How long is a rod?
Again working on transcription of the account books for the building of a stately home I find myself wondering how much digging Francis, William and Thomas have been doing this week, as it is measured in rods and I have no idea how long a rod is. That’s easy enough to find out, I thought, I’ll just have a quick look on the internet. But as with kilderkins and hogsheads, where the sizes of the various barrels differ according to the nature of the contents (see my earlier blog on this subject), a rod is not a straighforward thing.
Looking at Wikipedia (yes, I am aware that it isn’t always a completely reliable resource, but useful nonetheless) I find to my surprise that there is actually a table included in the description with 55 entries detailing the different lenghts of this measurement from place to place. The rod as a surveying measure in England was not standardised until 1607, and only phased out as a legal length of measurement in 1965. If the table is to be believed the length of a rod could vary between 1.5 metres and 5.9 metres. That would make a significant difference in the labour required by my Francis, William and Thomas, who were being paid 2d a rod.
Fortunately the digging they were doing dates from shortly after the rod as a survey measure was standardized by Edmund Gunter in England in 1607 as one-fourth of a chain (of 66 feet (20.12 m)), or 16 1⁄2 feet (5.03 m) long. Fields were measured in acres, which were one chain (four rods) by one furlong (in the United Kingdom, ten chains).
Although the account book doesn’t specify how deep was the trench that they were so busy digging, it does tell me that Francis was paid for digging 30 rods in one week, or about 150 metres. Work that would keep him warm in the cold winds of January, but it is to be hoped the ground wasn’t frozen hard.