Strainer - Stuffer


University of Wolverhampton



Nancy Cox and Karin Dannehl

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'Strainer - Stuffer', Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820 (2007). URL: Date accessed: 19 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


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[straynor; strayner]

The term has two meanings that are found in the Dictionary Archive. The first is for a utensil for straining, filtering or sifting; a SIEVE, FILTER, SCREEN or the like as in '3 mylke bowles & a strayner' [Inventories (1602)]. Often a specific use was indicated by a descriptor as in FISH STRAINER, SOUP STRAINER and TEA STRAINER. Some straining if it were to be effective required the liquid or powder to be passed through a very fine mesh, hence 'Hair and Lawn Strainers' [Tradecards (1760)]. Because such strainers would be difficult to clean and would easily have transmitted taste and odour from one foodstuff to another, there was a great variety of different types of strainer for sale, particularly in the eighteenth century as standards of nicety rose; hence GRUEL STRAINER, WINE STRAINER and PUNCH STRAINER. A strainer sometimes had its own receptacle as in '2 old straining tubs buckett strainer & Gawn' [Inventories (1719)] all belonging to a grocer involved in making CANDLEs. In one entry, 'a straynor abason and iiij skimmers' [Inventories (1555)], the strainer and its BASIN were listed with a SKIMMER, showing the importance of removing unwanted material from liquids in the early modern period. The cook had to strain them or skim them to make them acceptable for consumption. In this sense, the term was sometimes used elliptically for STRAINER CLOTH.

A strainer was also an IMPLEMENT for straining or stretching fabrics, leather or the like that needed to be taut, like the '2 paire pf Strayners' owned by a HORSE COLLAR maker [Inventories (1647)], or the SADDLE maker's '1 pair of Strainers' [Inventories (1743)]. This type of strainer tended to come in the PAIR. Certain articles, particularly the SADDLE had to have webbing fitted tightly over the TREE to make it more comfortable for the rider; hence entries like '15 Saddle trees strained' [Inventories (1720)]. Making HARNESS and SADDLERY in particular required strainers of various types, including CANTLE STRAINER, POINT STRAINER, and SIDE STRAINER.

OED earliest date of use: 1326-7 in the first sense; 1527 in the second sense

As a SIEVE: Found described as LITTLE, THIN, WOODEN Found made of PEWTER, SILVER
Found in units of DOZEN

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Patents, Recipes, Tradecards.


[strenering; straynaring; straninge; straininge]

An alternative name for STRAINING CLOTH.

Not found in the OED

Found described as ELL WIDE, YARD WIDE
Found in units of ELL, PIECE, YARD

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

Straining basin

[strayni'ge basine]

Presumably a BASIN into which to strain liquids.

Not found in the OED

Sources: Inventories (early).

Straining board

[strayneinge board]

A piece of equipment used in SADDLERY, for stretching and straining. Salaman illustrates a rather complicated board, which he calls a 'Web straining jack'. It consists of a board with a metal piece at one end to which the web could be fastened, and at the other a spindle turned at by a lever, and with a rack and pawl to prevent reverse motion [Salaman (1986)].

Not found in the OED

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late).
References: Salaman (1986).

Straining cloth

[strayning cloth; straininge cloth]

A piece of CLOTH designed to be used as a STRAINER. One OED quotation dated 1742 shows that it was often used in the dairy for straining milk, another dated a year later that it could also be used for keeping a given substance together while steeping or immersing it in liquid, as 'Boil it with two Pounds of Hops ... in a roomly Canvas or such as they call Straining Cloth' [OED, Roomly]. One entry of '10 yards of strayninge ca'vas at vjd' [Inventories (1612)], shows that CANVAS was sold for this purpose.

OED earliest date of use: 1742 under Straining

Found described as BROAD
Found in units of ELL, YARD

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

Straining tub

[strayning tubb]

A term not found in the dictionaries and only once in the Dictionary Archive among the equipment of a TALLOW chandler [Inventories (1729)]. This was probably what Randle Holme called 'a Cratchen Tub and Flaile, or of some called a Strainer or Flaile Tub', which was 'for to purge and cause the pure Tallow to run from the dross, which they terme Cratchens, and some Graves' [Holme (2000)]. Holme's illustration shows a shallow loosely-woven BASKET made of WICKER. The tallow would have run from this into a TALLOW TUB.

