1) A kind of basket or container, typically used for grain and charcoal. They came to be associated with specific measures.
This is a word of Old Norse origin which had passed into English by the eleventh century and was subsequently used therefore over a wide area. In an undated charter, Peter de Brus was to pay to Nostell Priory decem sceppas bladi for the sustenance of one of the canons, that is three of wheat, three of oats and four of barley or rye. In 1225, in Whitby, an annual tithe payment of oatmeal was said to be sex sceppas pacabilis farinć de avena
in 1274 Peter de Brus had the right to one skep of salt from salt-pans in Coatham, and in 1371, York Minster fabric accounts listed vj skeppes carbonum. Similar references to ‘coal’ in Ripon were to charcoal: 1470-1 Et in ij skeppis carbonum vocatorum charcole. Barley is specifically referred to: 1208 j skeppam ordei, Fimber and wheat in four skeppes was paid as a kind of rent for land in Selby in 1404-5. A smaller basket was the the holy brede skepe for which the churchwardens of Sheriff Hutton paid 1d in 1539. The full skep came to be thought of as a bushel, although I cannot say precisely when. Examples noted include a bushel skepe in South Cave in 1570, 1 bushell sckep in Selby in 1679 and four bushel skepps that were used for measuring coal in Beverley in 1755. Also in Beverley, following complaints of short measure, new regulations were drawn up in 1766 to make the skep conformable to the Winchester bushel. The ‘bushel-skip’ was still ‘a familiar term’ in Cleveland in 1868. The likelihood is that the skep was usually made of wicker, that is osiers or other small, pliant twigs, and there is evidence for that in the OED. In nineteenth-century Yorkshire glossaries it was variously described as a ‘round-bottomed willow basket without a bow’, ‘a basket made of willow’ and ‘a basket of willow or flag-fabric’. That seems to be explicit in the reference to one wanded skepe in the inventory of William Myddilton of Stockeld in 1578 and implicit in the entry leps et skeps in the Fountains Abbey accounts of 1457-9. Bee-hives made of straw were called skeps from 1494 at least although the earliest relevant Yorkshire reference I have seen is to foure bees skeps in Faxfleet in 1578: an Elmswell farmer had 15 skepps of bees in 1664. Wright has examples of the word used both domestically and in collieries and mills. A coal scuttle, for example, has invariably been referred to in parts of Yorkshire as a skep whatever material it is made of, a point made by Easther in 1883. On the other hand the coal skep listed in a Farnley Tyas inventory of 1814 may have been the much bigger container used by colliers to haul material up the mine shaft. Watson defined a ‘skip’ as a Box to carry coals in but I do not know if he meant the domestic implement or the industrial skep.