Alabaster - Alexandria plain

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

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Nancy Cox. Karin Dannehl, 'Alabaster - Alexandria plain', Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007), British History Online [accessed 16 June 2024].

Nancy Cox. Karin Dannehl. "Alabaster - Alexandria plain", in Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007) . British History Online, accessed June 16, 2024,

Cox, Nancy. Dannehl, Karin. "Alabaster - Alexandria plain", Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007). . British History Online. Web. 16 June 2024,

In this section


[allabaster; alabastr]

A term applied to fine translucent varieties of carbonate or sulphate of lime especially to the pure white variety of the latter used for vases, ornaments and busts. It appears also to have been used for other purposes, such as in HAIRPOWDER, since this practice was prohibited in 1711 [Acts (1711)], and again two years later [Acts (1731)]. The repetition suggests that the prohibition was not effective. John Houghton found that alabaster along with white rock MARBLE and lime calcinated flints were used to help the fermentation of WINE, and possibly CIDER [Houghton]. This could account for the transference of the name of alabaster to a liquid measure, which, according to the OED, contained '10 OUNCE of wine or 9 of oil'. Alabaster in this sense has not been noted in the Dictionary Archive.

OED earliest date of use: 1375

Found describing FIGURE, PICTURE, POWDER, SALT, VINEGAR [container], WARES
Found rated by the LOAD

Sources: Acts, Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Rates, Tradecards.

Alabastered vinegar

[alabastrd vinger]

This seems to have been a scribal error for ALABASTER - VINEGAR. The single entry noted in the Dictionary Archive [Inventories (1682)] appears among a list of objects made of alabaster. Presumably this was therefore a vessel for holding vinegar. The use of 'vinegar' as a container for vinegar has not been noted by the OED. Alabaster would be a suitable material for this purpose as it is not readily subject to attack by acids.

Not found in the OED

Found listed with SALT

Sources: Inventories (mid-period).


[mode; alomode; allomode; allemode; allamoude; allamood; allamode; allamodd; allamod; allamod; allamoade; allamoad; alamond; a-la-mode; a la mode]

Alamode is an anglicisation of the French term meaning 'fashionable'. It retained that meaning in this country but in addition it was adopted as a name for a TEXTILE in the form of a soft light glossy SILK made entirely of ORGANZINE, and often BLACK [Kerridge (1985)]. It attracted the interests of Parliament, largely because it was most often imported from mainland Europe (the unit of measure frequently being the ELL, a good indicator of a foreign import). The result was that it may be found nearly as often in official documents as in the shops. Useful categorisations in such documents indicate how alamodes were perceived by the authorities; as a 'plain silk' [Acts (1692)], as a WROUGHT SILK [Acts (1698)], as a 'black plain silk' [Patents (1688)], and as TAFFETA [Rates (1657)].

Although the manufacture of alamodes in this country had almost certainly begun alongside that of LUTESTRING in the mid-seventeenth century, this received a huge boost by the influx of skilled Hugenot artisans from TOURS and Touraine in the 1680s. In 1692, the Royal Lutestring Company was set up to exploit the patent of 1688 to lustrate, or make glossy, alamodes and other similar fabrics [Patents (1688)]. The company was further protected in 1697 by one act designed for 'the further encouragement of the manufacture' by the company [Acts (1697)], and by another in 1698 prohibiting imports except though London [Acts (1698)]. The company established manufacture in London and at Ipswich. Although the latter collapsed in 1720, the London side of the business continued for some years [Kerridge (1985)].

In the shops and the promotional literature issued by retailers, the variety of alamodes available emerges. Woven in two widths, commonly designated as NARROW or BROAD, alamodes were also found as often WHITE as BLACK and occasionally as COLOURED. Since a glossy finish was part of the nature of this fabric, 'glossy' has not been noted as a descriptor, but other finishes and styles are, such as FIGURED, PLAIN, FLOWERED, etc. Alamodes were particularly desirable for making up small items of APPAREL sold READY MADE in some shops, such as HOODs and scarves. Valuation vary considerably depending on width, finish and fashionablity, but have been noted in the range of 2s 6d (NARROW - ELL) to 5s (BROAD - ELL) and 3s 8d the YARD.

