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Voyager Rare Books Maps & Prints

History of the Sikes Hydrometer

From the 1740’s the Customs and Excise and the brewers/distillers used Clarke’s hydrometer.


In 1802 the Board of Excise held a competition to find a better instrument than Clarke’s hydrometer for revenue purposes and nineteen instruments were submitted for consideration. The winning design was that of Bartholomew Sikes, an employee of the Excise Commissioners. Sikes hydrometer was enshrined in legislation in 1816 with the Sikes Hydrometer Act and remained the legal standard until 1907.


The Sikes hydrometer was used to determine the strength of spirits for the distiller, victualler and tax collector alike. It was required that brewers notify the tax exciseman of times when the first wort would be ready for measure. The exciseman would measure the gravity of the wort and impose the duty due. John Tuck an early 19thC brewer said “and if the exciseman be a good fellow, be sure to tell him the time the first wort will be out, and get him a handsome lunch and a cup of ale”.

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