Spa water - Spattle spade

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

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Spa water


Water obtained from mineral springs, originally from those at Spa itself, later from any of the spas that became fashionable in the eighteenth century.

OED earliest date of use: 1589

Found described as GERMAN
Found in units of FLASK Found rated by the DOZEN bottles, each BOTTLE not exceeding 3 PINTs

Sources: Diaries, Newspapers, Rates.

Spade head

[spead head; spade and two ould shovell heads]

Nowadays a roughly rectangular plate of IRON or STEEL that can be attached to the handle to form a SPADE. In the early modern period, not all spade heads were rectangular, and not all were made entirely of metal. In some case the main body of the blade was of wood with an iron edge. Probably spade heads in the shops were all made of iron.

Not found in the OED

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

Spanish felt wool

[spanish felt wooll]

FELT WOOL imported from Spain used for making FELT HATs.

OED online earliest date of use: 1705

Found rated by the HUNDREDWEIGHT of 112 LB

Sources: Rates.

Spanish iron

[spanyshe yron; spanish spruse and swethish iron]

Spanish iron was a form of BAR IRON that originated in the Basque Country and was exported principally through Bilbao (hence BILBO IRON or 'Bilboa' iron). Iron from the provinces of Vizcaya and Guipúzcoa had been shipped to England since the Middle Ages. At the start of the sixteenth century Spanish imports amounted to 3000 TON annually, three times the volume of domestic production, and Spanish iron remained the most important source of imported iron for English manufacturers until the advent of SWEDISH IRON in west European markets in the mid seventeenth century. The Spanish market share declined sharply from the 1650s, but the absolute quantity of iron shipped from Bilbao to British ports remained bouyant until the second half of the eighteenth century.

'Spanish Iron', it was said, was 'good, tough, soft Iron'. However, the bars were often poorly finished, making it unpopular with workmen: 'it is so ill, and un-evenly wrought in the Bars, that it costs them a great deal of labour to smooth it'. Nevertheless, it was especially suitable 'for all great works that require welding' and was highly esteemed by 'Anchor-smiths, because it abides the Heat better than other Iron' [Moxon (1703, facs. 1989)]. Spanish iron was sometimes used to make steel, but it never matched the reputation of Swedish ORGROUND IRON: 'for the sake of your Reputation', one steelmaker warned another, 'be carefull never to sell Spanish for Orgroon, but make & keep it Separate' [Religious Society of Friends Library, Lloyd MSS (TEMP MSS 210), 1/64, Ambrose Crowley to 'Bro James', 21 February 1712].

OED earliest date of use: 1677

Chris Evans

Found in units of CWT, LB, TON Found rated by the HUNDREDWEIGHT of 112 LB, TON of 20 CWT

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Rates.
References: Ayo (2003), Childs (1981), Moxon (1703).

Spanish leather

[spanysh leather; spanish, sevil or cordovant skin; spanish sevill or cordovant skin; spanish or morocco leather; spains leather; spainish leather; sp leth]

Fine leather, originally made at Cordova in Spain, hence CORDIVANT and cordwainer, a maker of fine SHOEs. It was made primarily from KID SKIN, TANNED and DRESSED, later sometimes of split HORSE HIDE. The Mogador GOAT has very long hair, which was used for UPHOLSTERY, but the remaining skin was inferior and, when TANNED, was given the name of BLACK Spanish leather [Collins (1877)], noted in a single entry as '1 bla Spanish Leath skin 3s iijs' [Inventories (1676)].

OED earliest date of use: 1483

Found describing SKIN Found used to make BELT, CAP, GIRDLE, JERKIN, SHOES, SLIPPER
Found rated by the DOZEN

Sources: Acts, Diaries, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Patents, Rates, Tradecards.
References: Collins (1877).

