ‘rolling heavily’.
  • Trumpery - Minor household goods of little value; replaced by ‘Sundries’ from early nineteenth century.
  • Trusshes - (Trusses) Close fitting breeches usually made from linen and with a button fly.
  • Tumbril - (Tumbrel) A two-wheeled cart or wagon, open at the back, designed to be hauled by a single horse or ox for agricultural work; in particular for carrying and tipping out manure.
  • Tundish - (Tunnel) A funnel used in filling brewery casks. It consisted of a wooden bowl with a hole in the bottom and a tube attached that fitted into the bunghole of a ‘tun’, a word for a large brewery cask.
  • Valens - A cloth draped around a bed from a wooden frame, the tester, above. Modern ‘valence’ is around the base of the bed.
  • Virginal - A keyboard instrument whose strings are plucked by quills. The picture shows a beautiful 1642 virginal made in London and kept at the V&A.
  • Voider - (Voyder) A tray, basket or vessel into which dirty dishes, utensils and any table scraps were collected and carried from the table.
  • Warming pan - A flat metal pan with a lid and a long handle which was filled with hot coals and used to warm a bed.
  • Waynscotte - Wooden panelling used to line the walls of a room. The word also used for panelled chests, chairs etc.
  • Whitch - A tub for holding coarse meal or bran which was made of planks of split oak wedged and pegged together.
  • Yeld - A barren animal, usually meaning a cow which is not giving milk, either from being in calf or from age. From Old English gelde.


Proceedings of the Wills Group of the EPE Ledbury history project 2006-13
Probate Inventory of William Tyndall M.P., 1 January 1559 transcribed by Elizabeth England for her undergraduate thesis at the University of Bristol 2003
Rosemary Millward  A Glossary of Household, Farming and Trade Terms from Probate Inventories  Derbyshire Record Society 1986 et al.
Glossary compiled by E.W. Timmins, Aug 1997 for  Selected Wills of West Northamptonshire, 1500-1700AD
MAPE Focus on History resource - The Unton Inventories

Picture Credits:

The Chattanooga Auction House January 2008 Auction
Hereford Cider Museum
Keith Hockin Antiques
Seven Pines Forge
Sewing Central
V & A Museum
Learn NC, University of North Carolina, School of Education
Stuart Interiors, Somerset * Press Cupboard, probably West Midlands 1660-1680
Solvang’s Village Spinning & Weaving Shop
Appalachian Blacksmiths Association
Jas. Townsend and Son, Inc.
Museum of London