OED earliest date of use: 1649 as an adjective denoting fashion, 1676 as a fabric

Found in units of ELL, PIECE, YARD Found imported from Holland Found rated by the LB, PIECE

Sources: Acts, Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Patents, Rates, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Kerridge (1985).

Alamode beef

[boeuf-a-la-mode; beef a-la-mode; a la mode beef]

Alamode was an anglicized adaptation of the French 'a la mode', meaning fashionable; a term that was applied to a number of dishes as French culinary trends increasingly influenced British cooking from the late seventeenth century onwards. The earliest appearance of Alamode beef in the Dictionary Archive in an entry from Pepys' diary [Diaries (Pepys)], dated 1667, when he wrote of a visit to 'a French house to dinner' where the table was 'covered, and clean glasses ... and a mess of pottage first, and then a piece of boeuf-a-la-mode, all exceeding, well seasoned, and to our great liking.' OED suggests that this dish was made from the scraps and remainders of BEEF boiled down into a thick soup or stew, but in fact it was usually made from a boned joint, larded and boiled or baked with SPICEs, and then served hot or cold in thick slices [Raffald (1769, new ed. 1977)]; [Smith (1758, facs. 1994)].

OED earliest date of use of use: 1753

Simone Clarke

Sources: Diaries, Recipes.
References: Raffald (1769), Smith (1758).

Alamode hood

[alomode hood; allamodes; allamode hudd; allamode hood; allamod hode; allamod hod]

An article of APPAREL in the form of a HOOD made of ALAMODE. It has been noted in the probate inventories of provincial shops from 1660 until early in the next century, usually valued at 2s to 5s 6d.

OED earliest date of use: 1676 under Alamode

Found described as BLACK, crowned, DAMNIFIED, MASERINET, OLD, WHITE

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



Albanum appears only once in the Dictionary Archive, and has not been noted in the dictionaries, but T.S. Willan suggests it may have been a mis-spelling of 'ebenus' or EBONY. The sap was supposed to be a purgative that could cure venereal disease [Willan (1962)]. Possibly the entry for 'Mor' Alibanu' iij oz 3d' referred to the same commodity [Inventories (1615)].

Not found in the OED

Found in units of OZ Found rated by the POUND

Sources: Inventories (early), Rates.
References: Willan (1962).


A blank book in which to insert autographs, memorial verses, original drawings, or other souvenirs. According to Samuel Johnson 'a book in which foreigners have long been accustomed to insert the autographs of celebrated people' [Johnson (1756)]. The entry 'Albums & Scrap Books' [Tradecards (18c.)] well indicates the sort of use intended.

OED earliest date of use: 1651

Sources: Tradecards.
References: Johnson (1756).


[albi; alba; alb]

The Latin term for WHITE used in the names of some plants, and those of many commodities, particularly those used in medicine, as seen in entries like 'Sem. papaver Alb. et nigri oz xij' MY1665NDHT], '2 li vitrol Alb at 12d' [Inventories (1693)] and 'Cera alba 1 li oz 11 at 20d' [Inventories (1690)]. These are dealt with under their English names, respectively as WHITE POPPY, WHITE VITRIOL and WHITE WAX.

Not found in the OED

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


[olcamee; occumy; alkemy; alkeme; alkamy; alcumye; alcumy; alcumine; alcume; alcomie; alchymy; alcemie; alcamy; alcamey]

A metallic composition imitating GOLD, presumably a form of BRASS; often used to make BUTTONS or SPOONs, and used as a cheap substitute in GOLD LACE. The alchemists had long tried to make gold, but this product was about as near as human beings got, and it was not the product of alchemy as such, but that of metal workers.

OED earliest date of use: 1440

Found used to make BUTTON, fruit dish, OE, SALT, SPANGLE, SPOON Found describing LACE

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

Alchemy comb

[alcemie comb]

Presumably a COMB for the hair made of ALCHEMY. Since the alloy called alchemy was intended to imitate GOLD, a comb made of this was probably decorative rather than purely functional.

