The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

The Domesday Survey

From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 42

August to September 1986

Domesday and Lenton

1986 marks the 900th year since the Domesday survey was carried out. So now seems a highly appropriate time to include an article on the Domesday survey and Lenton. This has been written for us by Graham Black of the Castle Museum Service and co-author of The Nottinghamshire Domesday, a reader's guide.

At Christmas 1085 William the Conqueror was at Gloucester. There '...the King had much thought and very deep discussion with his Council about this country - how it was occupied or with what sort of people. Then he sent his men over all England into every shire...'. The task the king set his men was to record in detail his own lands and resources and those of his greatest lords, and compare them in value with the period before the Norman Conquest. The result was the Domesday Book, completed in 1086 and therefore 900 years old in 1986.

William the Conquer as depicted in the Bayeux tapestry.

Twenty years earlier, in 1066, Duke William of Normandy had defeated and killed King Harold of England at the Battle of Hastings, and taken the throne for himself. This one battle, however, did not complete the conquest of England. Uprisings against the Normans were led by King Harold's sons and other surviving English nobles, and there were threats of invasion from Scotland and Denmark. William responded ruthlessly. He started a massive castle-building programme to control the land. Uprisings were put down with great force and much of northern England was laid waste in 1069-70 after the third rebellion there. As late as 1085 England was threatened by a Danish invasion. William ordered that whole coastal areas should be destroyed so that the attackers would have no food. To guarantee the success of the conquest William needed his own followers in positions of power around the country. In the years before 1066 the English kings had created a system of 'over-lords' who had special responsibilities and in return received dues known as 'customs' from the smaller land-owners. What William did was to dispossess this ruling class and replace it with his own men, the 'tenants-in-chief'. The same thing happened in the Church. By 1086 only one English bishop remained, Wulfstan of Worcester.

Dramatic change therefore followed the Norman Conquest. However, the estates granted to these foreigners who replaced the English ruling class were so fragmented that neither they nor the crown could have known the total wealth involved. At Gloucester in 1085 the king's 'very deep discussion with his Council about this country' must have convinced him that he needed an up-to-date record of the annual dues he could expect from the lands of his tenants-in-chief. Because in certain circumstances he could regain full control of that land, he also needed to know the value of his estates to his tenants. The Domesday survey consists, therefore, of a detailed return of the rents and resources of, first, the king's own lands, followed by those of his archbishops, bishops, earls, barons and other tenants-in-chief, whose names are set out in a numbered list at the head of each county. This arrangement allowed the king's officials to refer to any information they needed at a glance.

To carry out the survey, the king divided the country into a number of areas or 'circuits'. There were at least seven and, possibly, nine. Nottinghamshire was in circuit 6, along with Derbyshire, Huntingdonshire, Lincolnshire, Roteland (part of which later became Rutland) and Yorkshire. A separate team of investigators was sent to survey each circuit. They sat only in shire towns, such as Nottingham, or at a few convenient points in the larger shires. Here public hearings with sworn witnesses were used to confirm existing written records. Most information, however, was brought to the investigators directly, by officials of the great lords. Scribes copied this down in 'back-room sessions'.

The information recorded by all the investigators was then sent to the royal treasury at Winchester. Here a final version of the survey was written. This work may possibly have been done by one man - Samson, a royal chaplain who later became bishop of Worcester. It is likely that the task was never finished, as there are actually two volumes to Domesday Book. One, known as 'Great Domesday' is probably the final text and covers most of England south of the river Tees, including Nottinghamshire. The other, known as 'Little Domesday' covers only East Anglia and is probably the original version sent by the investigators from that area to Winchester. There is no record at all for London or Winchester, the chief towns of the realm.

On 1 August 1086 King William arrived in Salisbury for a meeting of his Council, within the defences today known as Old Sarum. It is probable that the survey records were brought to him there. All of his greatest lords were present. They swore loyalty to William and agreed that the great manuscript was a true record of the lands they held. Shortly afterwards William sailed to France, where he died in 1087.

At first the survey was called simply a 'descriptio', or 'writing down', but it was already being called Domesday Book by the 1170s. It is a unique, detailed record of England in the 11th century. No other country in Europe has anything similar of this early date and it was only made possible here by a combination of the quality of the existing English administration and the driving personality of William himself.

The Domesday record is a very difficult text, which it is impossible to understand without guidance. The Nottinghamshire survey, which takes up fourteen 'folios' or sheets in Great Domesday, shows how the account was drawn up. To save space many techniques were used to compress the records, including shortening every word in regular use. Because it was completed in great haste there are many additions, alterations, deletions, omissions, duplications and gaps left for information that never arrived.

