Suave water - Sugar chest

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

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Suave water

Judging from the early-modern meaning suggested for 'suave' in the OED, suave water was probably an alternative way of saying SWEET WATER. There is only one example in the Dictionary Archive where the context suggests a fashionable PERFUMED WATER, but there are no clues about the principal ingredients [Tradecards (1790s)].

Not found in the OED

Sources: Tradecards.


A shortening of the full term MERCURY SUBLIMATE

OED online earliest date of use: 1562

Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Rates.


[succado; succad]

A synonym of SUCKET, but whereas succade is found mostly in official documents, sucket was preferred in the shops.

Probably most often the term was applied to FRUIT preserved in SUGAR, either candied or in SYRUP, hence succades have been noted in JARs, but it may have included other forms of CONFECTIONERY for sucking. Much was imported; for example, John Houghton reported that over 20,000 LB were imported in a short period in the 1680s, mainly from SPAIN and PORTUGAL [Houghton].

OED earliest date of use: 1463

Found described as DRY, Wet
Found in units of JAR Found imported from the America, the Canaries, ENGLISH PLANTATIONs, HOLLAND, PORTUGAL, SPAIN, the STRAITS Found rated by the POUND

See also SUCKET.
Sources: Acts, Houghton, Rates.


A substitute, usually inferior, of another substance. The term was used particularly in medicine. In the Dictionary Archive it is found applied more generally; first by John Houghton, who suggested that COFFEE might have been a succedaneum for WINE, the drinking of which was prohibited by Mohammed [Houghton], and secondly in an advertisement for SWEDES TEA, which was claimed as 'a cheap, pleasant and wholesome succedaneum for the foreign Teas' [Newspapers (1770)]. The OED quotes some less desirable uses for the term. For example, in a quotation dated 1643, the author wrote that 'It being the manner of Apothecaries so frequently to put in the Succedanea that no man is sure to find with them Medicines made with the true drugs'.

OED earliest date of use: 1643

Sources: Houghton, Newspapers.

Succus liquoritiae

[succus liquiritiae; succus licuoritiae; succi licoricie]

This is LIQUORICE JUICE, that is the juice extracted from liquorice, especially as dried and prepared for use, when it was also called SPANISH JUICE. Given that liquorice was produced in this country, the importation of the foreign produce was heavily regulated and rated. For example, to prevent smuggling from out ports it was enacted in 1769 that 'no Succus Liquoritiae, commonly called Spanish Juice, of Foreign Produce or Manufacture, exceeding in Quantity Twenty Pounds Weight' was to be carried from an out port to London [Acts (1769)]. Clearly an act passed two years earlier which had substantially lowered the duty from 1s LB or £7 2s 6d CWT to 30s per cwt, had not had the effect of reducing smuggling [Acts (1767)].

OED earliest date of use: 1657 for Liquorice juice

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

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

Suffolk hemp

A TEXTILE; a HEMPEN CLOTH made in or attributed to the English county of Suffolk. It should not be confused with SUFFOLK CLOTH. In 1574 a monopoly for making the coarse hempen cloths, POLDAVIS and MILDERNIX in Ipswich and Woodbridge was granted to the Collins brothers, and this may have led to the establishment of an urban linen industry in Suffolk. However, towards the end of the seventeenth century, several writers proposed the expansion of the British LINEN industry with the dual result, as they thought, of reducing the country's imports bill and of finding employment for the poor. Yarranton (1677), who claimed to know 'something of Linen', responded that such a scheme would not succeed in Suffolk [Yarranton (1677)]; [Evans (1985)]; [Reed (1973)] It appears that Yarranton was right, since the linen manufacture declined during the seventeenth century despite attempts to establish immigrant French and Dutch weavers. Even using pauper labour does not seem to have been profitable [Evans (1985)].

The paucity of evidence for the eighteenth century makes it difficult to estimate the extent of hemp manufacture in Suffolk, but Evans believes that it was generally uncompetitive compared with European imports and mainly served local markets [Evans (1985)]. Nevertheless, a Suffolk grocer had considerable quantities of unspecified hempen cloth that may in another area been labelled Suffolk hemp, while a 'Linen and Woollen Draper' of Birmingham, selling up in the 1790s, was advertising by name 'Suffolk Hemps [and] Russian and Home made Sheetings', suggesting that some Suffolk linen attracted a wider market [Newspapers (1790)].

Not found in the OED

Sources: Newspapers.
References: Evans (1985), Reed (1873), Yarranton (1677).


[sugr'; sug'r; sugg'r; sugger; suggar; suger; sugare; sugar; sug'; sug; shugger; shuggar; shuger; shugare; shugar; shogar; sheweger]

It was also known as SAL indum (that is, INDIAN - SALT), though not found under this name in the Dictionary Archive.

