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This word occurs in several similar phrases, usually ‘in great’, ‘by great’ or ‘by the great’ and there is evidence for its use in Yorkshire from the fifteenth century: 1465-6 ‘Paid to Robert Paget, wright ... by covenant made in great’, Hull. Similarly, the churchwardens in York paid 16s 8d in 1527 to John Teyller for makyng of ys Chymnay that he toyke [took] by grett. In 1579, alterations were being made to the Kayes’ house at Woodsome and the contract with the mason for ashlar stone is recorded in their commonplace book: I have fest by greatt with Richard Longlay … tow hunderth yeardes of hatchlar. The East Riding farmer Henry Best wrote c.1640: Those that lette theire lands to mowe … by greate pay xd. a land . An unusual by-name suggests that the term may have a much longer history: 1301 Walter Greteword, Thirsk
1307 John Greteword, Hipperholme. According to Wright the expression survived into relatively recent times in many parts of England and Scotland, and it referred to agreements to carry out work by the piece rather than by time.