Not found in the OED online

Sources: Inventories (mid-period).


In common parlance, the RECTIFIED or pure SPIRIT OF WINE, or the spiritous or intoxicating element in fermented liquors. There were, however several other meanings in the early modern period.

Since classical times the term had been applied to the fine metallic powdered ore of ANTIMONY and sometimes to powdered GALENA. These were used in the Middle East as COSMETICS to stain the eyelids. Although it does not seem to have been used in this sense in the West during the early-modern period, the term here was transferred to some fine powders made by sublimation or trituration such as 'alcohol martis' and 'alcohol SULPHUR' (FLOWER OF BRIMSTONE). It was by extension to fluids of the idea of sublimation, it came to mean an ESSENCE or SPIRIT obtained by distillation or rectification as in SPIRIT OF WINE.

OED earliest date of use: 1543


A tree, Alnus glutinosa, related to the BIRCH, common in wet places over the northern hemisphere, including Britain, the WOOD of which is very hard and resists decay for an indefinite time under water. It was added to the list of trees defined as TIMBER TREEs in [Acts (1773)], and its SEED is found for sale, for example [Tradecards (18c.)]. John Houghton gave extended coverage to alder, showing some of its many uses [Houghton]. For example the WOOD from alder was used in ship-building and to make CLOG WOOD [Wright (1898-1905)]. In addition, COTTON YARN was hung on POLEs cut every four or five years from coppiced alder grown in Lancashire. These poles were slow to splinter and became smooth and polished with use [Holt (1795, facs. 1969)]. The BARK found a ready market among dyers [Houghton], while its CHARCOAL or 'Burnt alder' was used to make GUNPOWDER [Houghton]; [Houghton].

OED earliest date of use: c700

As a wood: Found used to make HEEL, HOP POLE, PILE, PUMP, TRAY, TRENCHER, TROUGH
As a fruit: Found used to make INK
As a bark: Found used by 'dyers, and some tanners and leather-dressers'

Sources: Acts, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Tradecards.
References: Holt (1795, facs. 1969), 84, Wright (1898-1905).


Ale, like BEER, is an intoxicating liquor made of an infusion of MALT by fermentation. At the start of this period ale was generally brewed without the addition of HOPS, though at various times other ingredients were sometimes added. Because the introduction of hops took place only slowly, coming first to the towns, and only much later to rural England, ale gradually came to mean a light-coloured, country drink, even if it were hopped [Sambrook (1996)]. A number of towns in England were already specializing in the production of ale by 1700, including Burton on Trent, as noted by one foreign visitor [Diaries (Schopenhauer)] and at times ale was a drink of high quality. It was, for instance, described as 'being as transparent as fine old WINE' [Diaries (Saussure)]. Sources disagree about its keeping qualities, but one suggests it could be laid down for several years before use [Diaries (Schopenhauer)].

The doings of ale brewers were closely regulated by Parliament, as were the CASK in which ale could be stored. In 1531 the Ale BARREL was standardized at 36 GALLON, with the KILDERKIN and FIRKIN in proportion [Acts (1531)], but John Houghton noted variations in this; for example in Derby the ale BARREL had 32 GALLON like those for BEER [Houghton].

OED earliest date of use: 940

Found described as TWOPENNY
Found in units of BARREL, BOTTLE, CASK, GALLON

Sources: Acts, Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Rates, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Sambrook (1996).

Ale glass

[ale glasses; ale do; ale and wine glasses; aile-glass]

Presumably a GLASS from which to drink ALE, but whether and how it differed from BEER GLASS is not known.

Not found in the OED

Sources: Inventories (late).

Ale loom

[ayll lomme; alelome]

Ale looms have been noted only twice in the Dictionary Archive, once along with some brewing equipment in the kitchen [Inventories (1574)]. The term was probably a variant of the contemporary DRINK LOOM, also a Midland term, but its precise function is unclear.

Not found in the OED

Sources: Inventories (early).

