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Words In History: Garsom

Historian George Redmonds explains the meaning of garsom - an unpopular word, particularly among those upon whom a garsom was imposed.

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This was a fine or money payment made by a tenant to his landlord. It is a variant spelling of 'gersum', possibly regional, and it occurs regularly in documents of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

In a dispute over land in Nidderdale, in 1521, John Pulleyn was ordered to pay 'suche garsome' as the arbitrators agreed upon. In 1637 the inventory of the effects of Mary Knowles included 'the benefit of the garsom of two leases'.

Frequently, as if it were feared that 'garsom' might not be understood, it is linked with *fine, or with the less usual foregift. In 1551, an incoming Thurstonland tenant paid 5 5s 'in the name of a garsom or fyne'.

In one case a landlord noted that he had 'amendyd the rentes ... of such as had rather soote (suit) do than pay a garsom' (c.1570), a context which suggests that this customary payment was unpopular and that tenants preferred to pay an increased rent. That would help to explain the word's eventual decline.

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