Spanish screened

[spanish screen'd]

The OED includes 'Spanish' under a separate heading to mean EARTH or CLAY unfit for BRICK making, citing an Act of 1725 [11 Geo I C35] banning the use of 'soil called Spanish' for that purpose. A slightly different meaning to the term was given by John Houghton who referred to 'Spanish screen'd' or 'Spanish', which he said were 'sea-coal ashes'. This 'they used to strew upon the brick-earth as it came, but now they screen it with a lath-screen, as wide as the top of one's finger: what comes not through is cast away, as not worth while. The screen'd is thrown on the top of the earth, when 'tis callowed; that is, the turf taken off; and when 'tis dug, 'tis all mixt alike. The screening costs 5d. the load, a man can screen four load in a day, and a brick-maker can do it better than any other ...' [Houghton]. The size or the meshes used for sifting 'Sea Coal Ashes to be mixed with Brick Earth in the making of Bricks' was regulated in 1770 [Acts (1770)], though the use or that material was not banned.

Sources: Houghton.

Spanish snuff

It was sometimes shortened to 'Spanish', which may cause confusion with other Spanish products such as SPANISH TOBACCO.

Not surprisingly, since Spain laid claim to much of South America, the Spanish were among the first Europeans to take up the habit of snuffing, and SNUFF was produced under royal Spanish monopoly by the second half of the seventeenth century. Indeed Spain was, with Portugal, the leading producer at that time [Goodman (1993)]. Spanish snuff was of good quality, as John Houghton remarked, it was made 'with good tobacco', and by implication used the leaves rather than the stalks [Houghton]. If this supposition is correct, this would have distinguished it from SCOTCH SNUFF, which was made chiefly from stems. The two were often advertised together as in 'the best Scotch and Spanish Snuff' [Tradecards (1746)]. According to Angerstein, the popularity of Spanish snuff was much reduced 'during the war' (which one he did not specify), after it had been rumoured that the Spanish had 'put poison in the snuff to kill Englishmen', and a factory in BRISTOL making it was shut down [Angerstein (2001)]. The abstincence seems to have been of short duration, given that advertisements of those making and selling Spanish tobacco appeared at least from the 1720s [Tradecards (1720)]. By this time Spanish snuff, like Scotch snuff, denoted a type, and the name no longer indicated the country of origin.

Just as Scotch snuff included a variety called BROWN SCOTCH SNUFF, produced by extended liquoring and slight fermentation, Spanish snuff included 'Spanish bran' [Tradecards (18c.)], or 'Spanish brawn' [Tradecards (18c.)]. Despite the variation in spelling, this was probably produced in the same way.

Not found in the OED

Found described as Excellent, PLAIN
Found in units of LB, POUND

Sources: Inventories (late), Tradecards.
References: Angerstein (2001), Goodman (1993).

Spanish taffeta

[spanyshe blewe taffata; spanish taffata]

This type of TEXTILE appears only in the sixteenth century and the early seventeenth. What distinguished it from other TAFFETAs, apart from its place of origin, is unclear but the entry in the 1582 Book of Rates may offer a clue. It lists 'Taffata narrow called Spanish taffata the yarde iiijs' [Rates (1582)]. Since this Book of Rates is believed to give valuations rather than rates of duty, the same entry also suggests that this fabric was expensive - a supposition supported by a valuations ranging from 4s to 6s the YARD in INVEARLY.

Not found in the OED

Found described as BLUE, NARROW
Found in units of YARD Found rated by YARD

Sources: Inventories (early), Rates.

Spanish water

Spanish water appears in a single entry in the Gloucester Coastal Port Books in 1731, and not at all in the Dictionary Archive. It may have been an alternative name for LIQUORICE WATER, which was likewise recorded in the Port Books, but not in the Dictionary Archive.

OED online earliest date of use: 1860 as Spanish liquorice-water under Liquorice

References: Gloucester Coastal Port Books (1998).

