Monday 18 August 1662

Up very early, and up upon my house to see how work goes on, which do please me very well. So about seven o’clock took horse and rode to Bowe, and there staid at the King’s Head, and eat a breakfast of eggs till Mr. Deane of Woolwich came to me, and he and I rid into Waltham Forest, and there we saw many trees of the King’s a-hewing; and he showed me the whole mystery of off square,1 wherein the King is abused in the timber that he buys, which I shall with much pleasure be able to correct. After we had been a good while in the wood, we rode to Illford, and there, while dinner was getting ready, he and I practised measuring of the tables and other things till I did understand measuring of timber and board very well. So to dinner and by and by, being sent for, comes Mr. Cooper, our officer in the Forest, and did give me an account of things there, and how the country is backward to come in with their carts. By and by comes one Mr. Marshall, of whom the King has many carriages for his timber, and they staid and drank with me, and while I am here, Sir W. Batten passed by in his coach, homewards from Colchester, where he had been seeing his son-in-law, Lemon, that lies a-dying, but I would take no notice of him, but let him go. By and by I got a horseback again and rode to Barking, and there saw the place where they ship this timber for Woolwich; and so Deane and I home again, and parted at Bowe, and I home just before a great showre of rayne, as God would have it.

I find Deane a pretty able man, and able to do the King service; but, I think, more out of envy to the rest of the officers of the yard, of whom he complains much, than true love, more than others, to the service. He would fain seem a modest man, and yet will commend his own work and skill, and vie with other persons, especially the Petts, but I let him alone to hear all he will say.

Whiled away the evening at my office trying to repeat the rules of measuring learnt this day, and so to bed with my mind very well pleased with this day’s work.

49 Annotations

First Reading

Eric Walla  •  Link

Yes, practice, Sam, practice! You wouldn't want to try to demonstrate your new-found knowledge in front of your betters and have your figures come out wrong. And naturally, you would not want to get any names or procedures wrong, such as saying "off-square" for "half-square." Little slips could keep you from advancement, even from a knighthood ...

Australian Susan  •  Link

What a lovely image of Sam busily measuring the tables in the inn watched no doubt in suspicious non-comprehension by the inn's employees.
Something which has occurred to me: all this "dining alone"of recent days. Where does Will dine?

Terry F.  •  Link

Who's conceited? Anthony Deane or Sam?!

A. De Araujo on Sat 30 Jul 2005
"but I know he envies me"
Very conceited our man Sam!Is there a portrait of Sir William Batten?…

Terry F.  •  Link

" Mr. Deane...showed me the whole mystery of off square"

L&M note: "A fraudulent method of measuring timber: See W. Leybourn, *Compleat Surveyor* (1674), p.350.

L&M disagree with Wheatley. Leybourn is available for sale as a rare book and is in some libraries. I Googled "off-square", "off-square timber," etc. but in vain, except:

"In the production of finger-jointed lumber, vision systems might be developed to provide a cost effective way of measuring profile deviations (including off-square cuts and broken fingers) as well as adhesive application."…

""Loaded" or "gaffed" dice can be made in many ways to cheat at such games. Weights can be added, or some edges made round while others are sharp, or some faces made slightly off-square, to make some outcomes more likely than would be predicted by pure chance. Dice used in casinos are often transparent to make loading more difficult."

My conjecture is that "off-square"-cut timber is cut in Waltham Forest as a trapezoid, measured on the short side, and billed on the long side.

What think ye of this conundrum, O motley crewe that discussed "true cut" lumber?
(Does anyone have a copy of Leybourn handy?

daniel  •  Link

"Where does Will dine?"

Could it be quite "upstairs, downstairs" and Will simply eats with the other servants?

Cumgranissalis  •  Link

old adage: children and servants should be seen and not be heard. [and never be mention too]

Jeannine  •  Link

Cumgranissalis "old agade" - if this is true then why don't children come with a mute switch????

Now what about this --what is with Batten's passing in the coach and Lemon, "that lies a-dying"???

