Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820. Originally published by University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, 2007.
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As a roofing material, the term has been applied to any hard argillaceous [CLAY-like] rock used for roofing like the 'stone slates' of the Pennines or the 'slate' quarried at Stonesfield north of Oxford [Trinder (1992)], but true slate is found only in north and south Wales, Cornwall, and Devon, Leicestershire, the Lake District and the Isle of Man. Slates for building should have the property of splitting into thin even laminae and be resistant to water. Most such slate is found well below the surface, as exposure to air tends to cause a loss of the property of splitting. Even so, most roofing slate in this country was quarried rather than mined [Rees (1819-20, 1972 ed.)]. As a building material its use was limited by its weight and by the costs of transport [Brunskill (1971, new ed. 1976)]. Although coastal and river shipping may have eased distribution problems in some parts of the country, the Gloucester Coastal Port Books show that slate was rarely carried on the River Severn. It was the construction of canals that allowed the distribution of slate nation-wide and an advertisement in the Salopian Journal illustrates the importance of the canal network for the distribution of slate [Newspapers (1760)].
Slates could be used with a low-pitched roof, being hung by nails on riven or sawn battens. The ridge needed the use of a sections of stone cut to shape, so most buildings with slate roofs were of simple structure with few hips or valleys [Brunskill (1971, new ed. 1976)].
Slate was also important as a re-usable surface for writing, particularly in schools to practise the rudiments of writing and arithmetic. In this form, slates were often set in a frame of WOOD. The 'wayn scott slatt' valued at 8d in 1602 was probably a wring slate in a well-made frame [Inventories (1602)]. Writing slates were sometimes advertised along with SLATE PENCILs to be used with them.
See also BLUE SLATE, IRISH SLATE, SLATE BLUE, SLATE BOOK, SLATE PENCIL, SLATE TABLE.
Sources: Acts, Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Patents, Rates, Tradecards.
References: Brunskill (1971, new ed.1976), Gloucester Coastal Port Books (1998), Rees (1819-20, abridged 1972), Trinder (1992).
Although BLUE SLATE has also been noted in the Dictionary Archive, the contexts show they are not the same. In the single example noted of slate blue it was positioned among the spices [Inventories (1683)]. Almost certainly it was an alternative name for IRISH SLATE, the common name for ALUM slate when used medicinally.
A writing utensil suitable for writing with on a SLATE, and often found with them in promotional literature as in [Tradecards (1760)]; [Newspapers (1760)]. It was usually in the form of a stylus that made a shallow scratch on the surface that was readable, but could be wiped away.
There seem to have been two meanings. The more common was of a flat, usually thin sheet of SLATE, often framed for writing on; hence 'Slates in frames' and 'Tables of slate without frames' both of which were listed in the Books of Rates. In the Gloucester Coastal Port Books slate tables have been noted carried in a CHEST, which suggests that they were fairly small and probably flat. They were almost certainly for use as writing slates. However, sometimes a slate table seems to have been a TABLE in the conventional sense, with a slate top. For example, in 1682 John Howells of Norwich had 'two holl'd slatt tables' valued at £1 - far too high a value for writing slates [Inventories (1682)], while in 1741 Benjamin Boucher had 'a Slate Table top' [Inventories (1741)].
This term is commonly found in the early modern period beginning with 'Scl' as in Sclavony, the version found in the Dictionary Archive. Although Slavonia was a specific region in Croatia, the term was more generally seen to apply to the country of the Slavs, an amorphous area corresponding to no single political unit, with overtones of being beyond the boundaries of civilized Europe as then understood. Slavonia appears only once in the Dictionary Archive in an entry in a sixteenth-century Book of Rates as 'Swoord blades of sclavony the dosen' [Rates (1582)].
Often spelt 'sley', the term denotes an instrument used in weaving to beat up the WEFT and similar to, or identical with, the REED. The slay was very often coupled with the HEDDLE as in 'the heavill & the sla att iijs iiijd' [Inventories (1602)], and 'two hevels & sleyes' valued at 2s [Inventories (1681)]. Randle Holme described it as an 'vpright thin slit cane, between each goeth the thrids of the warpe, which as it is crossed with the shuttle this Slay beates both warpe and woofe close togather' [Holme (2000)].
There were two meanings to the term, which may easily be confused. Sleazy as an adjective referring to TEXTILEs meant thin or flimsy in texture or having no substance or body. It is almost certainly from this that the term SLEAZY HOLLAND is derived.
A carriage mounted with runners instead of wheels, generally used on snow or in heavy traffic unsuited to wheeled vehicles; more rarely a small wheeled vehicle like a trolley. One maker of TOYs was selling miniature sledges of this type [Tradecards (1794)].
Sledges may be found occasionally on farms before 1660 [Inventories (1637)], presumably because conditions made the use of the CART or the WAGON impractical. An extension of this meaning of the term was applied in ROPE making to a travelling structure of considerable weight to which one end of the rope YARN was attached. Most rope makers had at least one [Inventories (1671)].
