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At the root of these words is ‘gree’, a Middle English term for ‘step’ that is said to be obsolete in England. Apparently it still survives in Scotland where it has the sense of ‘first place’. It derives from Old French, and can be compared with ‘degree’. ‘Grece’ was therefore a plural, referring to steps or a flight of steps, and it is found commonly from before 1300: the ‘grece’ mentioned in the Cursor Mundi had ‘steppis fijftene’. In Ripon in 1396-7 a carpenter was working on j cameram et j grece and in a Stokesley will of 1497 a gentleman asked to be beried in the qwer … at the grece befor Saint Petyr. Elsewhere there is a reference in 1499 to standinge at the chaumbre grecefotte, Wighill and in 1501 to a grece ... festened unto a tenement, York. It was the usual word for the space at the head of the staircase: 1558 one standing bed stede being in the grecehed chamer, Great Smeaton

1583 In the chamber over grese head, Ripon. The double plural ‘greces’ is also on record throughout much the same period: 1485 the Mynster gresses in York. The word occurred in numerous minor place-names, some of which survive. These probably include Greestone Stairs, the steep alley in Lincoln that runs between the cathedral and Lindum Hill.

spellings greces
dates 1396-1397 1485 1497 1499 1501 1558 1583

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