The following are some terms and definitions for historical units of measuring length in England.

  1. Poppyseed - ¼ of a barleycorn
  2. Barleycorn - Basic Anglo-Saxon unit, the length of a corn of barley. The unit survived after 1066, redefined as 1/3 inch. Note the relation to the grain unit of weight.
  3. Digit - ¾ inch
  4. Finger - 7/8 inch
  5. ynch, inch - Anglo Saxon inch, 3 barleycorns. Based on the Roman uncia from 1066.
  6. Nail - 3 digits = 2¼ inches = 1/16 yard
  7. Palm - 3 inches
  8. Hand - 4 inches
  9. Shaftment - Width of the hand and outstretched thumb, 6½ ynches before 1066, 6 inches thereafter
  10. Span - Width of the outstretched hand, from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little inger, 3 palms = 9 inches
  11. Foot - Usually 13 ynches but also other variants. Shortened by basing it on the Roman pes from 1066.
  12. Cubit - Forearm, 18 inches
  13. Yard - ntroduced after 1066, 3 feet = 36 inches.
  14. Ell - elbow, 20 nails = 1¼ yard or 45 inches. Mostly for measuring clothing
  15. Fathom - From one fingertip to the other, 6 feet
  16. Rod - Saxon gyrd measuring stick, might have been from 20 "natural feet". Retained its length but redefined as 16 ½ Roman feet after 1066.
  17. chain
  18. Four linear rods - Named after the length of surveyor's chain used to measure distances until quite recently. Any of several actual chains used for land surveying and divided in links. Gunter's chain, introduced in the 17th century, is 66 feet.
  19. Furlong - "One plough's furrow long" (Saxon furrow is furh), the distance a plough team could be driven without rest. This varied from region to region depending on soil type and local habit. In modern context, it is deemed to be 660 feet, 40 rods or ten chains.
  20. Mile - Introduced after 1066, originally the Roman mile at 5000 feet, in 1592 it was extended to 5280 feet to make it an even number of furlongs, i.e. 8.
  21. League - Usually three miles. Intended to be an hour's walk.