Not found in the OED online

Found described as OLD, TALLOW

Sources: Inventories (late).
References: Holme (2000).

Straining web

A sort of WEBBING similar to or identical with, GIRTH WEB, used to stretch over the SADDLE TREE and form the foundation of the SADDLE SEAT. Before being fixed down it needed to be pre-stretched to prevent the seat sagging in use, in a process similar to that used by upholsterers who stretch webbing across CHAIR seats. The probate inventory of one saddler includes a variety of the webbings used for this purpose as well as straining web, as weel as the STRAINING BOARD on which these could be pre-stretched [Inventories (1737)]. A patent of 1784 was for 'Gut straining for making elastic saddles which will give ease in riding to both rider and horse' [Patents (1784)]. It was an idea that appears not to have become widespread as webbing was still in use in the twentieth century.

OED earliest date of use: 1871

Found described as BEST, BROWN
Found in units of ELL, ROLL, YARD

Sources: Inventories (late), Patents.



'Strait' means NARROW, so straits was a generic name for NARROW CLOTH, but particularly for various types of light-weight WOOLLEN CLOTH made partly from COARSE, hairy WOOL. Those made in the West Country were designed mainly for linings and for export to the Low Countries, and as a result have not been noted in the shops, at least under this name. During the sixteenth century various forms of straits emerged including WHITE STRAITS, RUSSET straits and PIN WHITE [Acts (1514)]; [Acts (1553)]. The weight of a piece of russet or white straits was set at a minimum of 14 LB [Acts (1514)].

OED earliest date of use: 1429

Sources: Acts, Rates.


Although many narrow sea passages were called a streight or straight, for example Davis's Streights [Acts (1800)], 'the Streights' was a term generally applied to that between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. This narrow passage, over a hundred miles long and only twelve miles wide at some points [Rolt (1761)], was guarded on either side by mountains. Gibraltar, which controls the Streights, was ceded to Great Britain by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, and thereafter a fleet was almost permanently stationed there.

As a trading term, the Streights was used by the port of London authorities, and therefore by John Houghton, particularly when he listed the goods imported in 1694-5. It is not always clear what he meant by the term, or which exporting ports were included. Houghton usually distinguished the Streights from SPAIN and PORTUGAL, from which it may be inferred that the term only covered their southern shores. For example, he wrote of FISH from Newfoundland, 'which we carry directly to Portugual, Spain, and several other places in the Streights or Mediterranean' [Houghton]. The area covered seems to have extended quite far into the Mediterranean, since in one letter he referred to 'In the streights near Italy' [Houghton]. Unfortunately, at no point did he indicate what parts of northern Africa were included.


OED online earliest date of use: 1600 under Cut

Sources: Houghton.
References: Rolt (1761).

String flax

A term found only once in the Dictionary Archive among the goods of a substantial London tradesman [Inventories (1670)]. It is likely that his string flax was imported from the Baltic, but apart from that there is no clue to its quality or its place of origin.

Found in units of HUNDRED, LB

Sources: Inventories (mid-period).

Strong water bottle

A term found only once in the Dictionary Archive [Inventories (1671)], where the context suggests that it was an alternative name for an AQUA VITAE BOTTLE.

Not found in the OED

Found in units of DOZEN

Sources: Inventories (mid-period).

Strong water case

The context of the single example found in the Dictionary Archive is not helpful, except that its owner was a dealer in or maker of PEWTER [Inventories (1672)]. The context suggests that it was an object made of pewter, and perhaps no more than a pewter AQUA VITAE BOTTLE, or a protective casing for such a bottle.

Not found in the OED

Sources: Inventories (mid-period).

