1) Small sums of money, paid over to secure a bargain, especially on the hiring of labourers or the purchase of hay or animals, so the word overlapped in meaning with ‘earnest money’ or ‘festing penny’.
This word is on record from c.1220 and is thought to be Old French in origin, although it has a difficult etymology. The plural form was usual, sometimes employed as though it were singular, and it was in use in Scotland, Ireland, and all the northern counties, as far south as Lincolnshire. The variant spelling 'earls
was in common and widespread use in Yorkshire from the seventeenth century at least. In 1612, for example, Mr Cholmeley gave his employee Davison an earles of 6d, Brandsby. In Durham the expenses of hiring a herdsman in 1652 included 6d ‘in arles’. In the township records for Honley, in 1763-78, arles were included several times in payments to labourers working on the roads. In the eighteenth century the word is found in accounts of all kinds, and the inference is that arles were increasingly seen as a gratuity, one of several payments in cash, meat or drink that were part of a workman’s normal terms of employment: 1755 the accounts of a colliery in Tong, included the expense of earls of wood, and colliers to drink.