Spanish white

[spanish wh___]

Generally believed to consist only of finely powdered CHALK, although Randle Holme stated that it was made by burning CHALK and ALUM together [Holme (2000)]. Harley gives a recipe for making it, taken from Peacham's 'Art of Drawing with a Pen'. CHALK and ALUM in the proportion 2:1 were mixed together with water and moulded into balls, which were left to dry and then fired 'till it bee red whot like a burning coale' [Peacham (1606)]. It was used either as a PIGMENT or for its cleansing properties. One inventory gave it as an alternative name for WHITING [Harley (1970)].

OED earliest date of use: 1546

Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Tradecards.
References: Harley (1670), Holme (2000), Peacham (1606).


[sparrow-bill; sparrowbill; sparrow bille; sparrow bill; sparroble; sparrobille; sparrobill; sparro bell; sparrabill; sparrabell; sparowe bille; sparowbill; sparabile; spar bil; spar]

Often found as 'Sparrow bill' or heavily abbreviated, as in '3 M of li & qr spar at 6d' [Inventories (1664)], this is a small headless wedge-shaped iron NAIL, stouter than a SPRIG, used in the soles and heels of BOOTS and SHOES. Randle Holme listed 'Sparrow Bills' among the nails without heads saying they were 'Nails to clout Shooes withal' [Holme (2000)]. As one might expect they are often found listed with other nails used in making shoes, as in 'di m of hob nayles & sparowbills iii C' [Inventories (1618)], and '44 m spar Bils at 5d, 11 m spriggs at 8d' [Inventories (1694)]. Like all nails, they were very cheap being valued at only 4d-6d a THOUSAND. A patent dated 1771 proposed a method of making sparables of CAST IRON, although it does not seem a good material to use in this way, being too brittle [Patents (1771)].

OED online earliest date of use: 1627

Found described as BEST, GREAT, SMALL
Found in units of LB, M, THOUSAND

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Patents.
References: Holme (2000).


[spare-rib; ribspare]

Also 'ribspare', this is a cut of MEAT, especially of PORK, consisting of part of the ribs rather closely trimmed. Spare ribs seem to have been popular as ordinary fare, for example [Diaries (Turner)], and for special occasions [Newspapers (1790)].

OED online earliest date of use: 1596

Found described as DRIED

Sources: Diaries, Newspapers.

Spark of velvet

[sparke of velvett; sparke of velvet; spark of veluet]

'Sparky' was a term used of VELVET to denote one that was spotted with gold or some similar material. Spark of velvet seems to have been a velvet so ornamented. In the OED, one quotation of 1552 includes 'One Corporas beinge of Red velvete sparked wt golde' [OED online, Sparked]. Spark of velvet is almost certainly the same as SPARTA VELVET, which was and alternative name given to WROUGHT - NAPLES OF FUSTIAN in the 1660 Book of Rates [Rates (1660)].

OED online earliest date of use for Spark of Velvet: 1608 under Sparky; Sparta velvet not found in the OED

Found as Sparta velvet described as WROUGHT
Found in units of YARD Found rated as Sparta velvet by the HALF PIECE of 7½ YARD, YARD

Sources: Inventories (early), Rates.


A small greyish-brown bird of the family Fringillidae, indigenous to Europe, where it is very common, and naturalised in various other countries. Like many other small birds, sparrows were cooked [Recipes (May)], and POTTED [Recipes (Carter)]. Although they do not appear in the Dictionary Archive as being for sale, they almost certainly were, just as they had been in Biblical times [The Bible, Matthew 10/29; Luke 12/6].

OED earliest date of use: c725

Sources: Recipes.
References: The Bible.




OED online earliest date of use: 1440 under Yellow

Found made of BUCKRAM, SAY

Sources: Inventories (early).

Spattle spade

OED suggests a spattle can be a small SPADE, though the reference is very late, since the only example in the Dictionary Archive is dated 1563 [Inventories (1563)].

OED earliest date of use: 1824 as Spattle in this sense

Sources: Inventories (early).