Cumgranissalis  •  Link

Jeannine they do, use a chocky.

Pauline  •  Link

"He would fain seem a modest man, and yet will commend his own work and skill, and vie with other persons, especially [Batten and Penn], but I let him alone to hear all he will say."

Could be out of Coventry's mouth about Sam?
Though I think Sam begins to feel "true love" for the service.

Cumgranissalis  •  Link

Off Square was a term used in carpentry class, as ye be an idiot not knowing ones 5-4-3 rule or meaning out of kilter, or not having ones 90's i.e. not a true rt[rite] angle.

Cumgranissalis  •  Link

How modern: 'not the done thing old chap' keep yer old toot in yer pocket.
"...He would fain seem a modest man, and yet will commend his own work and skill, and vie with other persons..."

Huic maxime putamus malo fuisse nimiam opinionem ingenii atque virtutis. Nepos, Alcibiades, 7
wot done him in was 'is egregious opion of 'is worth.

JWB  •  Link

off square
Think rhombus not trapezoid. A rhomboid cross section would have less area,while at the same time, the sum of the ouside dimensions would be the same as that of a squared-up piece.

Cumgranissalis  •  Link

I wonder, did he use the knotted string ?"...I practised measuring of the tables and other things ..."

JWB  •  Link

off square
Or trapezoid cross-sction too. Sorry. Always was a sucker for symmetry.

Cumgranissalis  •  Link

Lest ye forget, the country is now under Charles II, as he has prorogued the Citizens reps until Feb next, and he has canned all dissentious clergymen, so now, they the hoi poloi, be controlled by the ladies of Charles'es bed.

Terry F.  •  Link

How does "measuring of the tables and other things [help] understand measuring of timber and board very well" so as to detect and prevent the nefarious "off-square"?

I confess to being puzzled.

Mary  •  Link

"the country is backward to come in with their carts"

(per L&M) The naval purveyor could, by act of Parliament, require parishes to provide horse- or ox-carts for the transport of timber. The carters were to be paid (apparently by the parish)at the rate of 1 shilling per mile for this service. This obligation would have been especially unpopular at harvest-time. The system was finally abolished in 1695, the Navy Office thereafter bearing the full charge of hauling timber.

Wim van der Meij  •  Link

- off-square -
Warrington has the following: 'Off-square' is evidently a mistake in the shorthand manuscript, for 'half-square', which is explained by the following extract from W. Leybourn's "Complete Surveyor", 3rd ed. London 1674, folio:
"Before I proceed, I must needs detect one grand and too common an error; for most artificers, when they meet with squared timber whose breadth and depth are unequal, they usually add the breadt and depth together, and take the half for a mean square, and so proceed. This indeed though it be always an error, yet it is not so great when the difference of the breadth and depth is not much; but, if the difference be great, the error is very obnoxious either to buyer or seller."
Still I wonder: does this make things clearer? (w)

George R  •  Link

Seeing that Sam was in Essex measuring tinber takes me back fifty years or so. As a young apprentice carpenter, I was learning the use of the steel square and trying to come to terms with "Essex board measure".I didn't really understand it and had no use for it anyway but the method was in use until metrication and the use of hand held calculators in the seventies made it redundant.The system he learnt was probably a similar one to this.…

Terry F.  •  Link

"the country is backward to come in with their carts."

"I say! Mr. Cooper, do you mean yon cart carrying oats should be carrying lumber instead?"
"Aye, Mr. Pepys, just as I said. They plead that is their harvest...."
"Can one not hail them and charge them to do what the law lately requires?"
"They comply a bit, I confess; this is the first Autumn of the law; they are not fully insensitive to it; so there are negotiations, but they are going very slowly."

[A man on yon cart, to his chum:]
"This new #$%^ law, passed for the King's Navy by the landowners in Parliament; who well know that crops dictate harvestimes! We must pay to them the rent! What will become of us crofters?!"

(At this point, Terry Foreman declines to attempt further to lamely imitate il miglior fabbro Robert Gertz; and is appalled to be told by L&M that the negotiations he imputes to Mr. Cooper will be resolved in, oh,...33 years!)