Strong waters

[stroung watter; strongwat'r; strong-waters; strongwaters; strong-water; strongue watters; stronge water; strong watters; strong water; stro' wather; stro water; strnge watters]

The term had two meanings. The first was taken directly from mediaeval Latin, and was applied to AQUAFORTIS. In this sense its earliest date of use in the OED is 1580. The label 'Aquafortis' stuck even when Latin was no longer widely used, and 'strong waters' has not been noted in the Dictionary Archive in this sense. Instead, the term was applied virtually exclusively to any form of alcoholic SPIRITS used as a beverage.

Distillation in western Europe has a relatively short history. Although there are sporadic references to spirituous liquors before, its history really starts in the late Middle Ages when distillers observed how putting wine into a still and heated it transformed the liquid into something quite different. Perhaps with the Philosopher's Stone in mind and the fact it was believed to produce an elixir of life, the distillers called the new product AQUA VITAE, the water of life. It is not surprising that this discovery spawned works steeped in mystery with titles like William Phillip's A Book of Secrets, first published in 1596. The first part translated from the Dutch showed 'diuers waies to make and prepare all sorts of inke, and colours', but the second, which he claimed was 'Written first in Italian, and now newly translated into English' (though the original Italian version has not been traced), was concerned with 'instructions for ordering of wines: shewing how to make wine, that it may continue good and faint not' [Dillon (2002, pb 2003)].

Although early distillers saw their products primarily as medicinal, this rapidly changed, particularly as the art of compounding was developed. By this means spirits were distilled at least twice, once to produce the alcohol and then to strengthen the resulting LOW WINE and to incorporate the flavourings. COMPOUND WATERS became commonplace, and swept to popularity, particularly after the accession of Mary and the Dutch King William in 1688, creating a serious problems for health and public order. Government tried in vain to cope and to profit through duties on the new products. Part of the problem was of their own making, since to forward the war with France, the importation of FRENCH BRANDY was prohibited and an act passed in 1690 'for encouraging the Distilling of Brandy Spirits from Corn' [Acts (1690)]. The act was all too successful, since it pushed the customs and excise system grossly in favour of home produced strong spirits and production and consumption rose alarmingly [Dillon (2002, pb 2003)]. One Gin Act attempted regulation [Acts (1729)], and when that caused furore another was brought in. The preamble of the Act of 1736 started by setting out the situation as the authorities saw it: 'Whereas the drinking of Spirituous Liquors or Strong Waters is become very common, especially among the People of lower and inferior Rank' and as a solution enacted that 'No Person to retail Spirituous Liquors, less than two Gallons, without paying down £50 for a Licence' [Acts (1736)]. Heavy penalties were set for those who broke the law. The result was wild disorder, including a bomb in Westminster Hall [Dillon (2002, pb 2003)]. The two acts were in any case widely flouted, so that a more conciliatory approach was attempted in the Gin Act of 1743 [Acts (1743)]. Duties were gradually ratcheted up of after this, causing only manageable protest. Finally, after a temporary prohibition on distillation from grain due to the war, a more even-handed approach to the taxation of all strong waters resulted in further legislation in 1760 [Acts (1760)] and the end of the craze. Thereafter strong waters became respectable, and the government milked the industry with the heavy duties [Dillon (2002, pb 2003)].

OED earliest date of use: 1613

Found described as BRITISH, ENGLISH, FOREIGN, IMPORTED, perfectly made
Found in units of CASE, CASK, GALLON, TIERCE Found listed under SPIRITS and rated by the GALLON

Sources: Acts, Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Patents, Rates.
References: Dillon (2002, pb 2003).

Stroudwater red

[stroudwater broad cloth red]

Stroudwater was the centre of a TEXTILE area in western England in which weavers specialised in piece-dyed, blood-red WOOLLEN CLOTHs of a high quality. These were distinguished by their black LISTs made of IRISH WOOL or any other hairy wool. According to John Aubrey, part of the success of Stroudwater was due to the iron-rich water of the district that made it suitable for dyeing red and black and for dyeing in the piece [Kerridge (1985)]. Montgomery reports that recent analysis of this cloth reveals its fine colour was achieved by using COCHINEAL with a TIN mordant. According to her, many stroudwaters were exported through BRISTOL for trading with the American Indians [Montgomery (1984)]. This may explain why they are rare in the stock of retailers and have not been noted in the Dictionary Archive except among the stock of a BRISTOL grocer who may well have been involved in the export trade. He had 'one ordinary peice of Stroudwater broad Cloth red contayning fourteene yards at three shillings per yard' [Inventories (1685)].