Sugar is the crystalline product of the juice of the sugar cane Saccharum officinarum. A native of the Old World tropics, sugar was introduced to the New World (in Haiti) from the Canaries by Christopher Columbus in 1494 [Hobhouse (1985)]. Its cultivation has since spread over much of the world since it tolerates a Mediterranean climate. It was a major product of the Americas, and its importance is reflected in the way governments fought wars and negotiated with other powers to gain suitable places for growing the SUGAR CANE. Because many of these were inhospitable and considered unsuitable for white labour, and the production of sugar involved heavy work and much tedium, slave labour was introduced. The forced transportation of black people from Africa under horrific conditions remains a blot on the history of so-called Western civilization and continues to cause problems of adjustment and reconciliation [Hobhouse (1985)]. Other plants such as the maple, sugar beet and sorghum, which also yield sugar, were of no significance in the early-modern period.

Although well known for many centuries, at the beginning of the early modern period very little sugar was consumed, and HONEY remained the most important sweetening agent. By the 1610s rates of importation to Britain had increased, but refined sugar remained an expensive luxury commodity. In 1624 Francis Bacon was under the impression that sugar had superseded honey, writing that 'Sugar hath put downe the use of HONEY, in so much as wee have lost those observations and preparations of honey which the Ancients had, when it was more in price' [Brown (1995)]. However, sugar did not become a serious article of trade until after the development of the Caribbean as region for growth and production. This began in 1641 when the sugar cane plant was introduced to the British-owned colonies of BARBADOES and the other WEST INDIES, from the Portuguese colonies in Brazil. By 1659 a successful sugar refinery was recorded as having been established in England [Brown (1995)]. However, not all were certain it was entirely beneficial. One anonymous author said it 'is an excellent thing, but ... fit only to be taken Physically, and not at every turn to be mixt with our common Food and Drinks, [which] forward the generation of Gout and other diseases of the Body ...' [Anon (1695)].

By 1700 sugar had become an important commodity, sold in shops at prices roughly comparable with honey; and by the mid century it was found among the diets of those well down the social scale, although it was still more expensive than cereals at that time [Shammas (1990)]. The small yeoman farmer, Richard Latham, bought sugar fairly frequently, and he is probably typical of many other people who only had little money to spare [Latham (1990)]. Writing in 1694, John Houghton found evidence of the importation of 'about sixteen million pound weight' [Houghton]. Reviewing the whole period, Hobhouse estimates that 'For every ton consumed in 1600, 10 tons were consumed in England in 1700 and 150 in 1800' [Hobhouse (1985)].

The stimulus to increase sugar production came after the introduction of the new beverages of TEA, COFFEE and CHOCOLATE. Although it was not the custom for the Chinese to drink TEA sweetened, it rapidly became the norm in England. Surprisingly, sugar was seen as an adulterant of TEA, a practice banned in 1731 by [Acts (1731)] and a series of subsequent acts, though this cannot have seriously affected the scale of trade in sugar. Apart from its use as a sweetener in the new beverages, it was an important component of CONFECTIONERY, sold in many forms of SUGAR CANDY and SUGAR PLATE, besides being used as a preservative and ingredient in cookery. It had a place in medicine being used, for example to make LOZENGEs and COMFITs, where its purpose was presumably primarily to mask unpleasant tastes, and it formed part of the Materia Medica [Pemberton (1746)]. One of the most popularly advertised sugar-based remedies was the 'Purging' SUGAR CAKE, otherwise known as ROTULA ANTHELMINTHICA, used to treat worms in children. In popular medicine it also found a place. It is noticeable that Latham bought more when his wife was pregnant or in times of illness. It has also been noted occasionally used as a home made external dressing.

In addition, there was apparently a relationship between grain harvests in England and the importation of sugar, owing to the use of sugar as a substitute for MALT in making DISTILLED SPIRITS like RUM, though much of this was made on site in the West Indies. During times of severe grain shortages, when the government banned the use of grain by distilleries (as in 1758), demand for sugar increased.

To prepare sugar for sale in England the canes were crudely processed where they were grown. Ripe canes were cut, stripped of their leaves and crushed to extract juice. The juice was then heated with LIME in order to prevent fermentation taking place, then the syrup was skimmed and evaporated down. The liquid was cooled and allowed to crystallize, usually in a CASK or HOGSHEAD with holes in the bottom through which the residual uncrystallized syrup known as MOLASSES could drain. Once drainage was deemed complete, the holes were bunged up in preparation for transporting to this country. This process explains the many references to leakage in transit, and to the variable weight of each hogshead of sugar on arrival. The resulting crystalline material, known as MUSCOVADO, was the most common form in which sugar was imported; though the term BROWN SUGAR was also applied to sugar at this stage. By comparison, the term RAW sugar was less common in the Dictionary Archive. Sugar was also sometimes identified by its place of origin, hence terms like BARBADOES SUGAR, BARBARY SUGAR or JAMAICA SUGAR. This could be an important distinction because the place of origin could affect use. Barbadoes sugar, for example, was favoured in the making of preserves. The dark, sticky MUSCOVADO was popularly used for home-made wine.