Self-interest on the part of the legislative? What Jeremy Bentham will address, a bit more directly than William Godwin, a century on.

GrahamT  •  Link

half-square method:
My theory: (using Wim's quotation) In the days before calculators, logarithm tables (Newton and Liebnitz were still to publish their ideas) and universal mathematics education, calculating the area or volume of a board would be a major undertaking for anyone other than a specialist. There would though be tables of squares, I assume, as that is a common and manageable multiplication subset. A complete multiplication table of anything other than small integers, i.e. the "Times tables", would be huge.
So, to find the area of an arbitary rectangle, the unwitting (or unscrupulous) would add together the long and short sides, half the sum (i.e. take the average length) then look up the area in a table of squares. It works when the two lengths are similar, but gets more inaccurate as the lengths differ, so by this method a board 10'6" by 9'6" would give an area of 100 sq ft = (9.5 + 10.5)/2 = 20/2 = 10 squared (against 99 3/4 sq ft actual)
Whereas a board 40" by 20" gives a half-square method area of 900 sq inches against an actual of 800 sq inches. In both cases the buyer gets less than he pays for.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

Hmmn...Pepys ponders the transport problem.

"Mr. Cooper, methinks I think I have just the man to solve this minor difficulty."

Cut to shot of Capt. Cocke, well stoked with rum by Sam previously, addressing the assembled carters...

"Ye #@#$@ rogues, ye dogs! Deny the King his service, will ye! I'll have you all flogged, your homes burned, your familes turned out onto the roads! You #$@$ dogs!"

"Mr. Pepys?" Cooper looks at him as the carters stare at the swaggering Cocke...Somewhat uninhibited both with the run and his rarely-in-good-humor Missus being nowhere in the vicinity.

"Temporary solution, Cooper." Sam assures him, then blinks as he recognizes one particular annoyed face in the crowd. Glaring at him now...


Robert Gertz  •  Link

Deane's diary, same day...

"I find Pepys a pretty able man, and able to do the King service; but, I think, more out of envy to the rest of the officers of the Naval Office, of whom he complains much, than true love, more than others, to the service. He would fain seem a modest man, and yet will commend his own work and skill, and vie with other persons, especially Sir Williams Batten and Penn, but I let him alone to hear all he will say."

Martin  •  Link

I think Graham has got it right. It's got nothing to do with rhomboids or trapezoids -- squaring the lumber off-perpendicular would be obvious to anyone. As Graham explains, the half-square method of calculating the cross-sectional area always cheats the buyer.

A. Hamilton  •  Link

Deane and Pepys

Deane (who must be older than Pepys, and who appears to resent serving under the Petts) approaches Sam because Sam is a good listener and is getting a reputation as a comer, so he can tell his tale of the mismangement of the shipyards.He is going around his bosses. Pepys is right to try to assess his motives and his merits, because he must decide how far to trust what he is being told. No doubt Pepys is aware of the power of the Pett family and wary of relying on Deane's account of them. And no doubt Coventry has made a similar appraisal of Pepys (and the Sirs William). As for Pepys going around the Sirs William, the situations are not parallel: Pepys is not their employee. This is all part of politics or business, in which the question of unconscious irony is a tangent, however admittedly entertaining.

A. Hamilton  •  Link

I now see Deane is about 5 years younger than Sam, not older, which to me casts a different light on his critique of the yards; he is more like Pepys than I thought --and like Sam proves his abilities in later life. I stand by the rest of my note.

Terry F.  •  Link

Sir Anthony Deane 1638-1721: A. Hamilton is correct.

"The son of a shipmaster from Harwich, Deane was destined to serve an apprenticeship in the Royal Dockyards, becoming assistant to the redoubtable Christopher Pett at Woolwich by the time he was twenty two. It was during this period that Deane became acquainted with Samuel Pepys, who was just five years his senior, and who was to become "Clerk to the King's Ships". Their friendship was to last many years, and to serve Deane well, particularly as Pepys and Petts did not enjoy an easy relationship.”…

This bio then goes into some detail and is perhaps not as “short” as I said (in the Encyclopedia).

