In my post of yesterday, I speculated whether jute manufacturing technology and its terminology could have informed the names of beer mixtures which preceded porter and possibly of porter itself. Further reading suggests to me that the mechanized jute industry, both in Britain and India, did not get a start until the early 1800’s. Dundee in Scotland was the location of the first weaving of jute fibre (1830’s), initially with flax and other materials previously used. Later, improvements in machinery and technology permitted various textiles, e.g., hessian, tarpaulin, sacking material, to be manufactured solely from jute fibres. The development of the power looms to do all this must have been a contemporary development or nearly so.
Jute was in trade in Europe from the 1600’s, but weaving remained a cottage industry in Bengal and other parts of the sub-continent until industrialized manufacturing was exported to India from the mid-1800’s. There must have been some weaving in Holland, say, maybe France and maybe England in 1700. It might have used jute, but what types of looms were used and what terminology was associated with them, I cannot say at present.
Attractive as I find mechanized jute weaving terminology to be, unless evidence emerges that in the first decade of the 1700’s, looms were employed in England or on the Continent using such terminology, or at least that English merchants were importing textiles and using these terms in their work, the parallelism with beer drink names must be a sheer coincidence.
One point from the earlier discussion and my 2010 article worth exploring certainly is the meaning of portering in 1700, and what, too, exactly, was a “portering vat” in the context of Georgian-era country house brewing. Dr. James Sumner some years ago suggested to me the term might simply mean, a container to transport articles, but appeared to agree that the meaning was not clear. If, even in restricted circles, portering meant to blend or mix, the origin of the term porter would be clarified greatly, if not the thread drink names. One can conceive that the term “portering of threads” in its textile meaning must have come from somewhere; perhaps in the mechanical arts portering had this meaning for a long time in England. One would need to check…
Pamela Sambrook seemed to assume that the portering vat she identified from a 1700 inventory was used to make porter, the beer, but it is far from certain if this is correct. For one thing, the term porter for beer did not appear in print until 1721 (I set aside here earlier terms such as “porter’s liquors”). If she was right though, it would set back the date when one could conclude porter as such existed.
If “thread” in its beer sense is unrelated to textiles, I might be forced back to the idea that it is a corruption of “third”. Two thirds, or threads, would be a full pot of beer but 2/3rds normal strength. Three thirds, or threads, would be standard strength (3/3), six thirds (6/3), double strength, etc. The thin stream idea Martyn Cornell has advanced is interesting but it seems hard to account for three threads, four threads, and all threads higher. It works for two threads though. I suppose one could argue if two threads was the original drink, drinkers or publicans simply hiked the numbers to suggest something stronger (and more costly) even though it didn’t follow a strict scheme.