OED earliest date of use: 1683 under Stroud

Found described as BROAD CLOTH, ORDINARY
Found in units of PIECE, YARD

Sources: Inventories (mid-period).
References: Kerridge (1985), Montgomery (1984).

Stub eel

[stub eele]

It was a form of EEL that the Customs officials wanted to include in the Rates, where they were rated along with SPRUCE EEL above the rate demanded for other types of eel [Rates (1582)]; [Rates (1660)]. They were not rated in 1784, perhaps because the importation of all but QUICK EEL had been prohibited in 1666 [Acts (1666)]. This suggests that stub eels were already processed to some extent on importation, perhaps DRIED or SMOKED or packed in BRINE.

OED earliest date of use: 1545

Found rated by the BARREL, LAST of 12 barrels

See also EEL.
Sources: Rates.


[stuffyn; stuffe; stufe; stuf]

A term with a variety of meanings and usages. In the Dictionary Archive it appears primarily as a TEXTILE being the general term for WORSTEDS, but particularly those made from mixed fibres, usually worsted and SILK, although there was an almost infinite range of possibilities. Perhaps it was for this reason that the term was frequently accompanied by descriptors. The many statutes referring to stuffs give a good impression of their variety. An ordinance of 1644 referred to 'All manner of Silkes, or Stuffes made in the Kingdome, made of or mixt with Silke, Haire, Wool, or Thread' [Acts (1644)], and one three years later to 'a certain silke stuffe called Sarsnets of Genoa, and other silke stuffe called Pranellas, and all other silk stuffs of the like fabrick or goodnesse ... [both] the broad and the narrow' [Acts (1647)]. Although SILK was often singled out for mention, it seems mostly to have been agreed that stuffs contained at least some worsted. However, an act of 1774 extended the term to apply even to 'printed, painted, stained or dyed Stuffs, wholly made of Cotton and manufactured in Great Britain' [Acts (1775)].

Stuffs were among the most desirable, reasonably priced textiles, particularly before their role as lightweight fashion fabrics was to some extent taken over by COTTON. It was, therefore, subject to the same vagaries of fashion as TAFFETA. The comment on this by Savary des Bruslons in the 1720s is equally pertinent to stuffs: 'Taffetas ... have names, dictated by fashion or by the fancy of the manufacturers, so bizarre that it would be both useless and difficult to give them all, aside from the fact that their names rarely last through the year in which they were created ...' [Montgomery (1984)]. This is amply supported by the Dictionary Archive. The listing of a 'very old stuffe ye name forgotten' in a WELSH inventory of 1665 may spell it out explicitly [Inventories (1665)], but the frequent use of descriptors like 'of the NEWEST patterns', from LONDON, and conversely 'uggly old' and OLD FASHIONED tell the same story, as do the fabrics only briefly listed like CROWN STUFF.

Valuations are not overly helpful, since so much depended upon the component yarns and fashionability. Having said that, there was a trend towards a reduction in values despite the increased use of finishing techniques like printing that must have led to increased costs of production. Before 1660 most stuffs were valued in the range of 7d to 2s the YARD with a few running upwards to 3s, but by the eighteenth century valuations of 4d were commonplace and even the stuff defined as 'fine LONDON' was only valued at 14d, though other better qualities reached towards 2s.

The OED earliest date of use for a specific textile as discussed above is 1604, but the use of the term to apply loosely to any fabric goes back to 1462.

The term 'stuff' was also applied in a much more general sense to the equipment, stores and stock belonging to a specific trade as in such phrases as APOTHECARY stuff, CUTLERY stuff, COPPER stuff, HABERDASHERY stuff. Mostly stuff is a mere appendage and seems to add no additional meaning. Exceptions to this generalisation include GARDEN STUFF, HOUSEHOLD STUFF and TIMBERSTUFF.