There are three Domesday entries for Lenton: one for land held by the king and two for land of William Peverel, the custodian of Nottingham Castle. One of the entries reads as follows:

(BROXTOW Wapentake) M. In LENTON Wulfnoth had 4 bovates of land to the geld. Land for ½ plough. Now in William's charge. Wulfnoth has 1 plough and 1 villein and 1 bordar who have 1 plough. 1 mill, 10s.; meadow 10 acres; underwood 10 acres. Value before 1066, 10s.; now 15s.

Let me take the reader through this particular entry.

Nottinghamshire was divided into eight administrative districts called wapentakes. In the Domesday survey the lands held by each lord were described wapentake by wapentake. As you can see Lenton lay in the administrative district of Broxtow.

The letter 'M' stands for 'manor', showing that the lord had a hall here to which tenants came to pay their dues. A 'B' would have referred to a 'berewick', that is lord's land without a hall. An 'S' meant 'sokeland' over which the lord only had limited rights.

The place-name 'Lenton' comes next. It is essential to realise that this refers to the 'vill' of Lenton, not to a village. A vill was the smallest unit of local administration. It is certainly likely that there were some nucleated villages in Nottinghamshire in the 11th century, but equally certain that many people lived in small hamlets or isolated farms, a number of which might have formed a single vill.

The record then states that Wulfnoth held the land before the Norman Conquest and that the tax assessment was '4 Bovates of land to the geld'. The national tax system, or 'geld', was in existence in England long before the Norman Conquest. It was not dissimilar to today's rates system. The county was given an artificial valuation in terms of 'carucates' ('hides' in southern England) and the king could then raise a geld in terms of shillings per carucate. There were eight bovates to a carucate so this particular estate was assessed at ½ carucate for tax.

There is said to be 'land for ½ plough'. In theory a 'carucate' was the amount of arable land needed to support a family. It should take one plough, and the team of oxen necessary to pull it, to farm that land. The estate was assessed at ½ carucate for tax and this should therefore require a ½ plough. As stated above, however, the carucate was really an artificial valuation. By saying there is 'land for ½ plough' the Domesday investigators may actually mean that the estate is paying the correct amount of tax, but this is all very uncertain. Later on in the record it states that there are actually two plough teams on the estate and we cannot tell whether this is also a part of the tax message or a statement of fact.

The estate is 'now in William's charge'. 'Now' is, of course, 1086. 'William' is William Peverel, the custodian of Nottingham castle and his landholdings reflect Nottingham's defensive importance. The kingdom of England had been united in 954 by the surrender of York. It was probably shortly after that date that Nottinghamshire was created as part of a defence line to protect the south of England against possible attack from the north. Nottingham was a key fortress in this defence line and well before the Normans the lands around the borough were grouped together to support it. William the Conqueror recognised Nottingham's strategic importance by building a castle there in 1086. Most of the land granted to William Peverel to maintain the castle, including that of Lenton, was concentrated around Nottingham. This probably reflects the land grouping before the Conquest.

William Peverel, like all the other 'tenants -in-chief', or great lords, did not hold all the land himself, but had sub-tenants who paid him dues in return. In this case the sub-tenant is Wulfnoth, and it is tempting to think that he was the same person who held the land in 1066.

Next comes a list of the estate's possessions beginning, as usual, with population figures. Only the heads of a family are noted. The villein (or 'villager') was a peasant who was tied closely to the estate. He would have a house with a small plot of land and a share in the communal holding of the vill. The bordar (or 'small holder') would only have a house and plot. He probably earned a living as a hired labourer or craftsman. We cannot be certain there were not freemen present. They might not have been listed as they did not bring a profit to the lord. Equally there may have been slaves present. Their record is very haphazard. Ploughs have already been mentioned. The other assets were a mill, meadow and underwood or rough grazing. Again this list only refers to those items from which the lord received a profit. The peasants may have had other possessions. Finally comes the value of the estate before the Conquest and 'now'. The sums are very standardised, reflecting the dues the lord received annually - not the estate's true worth.

For those who would like to find out more about the Domesday Book, the following may be of interest: Nottingham Museums have produced a booklet The Nottinghamshire Domesday, a readers guide by Graham Black and David Roffe; Norman Nottinghamshire (NCC 1986) by Mike Bishop provides a brief introduction to the county in the period c.1000-1150; E. Hallam Domesday Book through nine centuries, a fine study of the history of the survey; plus, of course the book from which our three extracts are taken. These are taken by kind permission from the Phillimore edition of Domesday Book (General Editor John Morris), volume 28 Nottinghamshire (County Editor John Morris), published in 1977 by Phillimore & Company Limited, Shopwyke Hall, Chichester.

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