1) A piece of land cleared of trees, intended for cultivation.
The word entered the language from Old French but its etymology ties it to Latin ex sartum, literally the grubbing out of the tree roots. The first OED references are to the verb in 1276 and the noun in 1598 but place-name evidence is much earlier. For instance, the affix of Kirkby Malzeard dates from c.1100 and has spellings such as Malassart that is ‘bad clearing’. References are numerous in charters from that time: c.1148 et duas bovetas in Hilleclaia [Ilkley] cum sartis eidem terre pertinentibus, Sawley
1279 quod nulle … ibidem per Fontanienses fiant purpresture vel assarta, Sawley Abbey
1313-4 pro assartacione apud Kyldewyk viijs
1317-8 de increment j assarti quod Paulus tenet, Bolton Priory. Many of the Yorkshire place-names which derive from these assarts had the suffix rydding or, more usually, rod, e.g. 1360 ‘an assart called Thistelerod’, Fixby. They survive frequently as ridding and royd. 'Essart', an alternative spelling, was commonly found as a by-name from the twelfth century: 1154 et Hugone de Essartis, York. Genealogical work can sometimes link such a by-name with the surnames Royds or Rhodes, and the North Bierley mansion Royds Hall may owe its name to the Jordan de Essartis who witnessed an early but undated Hunsworth charter.