After importation to Britain, sugar underwent further refinement, usually at the ports of entry such as London, Bristol and Liverpool. This process involved dissolving and heating the muscovado and crystallizing it again by running it through an inverted cone-shaped mould packed with sugar. This was intended to encourage crystallization and to trap impurities. The crystalline mass when tapped out of its mould was known as LOAF SUGAR or SUGAR LOAF, the residual syrup as TREACLE. Generally the smaller the mould, the finer the loaf. Once tapped out of its mould or SUGAR POT, the sugar loaf needed drying, hence 'Stoved sugar'. Terms such as REFINED SUGAR and WHITE SUGAR were applied to the product of this first refinement.

Further refinement sometimes took place. The end of the sugar loaf was noticeably duller in colour, because that was where residual impurities collected. This was scraped off, and it could be that this discarded sugar was what was known as FOOT SUGAR. The remaining whiter part of the sugar loaf was known as DOUBLE REFINED SUGAR; further elimination of poor quality sugar produced tripled refined sugar. As result of all this processing both the double and the treble refined sugars were expensive and difficult to obtain; probably only shops in large towns and the capital stocked it. This might explain why the affluent classes frequently bought sugar from London, despite the problems of shopping at a distance, and despite the fact that sugar was readily available in every market town and many smaller places. Sugar could be bought in the form of sugar loaf, though customers may then have also needed a pair of SUGAR NIPPERS to break it up before use. Alternatively, the retailer performed this duty to produce POWDER SUGAR. The whole complicated process of sugar production in its various forms at the end of the period is well covered by Abraham Rees [Rees (1819-20, 1972 ed.)].

The quality and refinement of sugar, not surprisingly, affected prices. Those at the lower end of the social hierarchy would not have been able to afford DOUBLE REFINED SUGAR and the like, opting instead for cheaper types such BASTARD SUGAR, LISBON SUGAR and even the raw MUSCOVADO. This latter contained colonies of sugar mite (Acarus sacchari) which burrowed under the skin of the host, producing irritating pustules that were later called Grocer's itch. In the late nineteenth century one sample of sugar supplied to the warehouses in Dublin contained 100, 000 mites in every pound. There is no reason to suppose that the problem was any worse then that it had been a century earlier [Simmonds (1906)]. As well as being subject to infestation, sugar was often damaged in transit, evident in the Gloucester Coastal Port Books by entries to 'damaged sugar' [Gloucester Coastal Port Books (1988)]. Although of a poor quality, this too was probably traded among low status consumers, or it may even have been used in the manufacture of spirits or beer and it is likely that sugar of all types found niches in the trading markets from the later seventeenth century.

OED earliest date of use: 1299

Simone Clarke

Found described as 4d, 5d, 6d, 8d, Baking, Broken, Bruised, Clarified, COMMON, ORDINARY, RAW, Stoved, Treble REFINED Found describing CHOCOLATE, Scum Found in units of BARREL, BOX, CASK, CWT, FIRKIN, HOGSHEAD, HUNDRED, KINDERKIN, LB, OZ, POUND, QUARTER, STONE Found imported by CASK, CHEST Found rated by the BASKET, BARREL, BOX, CASK, CHEST, FITCH, HUNDREDWEIGHT, POUND (8 of which made a STONE)

Sources: Acts, Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Patents.
References: Anon (1695), Brown (1995), Gloucester Coastal Port Books (1998), Hobhouse, (1985), Latham (1990), Rees (1819-20, abridged 1972), Shammas (1990), Simmonds (1906).

Sugar basin

[sugar bason; shugar basin]

A BASIN, usually in the same general pattern as the rest of a TEA SET, for holding SUGAR. Unlike the SUGAR CHEST, which was probably used mainly for holding sugar that was to be added to WINE, and the sugar BOWL, which commonly had a lid and which has not been found in the Dictionary Archive, the sugar basin was designed for use in serving TEA.

OED earliest date of use: 1851 under Sugar

Found described as BLUE, SMALL

Sources: Inventories (late), Newspapers.

Sugar box


OED suggests a SUGAR BASIN or sugar CASTOR. This type of sugar box is indicated by entries like 'One Shell Sugar Box tipt val at 35s [Inventories (1701)], or the bill for £22 18s due to the silversmith from Samuel Pepys in 1664 'for spoons, forks, and sugar-box' [Diaries (Pepys)]. Such sugar boxes were designed as articles of ostentation to display on the TEA table or when drinking WINE. On the other hand 'One tin sugar box' [Inventories (1683)] sounds more like a straightford, unadorned box suitable for storing sugar and protecting it from damp and vermin, possibly with a lock (though one was not mentioned in this case) to prevent theft by servants.