Ale pot

[alehouse pot; ail-pot]

In the only example in the Dictionary Archive, it was found being used to hold CRAB VERJUICE, apparently as a synonym for ALE BOTTLE. It seems likely that in other circumstances, the term was used as a vessel from which to drink ALE, as in 'Alehouse Pots' [Tradecards (18c.)].

Not found in the OED

Sources: Diaries, Tradecards.

Ale stool

[alestoole; alestool; ale stoole; ale stall]

A dialect term found in the Dictionary Archive only in eastern England for a TRESTLE or 'X' shaped stand on which to place a BARREL [Yaxley (2003)]

Not found in the OED

See also ALPHABET.
Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late).
References: Yaxley (2003).

Ale yeast

[good-ale-yest; ale-yeast]

A YEAST that was either produced in the brewing of ALE or suitable for making ale

OED earliest date of use: 1741

See also BARM, YEAST.
Sources: Recipes.



An alternative name for sour ALE or MALT vinegar, being VINEGAR formed by the acetous fermentation of ALE. Early-modern users were more inclined to be precise on what is now usually called vinegar, and used both alegar and CIDEREAGAR to denote the original material [Hackwood (1909, new ed. 1985)]; [Hess (1981)]; [Webster (1884)].

OED earliest date of use: 1542

Simone Clarke

Found measured by the RUNLET

Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Recipes.
References: Hackwood (1909, new ed. 1987), Hess (1981), Webster (1884).


Nepata glechoma, so called because it was supposedly sometimes used in ALE instead of HOPS. An alternative name is GROUND IVY.

OED earliest date of use: 1300


[lymbicke; lymbeeke; alembick]

An apparatus formerly used in distilling. It consisted of a cucerbit or gourd-shaped vessel containing the substance to be distilled, surmounted by the head or cap or alembic proper, the beak of which conveyed the vaporous products to a receiver, in which they were condensed [Inventories (1724)]. It is now replaced by a STILL using a retort and WORM.

OED earliest date of use: c1374

Found described as with their heads on, LARGE Found made of COPPER, PEWTER

See also STILL, WORM.
Sources: Houghton, Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Recipes.


[allo-peen; allopeen; allapeene; allapeen; alapeene]

A TEXTILE in the form of a mixed STUFF, either of WOOL and SILK, or of MOHAIR and COTTON, used primarily for men's CLOTHING but also for UPHOLSTERY [Montgomery (1984)].

OED earliest date of use: 1739

Found described as BLACK, DOUBLE, SINGLE

Sources: Inventories (late), Tradecards.
References: Montgomery (1984).



A town in Syria, noted for the best quality GALLs, hence entries like '26 baggs of Aleppo Galls at 238 19 00' [Inventories (1678)], and for various types of RAW SILK.

Not found in the OED

Found describing ARDASS, GALL, LEGEE

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


[alexandria; alexander]

An umbelliferous plant, Smynium olustratum, also called horse PARSLEY and black LOVAGE, formerly cultivated and eaten like CELERY, though John Evelyn described it as 'much of the nature of persly' (parsley). He added that it 'is moderately hot, and of a cleansing faculty, deobstructing, nourishing, and comforting the stomach' [Evelyn (1679)]. Its SEED have been found listed among PHYSICAL HERB seeds [Tradecards (18c.)]. According to John Pechey it was 'frequently used in BROTHs in the spring-time, to cleanse the blood and strengthen the stomach' [Pechey (1694a)]. It was cultivated into the 1800s, then fell out of favour, being displaced by celery [Mason and Brown (1999)].

OED earliest date of use: c940

Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Tradecards.
References: Evelyn (1679), Mason and Brown (1999), Pechey (1694a).

Alexandria plain

[alixander; alexandria or turkey plain]

A TEXTILE, a type of LINEN CLOTH, described in one Book of Rates as 'Linen viz Alexandria or TURKEY PLAIN' [Rates (1784)]. Each of the two alternatives suggests that the fabric came from the Middle East. It has been noted only once in the shops under this name [Inventories (1544)], though it was almost certainly there in others under a different label.

Not found in the OED

Found described as BROAD
Found in units of YARD Found rated by the ELL and in various widths

Sources: Inventories (early), Rates.