Terry F.  •  Link

"passed for the King's Navy by the landowners in Parliament”

Methinks the “carts for the Navy” bill, which fell unequally on forest parishes and hundreds (?), was first passed by the merchants and their allies in Commons and then the Lords got on board the King’s merchant-becoming-military fleet’s flag-ship (with a flag whose quality was undubious: ask that look-into-everything Mr. Pepys): and the backstory was, as usual, the rivalries with the continental powers.

Brian  •  Link

Sam's appraisal of Deane seems in agreement with Coventry's advice of August 8, to always look for the motives behind the actions of business associates.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

I was solely interested in the irony of two very similar types involved here, rather than the facts of business or politics. However I do think Pepys while shrewd in judging Deane is transferring a bit and I suspect Deane's view of Pepys in private was not all that much different. Would be very interesting to know Coventry's opinion of Deane, if he'd had the chance to form one at this time.

Terry F.  •  Link

Does anyone know what are the "hundreds" in this full L&M note rephrased for clarity by Mary?

"the country is backward to come in with their carts"

L&M note: “A recent act of May 1662 (14 Car. II c. 20) required parishes to provide horse- or ox-carts for the carriage of timber for the navy at a cost of 1s. a mile. Warrants to this effect were to be issued to the constables of the *hundreds* and parishes by J.P.’s acting at the request of the naval purveyor. In the case here reported the authorities may have met resistance because it was harvest-time: cf. CSPD 1663-4, pp. 258-9. The system was always unpopular and was abolished by an act of 1695, after which the Navy Office bore the full charge.” [my **]

Mary  •  Link


A hundred is/was a sub-division of a county or shire which had its own court. The term first came into use in the 10th century, was still used in the 19th century and is still recognised today, especially with reference to The Chiltern Hundreds.

The term was also used in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

Terry F.  •  Link

Re: "hundreds": thank you, Mary.

Dan Jones  •  Link

Measuring timber

There is more to this topic than you might think.

Chapter 10 of the Forest Management Branch Scaling Manual:

Measuring Log Dimensions…

Terry F.  •  Link

Wheatley's "half-square" note
over L&M's "off-square" reading.

Wim van der Meij and GrahamT, kudos!

As one who, ah, helped spark the puzzlement here, let me join Martin in thanking you both muchly -- making clear why Sam's measuring of tables, etc., was so helpful to him.

I am also impressed with how our Mr. Pepys goes to the root of it in Walthem Forest, studies the hewing itself with Mr. Cooper's help; follows the path the timbers go down to the river where they are loaded for water-transport to Woolwich, where he has seen them stacked (perhaps even offloaded)!… And now back to study what he was exposed to in the Forest: exemplary MBA method, following the supply-chain on the ground.

Australian Susan  •  Link

Carts and harvest
At this time and for many, many years to come, getting the harvest in was absolutely essential, otherwise people simply starved to death. You bet it was unpopular to have some Naval personnel trying to take over carts for timber when the cut corn still lay in the fields and not safely in the rickyards.
There is a reference to this in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park when the town-living and self-centred Mary Crawford cannot understand why no cart is available to transport her harp.She complains: " 'I am to have it tomorrow; but how do you think it is to be conveyed? Not by a waggon or cart; Oh! no, nothing of that kind could be hired in the village.I might as well have asked for porters and a hand-barrow.' [Edmund comments:]'You would find it difficult, I dare say, just now, in the middle of a very late hay harvest, to hire a horse and cart?' 'I was astonished to find what a piece of work was made of it! To want a horse and cart in the country seemed impossible, so I told my maid to speak for one directly; and as I cannot look out of my dressing-closet without seeing one farm yard, nor walk in the shrubbery without passing another, I thought it would be only to ask and have, and was rather grieved that I could not give the advantage to all. Guess my surprise, when I found that I had been asking the most unreasonable, most impossible thing in the world, had offended all the farmers, all the labourers, all the hay in the parish. As for Dr Grant's baliff, I believe I had better keep out of *his* way; and my brother-in-law [Dr Grant, the Rector] himself, who is all kindness in general, looked rather black on me, when he found out what I had been at.'"
She comments further that in London "every thing is to be got with money". This was in the early 1800's and when some agricultural improvements had been put in place. It would have been even more vital in the late 17th century to get the hay and the grain crops safely cut and stored. And how did she get the harp? Her brother drove it in his barouche!

