The Research Abyss

posted in: Ally Broadfield | 10

800px-Folding_Rules_2Research is, of course, a very important part of writing historical romance, and I’m a stickler for getting the details right. I love research, but it can be a huge time suck so I try to be very careful about balancing necessary research with my writing time.

Last week I was nearing the end of a novella (which happened to be due the next day), when I went online to look up a certain British term of measurement that was eluding me. It didn’t take me long to find the word, which happened to be hectare, but a few links came up in the search that I couldn’t ignore.

The first was titled, How Much is a Buttload? I don’t know about you, but I had to check that one out. It turns out that a buttload is not just the provenance of twelve-year-old boys, but is an actual unit of measurement. The word butt is derived from the Italian word for barrel, botte. A butt was traditionally considered to be the equivalent of two hogsheads. In 1423, the British Parliament standardized the measurement of a hogshead to a not too precise volume of liquid that ranged from 63 to 140 U.S. gallons. The fact that there was more than one type of gallon led me to information about the muddled state of the imperial system of measurements, which I found fascinating (and not just because I was procrastinating on finishing my manuscript).

Hogshead, 1789
Hogshead, 1789

To summarize, it turns out that English measures of volume were quite a jumble with three different types of gallons, and measurements such as the jigger, pottle, kilderkin, and firkin. Though I won’t get into too many details, the Weights and Measures Act of 1824 created a much simpler system of measurement that helped Britain transition into the Industrial Revolution.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever come across accidentally while online?

For anyone who’s interested in learning more, these are the two articles I referenced:

How much is a Buttload?

Metric Views: Commentary on the Measurement Muddle in the UK



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Ally lives in Texas and is convinced her house is shrinking, possibly because she shares it with three kids, five dogs, a cat, a rabbit, and several reptiles. Oh, and her husband. She likes to curse in Russian and spends most of her time letting dogs in and out of the house and shuttling kids around. She writes historical romance set in Regency England and Imperial Russia. She loves to hear from readers and you can find her on her website, Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter, though she makes no claims of using any of them properly.

10 Responses

  1. Alyssa Alexander

    Oh my gosh, I had to laugh that this! First, because I get lost is research all the time, and second because…well. LOL!

    • Ally Broadfield

      Yep, Alyssa. There was no way I wasn’t going to click on that link.

  2. Barbara Monajem

    So fascinating. Thanks for the educational post! I think the weirdest thing I’ve found so far is the recipe for artificial asses’ milk, which is used as a tonic. As if that wasn’t enough, one ingredient was eringo root, aka sea holly, which is also used as an aphrodisiac. This knowledge came in handy when I was writing a novella. 🙂

    • Ally Broadfield

      LOL, Barbara. I think I need to read that novella.

    • Ally Broadfield

      My kids really enjoyed it too Sandra.

  3. dholcomb1

    I think it’s funny that some people have gone to the store to buy “elbow grease.”

    • Ally Broadfield

      That is funny. I always imagined it was something that came from within. 😉