OED earliest date of use: 1620

Found decorated with SHELLs Found made of SILVER, TIN

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

Sugar cake

The definition given in the OED of 'a rich cake made with sugar, butter, and cream' is not relevant to the examples found in the Dictionary Archive. Here the term was applied to a SWEETMEAT [Inventories (1734)], and by extension to various PROPRIETARY products such as 'Swinfen's Purging Sugar Cakes For destroying Worms in Children, or Grown Persons' [Tradecards (1797)]. Presumably the attractive name, and the use of SUGAR, was intended to mask the unpleasant taste.

Not found relevantly in the OED

As a Sweetmeat: Found in units of LB
Medicinal: Found described as for CHILDREN, Purging Found in units of BOX, OZ

Sources: Inventories (late), Newspapers, Tradecards.

Sugar candy

[sug'r candy; suger candy; suger candie; sugar-candy; sugarcandie; sugar candie; sugar candid; sugar candey; shugercandie]

In Latin Saccharatum candum or Saccharatum cantum, sugar CANDY was made by a slightly different process from other forms of SUGAR, and the result was much harder and more transparent. Abraham Rees described the process in the early nineteenth century. It was still similar to the one referred to by John Houghton, although rather easier to understand [Houghton]. The sugar was first dissolved in a weak LIME WATER, then 'clarified, scummed. strained through a cloth, and boiled, and put in forms or moulds, that are traversed with little rods, to retain the sugar as it crystallizes.' The moulds were suspended in a hot STOVE, where the sugar 'fastens to the sticks ... and there hangs in little splinters of crystal' [Rees (1819-20, 1972 ed.)]. Sugar candy could be made with either WHITE SUGAR, hence WHITE CANDY, or BROWN SUGAR, hence BROWN CANDY. The process was the same, though the brown would be softer.

OED earliest date of use: 1390 under Sugar-candy

Found described as BROWN, WHITE Found in units of BOX, LB Found rated by the HALF - CHEST

Sources: Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Rates, Recipes.

Sugar cane


A tall, stout perennial grass, Saccharum officinarum, cultivated in tropical and sub-tropical countries, and forming the chief source of manufactured SUGAR [Masefield et al (1969)]. It had, or course, a variety of different names in America, though it did not originally come from there, including tacomaxee [Houghton]. Improving the process of crushing and milling the sugar cane was of prime concern, despite the use of slave labour in the WEST INDIES for the heavy and monotonous work. The result was several patents, one of the earlest being for an 'Engine to be used in ... milling sugar-canes' [Patents (1691)]. Since the early stages of extracting sugar were done where the sugar was cultivated, it was inevitable that an alcoholic liquor, that is RUM, should be made from the 'dregs or refuse of sugar cane', as one foreign visitor to Britain observed [Diaries (Saussure)].

OED earliest date of use: 1568 under Sugar cane

Sources: Diaries, Houghton, Patents.
References: Masefield et al. (1969).

Sugar chest

[suger chest; sugar-chest; sugar cheste; sug' chist; sug' chest]

The name applied to two containers for SUGAR that were very different from each other. The first was a substantial CHEST for transporting sugar as indicated in one statute limiting where sugar could be landed [Acts (1548)]. This type of sugar chest apparently contained 10-15 CWT [OED, Chest]. A rather bizarre entry in Samuel Pepys Diary records the transportation of a corpse in a sugar chest [Diaries (Pepys)], which, if nothing else, suggests what size and shape such a chest may have been. It is the only meaning given in the OED. The second type of sugar chest was on a much smaller scale; a wooden or metal box for holding sugar in a domestic setting. The use of the term 'chest' may indicate that the sugar in it was for sweetening wine rather than tea, since the normal container for sugar in tea equipage was the sugar BOWL, which was a circular dish with a cover. In connection with wine drinking, a sugar container was sometimes described as a SUGAR BOX, which in the eighteenth century was a small receptacle with a cover and raised on feet. The only sugar chest of this type in the Dictionary Archive was described along with a silver tankard as 'one sugar Chest or box of silver with a spoone' valued altogether at £7 [Inventories (1646)].

Sugar was sometimes measured and rated by the chest, which will have been a sugar chest of the first type, as in 'five Chests of sugar weighing net forty two hundred three Quarters at fifty shillings p hundred' [Inventories (1670)], and in the Book of Rates of 1582 'Sugar the Chest containing iii c' [Rates (1582)].

OED online earliest date of use: 1549

Found described as OLD, with a SPOON Found made of WOOD

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