1) There is a reference to 'Hurdmannis et Bondis et Gresmannis' <i>c</i>. 1150, where the context makes it clear that a grassman was a certain class of tenant (OED).

It has been suggested that it was then equivalent in meaning to cottar or cottier, that is a villein tenant in possession of a cottage. However, in an extent of Peter of Savoy’s lands in 1280, the average annual rent of cottars was 3s, twice the rent paid by those tenants qui vocantur gresmanni. This implies an even lower status.Direct comparisons can be made between a husbandman and a grassman: in 1461, William Bardsey of Nidd made bequests of one shilling to each of the husbandmen in his township but only six pence to each gresman

in 1542, a husbandman of Scruton was allowed to keep two geese and one gander, whereas a gresseman was restricted to one goose and one gander. The word ‘grass house’ throws further light on this matter: in a tithe dispute in Heworth, in 1542, one tenant was referred to as a gresman, havyng but a gressehows: such a tenant was allowed to keep only twenty sheep by reason of his dwelling hows. One of these grassmen testified that every inhabitant there dwellyng in a gresse howse … havynge no arrable land langyng [belonging] to itt may kepe no mo shep but xx. A survey of Settrington in 1600 listed grasse fermes wich haue Arrable groundes butt not sufficient to make them husbandries. Other references emphasise the status of a grasshouse: 1551 To every pour gerse house in Morton [upon Swale], iiijd

1557 To every grisse house within the parishe which hath no corne growing one busshell of rye, Kirby. Over the centuries the word ‘grassman’ may have developed significant regional distinctions, particularly as villein status declined, but it clearly emphasises the dependence of certain tenants on pasture as opposed to arable. In the North Riding in 1624 the holdings rated as grasse-houses were contrasted with those which had Oxeganges: in 1638, when the tax rate of different properties was commented on at the West Riding Quarter Sessions, properties were rated as follows: for a husbandrye xvjd

for a grassehouse viijd

for a cottage iiijd. This makes it clear that the grassman was not then at the bottom of the pecking order in that region.

spellings grasshouse grassman gerse grisse house
dates 1280 1461 1542 1551 1557 1600 1624

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