Australian Susan  •  Link

Re the above: "want" in this context means "lack".
The ironic reference to "porters and a hand-barrow" refers to purely urban amenities.

Cumgranissalis  •  Link

City folk still be the same.

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

"he showed me the whole mystery of off square"

Off-square is evidently a mistake, in the shorthand M.S., for half-square which is explained by the following extract from W. Leybourn's Complete Surveyor, 3rd edit., London, 1674, folio. ...
---Diary and correspondence of Samuel Pepys, the diary deciphered by J. Smith. 1854.

And now, modern reader, I interrupt Leybourn's explanation to make it intelligible to you. GrahmT, above, had the right idea, though I think deception wasn't the intent of the half-square method.

The problem, hard to believe perhaps, is that multiplication is difficult! So workers in lumber yards, and buyers like Pepys, needed help. They used tables of results and, very surprising to me, slide rules. Slide rules in their simplest form are mechanical devices to do multiplication. In 1662 they weren't called slide rules and they didn't work like "modern" ones, which have totally disappeared BTW, replaced by calculators. What they were I don't know, but they were simple hands-on devices for the arithmetically-challenged.

So, what is the volume of a piece of lumber 26' by 2.24' by 1.3'? (This is Leybourn's example.) Easy for us: multiply (whoops) the 3 numbers together.

The half-square method would add 2.24 and 1.3 to get 3.54. Then take HALF that number, 1.77, SQUARE it 1.77 x 1.77 = 3.14. This number would be used instead of 2.24 x 1.3 = 2.78.

Obviously 3.14 x 26 is bigger than 2.78 x 26 so the volume of lumber is being over-estimated and the King is being over-charged.

The whole point is that it was easier to find 1.77 x 1.77 (from a table perhaps) than it was to find 2.24 x 1.3. As I said, hard to believe.

Bill  •  Link

"he showed me the whole mystery of off square"

And don't forget that he surprised us all last month when he started learning for the first time about the "multiplication table." After looking at the Leybourn book, I'm wondering if perhaps this was really a table of logarithms? Logarithms are the mathematical basis of "slide rules" and make multiplication easier.…

Bill  •  Link

My, my, I should always search Phil's encyclopedia. There is an entry there for hands-on device for multiplication that I mentioned above: Slide rule…

Bill  •  Link

In case you think I am exaggerating about the difficulty of multiplication, let me mention that currently in the US there is a mini-controversy about new Common Core educational standards. Common Core has proposed a "new" method of mutiplication. Ha. It's driving parents (and presidential candidates) crazy because they contend (wrongly) that it's too complicated. It is a bit complicated, as is any method of multiplication. As Pepys and lumber yard workers in the 1660s knew. But the CC method really is easier and explicates better what it all means.…

john  •  Link

Bill, I still have my slide rules, though idle for the past several decades.

Napier is noted in the slide rule entry but not his "bones", his log-based analogue calculator. It is unknown to me whether Pepys ever used "Napier's Bones".

Chris Squire UK  •  Link

OED has:

“half-square n. Obs. (see quots.).
1662 S. Pepys Diary 18 Aug. (1970) III. 169 The whole mystery of off [half]-square, wherein the King is abused in the timber that he buys.
1674 W. Leybourn Compl. Surveyor (ed. 3) 345 Most Artificers when they meet with Squared Timber, whose breadth and depth are unequal..usually add the breadth and depth together, and take the half for a Mean Square, and so proceed..If the difference be great, the Error is very obnoxious either to Buyer or Seller.”

Third Reading

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