In the north of England, 16ᵗʰ – 19ᵗʰ centuries, a unit used to describe an amount of coal, used to calculate the rent or royalty to be paid by the coal miners to the owner of the land on which the mine lay. The ten originated as the capacity of the shallow-draft boats used to transport coal down the River Tyne to be shipped from Newcastle.

In the 17ᵗʰ century, a keel carried 10 chaldrons, about 10 score bolls.

Over time the ten grew from about 300 bolls to about 450 in the middle of the 18ᵗʰ century.

The ten belongs to a very small class of units that during their entire lifetime have been simultaneously units of mass and of capacity, which is possible only when the unit has been used exclusively to measure a single substance of relatively fixed density.



It is manifest that the keel and the ten were at this period synonymous, and that the keel carried ten of those chaldrons, the size of which is afterwards particularly specified in the Act of 30 Car. II., and which constituted the then Newcastle chaldron. It is also clear that the keel-load consists of ten scores of the bolls of that period, twenty-one to a score.† And we are thus enabled to trace the origin of that singular denomination of quantity and weight, the modern ten, which continues to be generally used in calculating the rents of coal mines in the North of England. After the introduction of railways in the middle of the seventeenth century, the ten is referred sometimes to the fother, or waine, and sometimes to the waggon. I find in a lease, Tempest to Emerson (1684), a ten specified to be “forty fothers, each fother a wain-load containing seven bolls and one bushel of coals at the pits, Newcastle usual coal measure.” This is three hundred bolls. In an undertaking by Albert Silvertop (1703), the ten is declared to consist of “twenty-five waggons of fifteen bolls to the waggon:” this is 375 bolls. The present ten appears to have become fixed towards the middle of the last century. In 1755, in an estimate to work the Brunton colliery in the Whorlton seam, by John Watson, the ten is stated as “twenty-two waggons of twenty bolls each,” being 440 bolls. In 1756, in an estimate to work Hartley colliery, the ten is made to consist of “ten score of eighteen peck corves,” which is equal to 450 bolls.

The enlarged capacity of the Ten is capable of explanation on the ground that, as mining facilities increased, the bowle or barrowe was replaced by vessels of larger content; the sixteen peck corf, for example, was generally employed in drawing coals during the last century, and as the sixteen peck corf contains two bolls, ten score of those corves are equal to 420 bolls, which is still a common size of the Ten.

†These bolls were less than those of 12 Queen Anne, in the ratio of 100 to 91.

T. John Taylor.
The archaeology of the coal trade.
Memoirs chiefly Illustrative of the History and Antiquities of Northumberland, Communicated to the Annual Meeting of the Archæological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, held at Newcastle-on-Tyne, in August 1852. Vol. 1.
London: Bell and Daldy, 1858.
Pages 169-170.

The modern reader may appreciate some help with Taylor's arithmetic.

1684 lease: 40 fothers of 7 bolls + bushel. A bushel being half a boll, seven bolls plus a bushel may be described in modern terms as 7.5 bolls. 7.5× 40 = 300 bolls.

1703 (Silvertop): 25 waggons of 15 bolls = 25 × 15 = 375 bolls.

1755 Watson: 22 waggons of 20 bolls each = 22 × 20 = 440 bolls.

1756 Hartley: 10 score of 18 peck corves. Each 18-peck corf is 2.25 bolls. Ten × 2.25 × 20 = 450 bolls.

10 score of 16-peck corves: 16 pecks is 2 bolls, but the “score” in this case is not 20 but 21. Ten × 21 × 2 = 420 bolls


TEN.-A measure of coals upon which the lessor's rent is paid. It usually consists of 440 bolls of 8 pecks each, but varies under different landlords, generally within the range of from 418 to 440 bolls; it rises, however, as high as 550 bolls. As the weight of a boll of coals (See Chaldron) is 2.35284 cwts., the weight of the ten of 440 bolls is 51.76428 tons.

The ten is also defined by weight as to consist of 18 1/3 Newcastle chaldrons of 53 cwt. In this case the weight of the ten is 48.58333 cwt. but this [is] not a ten of 440 bolls.

In some leases the ten is fixed at 50 tons.

G. C. Greenwell.
A Glossary of Terms Used in the Coal Trade of Northumberland and Durham. Third Edition.
London: Bemrose & Sons, 1888.


TEN, a measure of coals upon which the lessor's rent or royalty is paid. In the seventeenth century the term meant ten score bolls, barrows, or corves of coal. It now means usually about fifty-one and three-quarter tons, but varies in places.

Richard Oliver Hesop.
Northumberland Words. A Glossary of Words used in the County of Northumberland and on the Tyneside. Vol. 2.
London: Published for the English Dialect Society by Henry Frowde, 1893-1894.

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