Leech - Lewkes hemp

Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820. Originally published by University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, 2007.

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The OED gives the primary meaning of the term as 'a doctor', one that is occasionally used to this day, though now usually only pejoratively. In the early-modern period this meaning had become secondary to that of the blood sucker, which had become one of the main weapons in the doctor's armoury of cures from the early medieval period onwards. The term appears to have been derived from a different source, but the two became interconnected. In the Dictionary Archive the term was applied to an aquatic, blood-sucking worm; either the common leech belonging to the genera Hirudo or Sanguisuga or the rather larger horse leech, Hæmopsis sanguisorba. They were used medicinally to remove blood from patients believed to be suffering from a surplus. Leeches are found occasionally in the stock of early-modern apothecaries, who used them instead of more invasive methods of blood letting like cupping. In the shops, leeches were usually stored in a leech GLASS; a receptacle apparently sufficiently distinctive for appraisers to recognize one even when there were no leeches in it, as in [Inventories (1700)]. Presumably such glasses had lids to keep the leeches from escaping. In [Inventories (1665)] the entry of 'Leeches and Glass' was immediately followed by a 'pulping sieve', perhaps giving a clue as to how leeches may have been prepared for uses other than for blood-sucking.

A London apothecary [Tradecards (1715)] chose to advertise his business by drawing attention to 'Leeches and Vipers' among his stock, perhaps because they were already becoming rare in trade by 1715. However, a century later a chemist in Rotherham advertised himself as a 'Dealer in Leeches Teas & Coffees' [Tradecards (19c.)]. An entry in Dorothy Wordsworth's Journal, dated 2 October 1800, throws light on the little known trade of collecting leeches. She described how one day on her walk she met 'an old man almost double ... His trade was to gather leeches, but now leeches are scarce and he had not strength for it. ... He said leeches were very scarce partly owing to this dry season, but many years they had been scarce - he supposed it owing to their being much sort after, that they did not breed fast, and were of slow growth. Leeches were formerly 2/6 [per] 100; they are now 30/' [Wordsworth (1971)].

OED earliest date of use: a900 both as a doctor and as a worm

Found described as in a GLASS, HORSE

Sources: Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Tradecards.
References: Wordsworth (1971), note to the entry for 2 October 1800.



A common VEGETABLE and POT HERB, Allium porrum, allied to the ONION, but differing from it in having the bulbous part cylindrical and the leaves flat and broad, Leeks were used to make the Scottish national dish, cock-a-leekie. The earliest known reference is in the Ochteryre House book (c.1737) [Mason and Brown (1999)].

OED earliest date of use: 1000

Simone Clarke

As SEED: Found described as LONDON

Sources: Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Tradecards.
References: Mason and Brown (1999).

Leg saw


The OED merely states that the meaning is obscure. From the 1660 Book of Rates, it appears to have been a more substantial tool than the HAND SAW or TENON SAW, both of which were rated by the DOZEN. By contrast, the leg saw was rated like the WHIP SAW, by the PIECE but at a higher rate [Rates (1660)]. Possibly it was one of the SURGEONS INSTRUMENTS, similar to the DISMEMBERING SAW, but specifically designed to cut off a leg, rather than the less robust limbs like an arm or a foot. Unfortunately, the context of the entry in the Book of Rates is not helpful.

OED earliest date of use: 1662 but without a definition

Found rated by the PIECE

Sources: Rates.

Lemon lozenges

LEMON lozenges have been noted offered for sale only once and in circumstances that leave it unclear whether they were intended for medicinal purposes or merely as a SWEETMEAT. Possibly this was intentional. Although lemon was known to help relieve sore throats and the like, it also has a pleasant taste [Tradecards (1800)].

Not found in the OED online

Found in units of small BOX

See also LOZENGE.
Sources: Tradecards.

Lemon pickle

LEMON - PICKLE was apparently not the same as PICKLED LEMONS. It seems to have been a relish or a SAUCE, rather than merely a way of preserving lemons as in a typical pickle. This distinction may be observed in the way this product was advertised; for example one London retailer listed it under 'Sauces' [Tradecards (19c.)].

Mrs Raffald seems to have regarded it highly, She not only named it specifically in the title of her 'English House-keeper', but also gave the recipe on page 1 [Raffald (1772)]. In effect her recipe was for a highly spiced essence, intended for adding to 'fish sauce and made dishes' where a teaspoonful would suffice.

OED online earliest date of use: 1769

Found in units of BOTTLE

Sources: Newspapers, Tradecards.
References: Raffald (1772).

Lemon vinegar

A modern recipe suggests adding the juice of LEMON and the thinly pared rind to VINEGAR and leaving it to steep for some days before straining and returning the rind to the liquor to continue adding flavour [Picklenet (2000-1)]. This is probably similar to recipes used in former times. Lemon vinegar would have been used with salads and anywhere else where a flavoured vinegar was desirable. ORANGE VINEGAR was probably made and used in the same way.

Not found in the OED online

Sources: Tradecards.
References: Picklenet (2000-1).

Lemon water


Martha Bradley described lemon water as 'a very pleasant Cordial' that 'strengthens the Stomach'. Her recipe involved distilling the rinds of LEMON and a few grains of MUSK in FRENCH BRANDY and then adding SUGAR, ROSE WATER and ORANGE FLOWER WATER [Bradley (1756 facs.1996-8)]. Fairly large quantities were imported; for example, in 1694-5 six TON and three HOGSHEAD came into London, far more than ORANGE WATER [Houghton]. Since John Houghton seems to distinguish LEMON JUICE from the water, it is unlikely the two terms were confused.