OED earliest date of use in this sense: 1375

Further applications of the term occurred in quite specialist senses, two of which have been noted in the Dictionary Archive. The first was used in PAPER making for the material produced from RAGS when they had been beaten, soaked in water and then pressed to remove the moisture [Houghton]. The second applied to BEAVER WOOL, particularly when processed to produce a BEAVER or STUFF HAT.

OED earliest date of use in these senses respectively 1745 and 1799

Found described as BENGAL, BIRDS EYE, BLACK, BLACK and WHITE, BLUE, BRANCHED, breathed, BROAD, BROWN, buring, CANTALOON, COARSE, CHECKER, cheney, COLOURED, COVENTRY, cross bar, DAMASK, diced, dised SILK, DRAB, DYED, eight quarter, FACING, FIGURED, FINE, FLOWERED, FRENCH, GREEN, GREY, half silk, IRISH, for HORSE CLOTHes, INDIAN, LEMON coloured, LONDON, in the LOOMs, MANTUA, MARBLE, MILLED, MINGLED, MIXED, MOHAIR, mouse coloured, Musselborough, NARROW, of the newest patterns, OILED, OLD FASHIONED, ORDINARY, PACK SADDLE, PAINTED, plad, PLAIN, POPLIN, PRINTED, PURPLE, RAWED, RED, RED - SPOTTED, SAD, SCOTCH, to make a SCREEN with, seven quarter, SILK, SKIRT, for SLEEVE, six quarter, STRIPED, strong, ten quarter, three quarter, TUFTED, TURKEY, 'uggly old', UNION, upright, waughed [WATERED?], for winter wear, WOOLLEN, WORSTED, WROUGHT, YARD WIDE, YELLOW Found describing BED, DAMASK, FURNITURE, TAFFETA
Found in units of DOUBLE - PIECE, END, PIECE, YARD Found rated by the YARD

Sources: Acts, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Rates, Tradecards.
References: Montgomery (1984).

Stuff hat

[stuff or beaver hat]

BEAVER HAT or sometimes shortened to BEAVER

OED earliest date of use: 1839

Sources: Acts, Patents.

Stuff plank


Sources: Inventories (late).

Stuff shoes

SHOES in which the uppers were made of a fabric or STUFF, particularly of the more hard-wearing ones like EVERLASTING. Advertisements appeared occasionally in the newspapers like the one in Birmingham Aris's Gazette for 'Women's best Stuff [shoes] 4s 3d per Pair' [Newspapers (1780)]. The making of these shoes was a separate branch of the trade, hence STUFF WORK and advertisements seeking men skilled in the craft such as 'Wanted immediately, three or four Journeymen Shoe Makers, of the Stuff Branch' [Newspapers (1790)].

OED earliest date of use: 1892

See also STUFF WORK.
Sources: Newspapers, Tradecards.

Stuff work

The branch of shoe making that concerned the making of WOMEN's SHOES with the uppers of a hard-wearing STUFF like EVERLASTING. The work was specialist and was advertised as such; for example, 'Wanted immediately, a Shoe-Maker who is a good hand at Womens' Stuff-Work' [Newspapers (1760)] and 'Wanted - Two French-Heel men Shoe-makers, - Good hands will meet with constant work ... Stuff 1s 10d, silk 2s 6d' [Newspapers (1780)].

Not found in the OED

Found described as WOMEN Found imported in large numbers

Sources: Newspapers.


The OED defines the term as 'a machine or implement for stuffing'. This does not really cover the IMPLEMENT found in the Dictionary Archive. Here a stuffer was found along with a silver watch and a TOBACCO BOX [Inventories (1666)]; [Inventories (1671)]. It seems likely that the appraisers were describing an IMPLEMENT small enough to fit in the pocket used to press TOBACCO down into the TOBACCO PIPE so that th smoker could avoid staining his fingers by doing the same by hand.

OED earliest date of use: 1875 but probably not in quite the same sense

Sources: Inventories (mid-period).