A more common, but unrelated application of the term was to a heavy HAMMER with a long handle used with two hands. Randle Holme described two types. The first was 'termed the up-hand Hammer, or up-hand Sledge, of some termed the Fore-Hammer; it is used to indifferent or middle sort of Work, wherein the under Workman, seldom lifts this Hammer higher than his head'. The more formidable one he called an 'about Sledge' or 'the Smiths great Forging Hammer; he that useth this, holdeth the further end of the Hammer in both his hands, and swinging it about his head, he at Arms length lets it fall as heavy a Blow as he can upon the Work that is to be Battered or Drawn out' [Holme (2000)]. Although the two types were rarely distinguished in the Dictionary Archive, an exception is the one 'fore hammer' noted [Inventories (1577)]. Sledges were quite common and often associated with other tools used with it, like a carpenters '3 Wedges and a Sledge' valued at 16s [Inventories (1698)], or the 'sledg & Crow and picking bills & 4 Axes att xvs' [Inventories (1699)].
Two types of slice were common in the domestic kitchen, and both became more common over time. The first was a spatula used for stirring and mixing compounds, or a flattish UTENSIL for cookery. The second was for a form of FIRE SHOVEL or an instrument for clearing the bars of a furnace when choked with clinkers. Like the TONGS, a fire shovel could be decorative as well as functional and could have an ornamental boss or head to the handle, hence, '15 Heads for Slice and Tongs' valued at 6s [Inventories (1733)].
It may be that more than one article is covered by this headword. A statute of 1739 included sliding pencils among SILVER WARE or GOLD WARE that could not sensibly be assayed [Acts (1739)]. An expensive TOY seems most likely rather an item on the lines of a modern propelling pencil that could have been carried in a pocket or reticule. The other records in the Dictionary Archive are all from towards the end of the eighteenth century, and appear to be of implements likely to be used by professional or amateur artists or draughtsmen. The object described in [Patents (1771)] seems to have been more akin to a modern pair of compasses that allows a pencil to be inserted in one of the arms while the other finishes in a point. The 'sliding pen and pencil' was 'for drawing and dividing likes, circles, and angles ... also for ... plans in perspective.
Lengths of TIMBER, probably OAK, split or cleft along the grain using an AXE and WEDGEs, in preparation for making WAINSCOT - STUFF or PLANKs. Randle Holme referred to the 'slitt dale boards' used to make a printers rack [Holme (1688)] as well as a 'slitting knife' for slitting HORN into sheets preparatory to making LANTHORN LEAF [Holme (1688)]. Although only found in this sense in the Dictionary Archive, the term 'slit' (also 'split') was applied elsewhere to LEATHER or SKIN to provide a thinner product as in SLIT HIDE, and to such materials as IVORY, BONE and HORN.
According to the OED, a slitter is either one who slits or, more often, an IMPLEMENT used for slitting. In the Dictionary Archive it appears in the latter sense in an act of 1786 prohibiting the export of various specified types of machinery. Along with ROLLERs, frames, BED, pillars and screws, the slitter made up the machinery for a slitting mill and was used to make SLIT IRON [Acts (1786)].
In the Dictionary Archive 'slitter' is used in another way twice, and in both cases with reference to DRESSED LEATHER among the stock of a shoemaker. It seems probable that it meant something similar to the quotation from the Examiner of 1830 given in the OED under 'slither', where it was said to be 'the technical term ... [given] to the cuttings and rubbish put between the outer and the inner soles of shoes'. It seems, however, unlikely that dressed leather would have been used for this purpose, so that a definitive descriptions for the examples found in the Dictionary Archive await further investigation.
A piece of FURNITURE found only once in the Dictionary Archive; among the equipment of an Oil Leather Dresser who had '2 Slob Dress'rs 2 Scale Boards a Beam a fform 2 Stakes' worth altogether 6s [Inventories (1741)]. Most meanings of 'Slob' suggest messiness of some sort, and the slob dresser was probably no exception, since it presumably provided a surface on which the worker could DRESS his LEATHER with oil.
Leaves from the native tree blackthorn, Prunus spinosa, used as a spurious substitute or as an adulterant of TEA. Their use for this purpose was specifically banned in 1731 [Acts (1731)]. The terms of the act were repeated, suggesting that bans were not overly successful.
A late quotation in the OED suggests a slug was a rough piece or roll of inferior clay, used to separate items of EARTHENWARE when they are stacked in the kiln, hence the '200 chamber pott slugs' (and many more) found in the stock of a substantial London potter [Inventories (1699)]. It was possibly an alternative name for a saggar, that is a protective case of clay used in the kiln.
The term does not appear in the dictionaries, but slugging benches, along with a SLUGGING BOWL and 'shelves_ att the Kill stillings in the Biskett room tubbs & Chests shelves in the stone Givering room', formed part of the equipment of a substantial potter [Inventories (1699)]. He also had a great number of SLUGs. Probably it was the bench on which the slugs were prepared prior to stacking the ready-formed articles of EARTHENWARE in the kiln.
The term does not appear in the dictionaries, but in the Dictionary Archive 'sluging bowles att the stone Kill Kill rakes and forkes kill plancks & horsers & ladders & a parcell of boards' formed part of the equipment of a substantial potter [Inventories (1699)]. He also had a great number of SLUGs. Possibly it was the bowl in which the CLAY was prepared to make the slugs.