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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1968 (SND Vol. VII).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

PENNYLAND, n. A division of land in those parts of Scotland at one time under Norse occupation, i.e. Shetland, where it fell into disuse c.1271, Orkney, Caithness and the Western Isles and Mainland, which paid Skat of one penny to the Norwegian king or local ruler and comprised th or in some areas th of the Ounceland or Urisland, q.v., the Norse silver ounce being equal to 18 English silver pennies. The exact area so assessed doubtless varied with the fertility of the soil. See A. McKerral in P.S.A.S. LXXVIII. 39–80. The term survives in place-names. For the relationship of pennyland to the Ork. Merkland see s.v. 3.Sth. 1729 Session Papers, Petition J. Sutherland (7 Feb. 1755) 12:
He heard it called a Davach, and one half of Land; and believes it is a nine Penny Land.
Sth. 1731 A. Mackay Bk. Mackay (1906) 447:
Each minister should have an equivalent of these acres and grass of one pennyland or £42 Scots rent.
Ork. 1760 Session Papers, Petition J. Morton (16 Jan.) 1:
In different Parts of this Country of Orkney, there is a Division of Lands, immemorially known and distinguished under the Denomination of Urisland, and each Urisland consists of, and is subdivided into Eighteen-penny Lands, so that the Interests of different Proprietors in the same Urisland are distinguished under the Description of so many Penny-lands, the whole amounting to Eighteen-pennies, which completes the Urisland.
Arg. 1791 Session Papers, Cameron v. Maclean (11 Nov.) 84:
The farm of Acharanich, exclusive of Strathhuardle, is four-penny land, and the pendicle of Duchyerie is a penny land, and the pendicle of Clashbreck half-a-penny land, the said farm of Acharanich being in whole six and one half-penny lands.
Sc. 1831 J. Logan Sc. Gael (1876) II. 81:
Arable land in Galloway, and most parts of the Highlands, is still reckoned by pence, farthings, and octos. The penny land is generally allowed to contain eight acres, consequently a farthing is two acres, and an octo is one, or a boll's sowing.
Sc. 1880 W. F. Skene Celtic Scotland III. 226:
In the western districts we find the penny land also entering into the topography, in the form of Pen or Penny, in such names as Penny-ghael, Pennycross, Penmollach, while the halfpenny becomes Leffen, as in Leffenstrath; and if the group of twenty houses, which we found characterising the early tribe organisation in Dalriada, was the Davoch, then we obtain the important identification of these houses or homesteads with the later penny lands.
Ork. 1884 P.S.A.S. VI. 277:
The penny land is shown to be an uncertain extent of ground, but taking good, bad, and indifferent townships together, the average pennyland would [in 1884] be likely found to contain about 8 or 9 acres. As a rule the townships nearest the seaboard have the fewest acres, viz., 4 acres to 1d. land.
Ork. 1923 Sc. Hist. Review XX. 20:
Originally the pennylands included the towmall land only and as the runrig lands grew up around this nucleus, they were at first regarded merely as an annex to the pennylands.
Ork. 1952 H. Marwick Ork. Farm-Names 203:
A cowsworth was a recognised standard of capital value like the merkland, not (as the pennyland) an indication of its skattable liability.

[O.Sc. (Norse document), penings land. 1299.]

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"Pennyland n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 16 Jun 2024 <>



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