Not found in the OED online

Found imported in HOGSHEAD, TUN Found rated by GALLON, TON

Sources: Houghton, Rates.
References: Bradley (1756, facs. 1996-8).


A type of GAUZE in which pairs of warp yarns cross and recross between picks of weft to make a distinctive pattern. Sometimes areas of this weave were interspersed between areas of plain weave.

OED earliest date of use: 1851

Found described as FIGURED, PLAIN, THREAD Found describing MUSLIN Found used to make APRON, HANDKERCHIEF

Sources: Inventories (late), Newspapers.
References: Montgomery (1984) 276.

Lent corn

[lent graine]

Spring sown CORN such as BARLEY or OATS, so called because it was sown about at the same time as the church period of abstinence called Lent. The term does not appear in the Dictionary Archive as such, but the record of 'Corn and Lent Graine now Growing' [Inventories (1723)], shows it to have been contrasted with CORN, and more usually this occurred in such contexts extended to WINTER CORN.

OED earliest date of use: 1523 under Lent

Sources: Inventories (late).


[lintle; lentill; lentile]

The term is chiefly found in the plural, but in early use it is sometimes found as a collective singular. It refers to the edible SEED of a leguminous plant, Lens esculenta (alias Ervum lens and Lens culinaris), anciently cultivated for food in Europe and the Middle East. It is on the limits of hardiness in this country, though its SEED has been found among a list of 'SEEDS to improve land' [Tradecards (n.d.)]; [Masefield et al (1969)]. Lentils have long been a regular foodstuff, for example, it was a 'pottage' of lentils that Jacob gave to his brother Esau [Genesis xxvii:34], but they may have fallen out of favour in early-modern England where they appear rarely, if ever, in the cookery books of the time. The Practical Grocer refers to lentils rather dismissively, commenting that 'They have a rather strong flavour, which some persons find objectionable' [Simmonds (1906)].

Many varieties of lentils have been developed over the centuries. BROWN lentils are usually not hulled so appear in the form of small, bullet-like peas. The most common sort today are called red or Egyptian lentils, but in Britain they are usually sold in the shops without a descriptor. They are hulled, an orange colour when sold, but turn a golden brown when cooked. It is possible that when lentils with no descriptor appear in the Dictionary Archive, they are of this type. FRENCH or green lentils are larger, of a green colour when hulled. Probably lentils referred to as DUTCH in the Dictionary Archive were of this type, while those referred to a WHITE were probably what are now called yellow lentils, being similar to the red only slightly larger [Goltz (online)].

OED earliest date of use: 1250

Found described as BROWN, DUTCH, FRENCH, WHITE
Found in units of LB Found among the DRUGS, rated by the 112 LB, POUND

Sources: Inventories (late), Rates, Tradecards.
References: Goltz (online), Masefield et al. (1969), Simmonds (1906), Synge (1951, new ed.1956).


[lyntiscus; lintiscus; lignum lentisci; lentissimum; lentisk; lentiscus; lentisc]

In English lentisk, the term denotes the mastic tree, Pistacia lentiscus, from which MASTIC and OIL OF MASTIC were obtained. However, the Books of Rates equate this tree with XYLOBALSAMUM, which is a different tree.

OED earliest date of use: 1398

Found in units of OZ Found among the DRUGS, rated by the POUND

See also MASTIC.
Sources: Houghton, Inventories (mid-period), Rates.

Letter screw

A term found only once in the Dictionary Archive [Inventories (1781)]. It was in the Counting House, listed next to the DESK and valued at 1s. Probably it was some device for keeping correspondence and the like in order.

Not found in the OED online

Sources: Inventories (late).

Lettow flax

[lettis flax]

Also 'lettis fflax', this was an imported FLAX. The first part of the term was a locational descriptor and may refer to Litauen, now Lithuania, which borders onto the Baltic.

Found in units of HUNDRED, QUARTER, LB

Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late).

Lettuce water

[lettice water]

The OED suggests it was a decoction of LETTUCE. Although Nicholas Culpeper did not give a specific recipe, it can be deduced that the lettuce water he described was composed of lettuce juice distilled, though whether in water or alcohol is not clear, with the addition of WHITE SANDERS and RED ROSE petals. He suggested it could be used both outwardly and inwardly [Culpeper (1792)].

OED online earliest date of use: 1836

Found in units of QUART

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period).
References: Culpeper (1792).

Levant taffeta

[levin taffata; leventaffati; leven taffety; leven tafati; leven tafata; levant taffata; lavant taffatie]

In official documents like the Books of Rates, the modern form 'Levant' was used, but in the shops 'leven tafeta' (and its variants) was much more common.

TAFFETA imported from the LEVANT, which in this period could mean anything east of Europe, hence taffeta defined by BENGAL, CHINA, EAST INDIA, INDIA, as well as PERSIAN. Levant taffetas, so-called, were popular in the sixteenth century and the early seventeenth, but thereafter they have not been noted as such, but the fabrics no doubt continued under other more specific descriptors. Curiously enough, Levant taffeta were usually valued less highly than other taffetas like SPANISH TAFFETA or STITCHED TAFFETA, ranging from 12d to 22d.

Found described as BLUE

Sources: Inventories (early), Rates.

Lewkes hemp

Presumably HEMP from the Flemish town of Liège (in Flemish Luik) more noted for the production of IRON and VELVET. There is only one entry for it in the Dictionary Archive [Inventories (1587)] at a valuation of 6d LB, which does not make it stand out from the values given for other sixteenth century hemp.

Oed earliest date of use: 1547 for Lewkes, but there is no reference to Lewkes hemp

Found for sale measured by LB

Sources: Inventories (early).