In the British textile industry, a unit indicating a count of warp threads, varying with locality: in Bradford, 40 threads; in Leeds, 38 threads. So, in Bradford, a warp of 50 beers would have 2000 ends.
The word is related to “bier” as in “funeral bier.” “Bear,” as in “to bear a burden” is from the same Old English root. (The word is not related to “beer,” the beverage.) It refers to the carrying of the warp threads in the loom.
An early 18ᵗʰ century source¹ says a “beere” consisted of 19 ends. As the Leeds value is an unusual number and exactly twice the 18ᵗʰ century value, perhaps increases in the size of looms led to a doubling of the beer, followed by decimal rationalization to 40 in Bradford.
1. [John Worlidge.]
Dictionarium Rusticum & Urbanicum, or, A Dictionary of all Sorts of Country Affairs, Handicraft, Trading & Merchandising...
London: J. Nicholson, 1704.
Reprinted in facsimile, Los Angeles: Sherwin & Freutel, 1970.
Entry for “beere,” the book is unpaginated.
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Last revised: 4 March 2002.