I’ve been spending a bit of time in my erstwhile home of Norfolk this summer and it only takes a glance to see how historic this county is. But what do we know of its origins?
The Little Domesday Book includes Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. It is much less of a summary and includes more detail than Domesday, although it is more untidy.
Why did it remain separate from the main Domesday Book?
One suggestion is that it was begun first, and that the rest of the survey was cut down when they saw how bulky the work was becoming. Historian Vivian Hunter Galbraith suggested it might have been a local compilation made by the commission and actually posterior to Volume I. It is, apparently, nearer to the original returns, which could mean it was never sent in and condensed and that it is therefore more accurate.
The Inquisito Eliensis
This is a subsidiary source of information, relating to lands held by the abbot of Ely in Cambs, Hertford, Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk and Huntingdon. There is some doubt as to how it came into existence. Galbraith: “It was the return demanded by Ranulf Flambard in 1093, when Abbot Symeon died, and the possessions of the abbey were taken into the king’s hands.” JH Round argued that it was the return of the Royal Writ of 1086 instructing Lanfranc to inquire further into Ely’s losses of lands and rights.
Ely – Photo by Dave Webster
A draft of the Little Domesday Book may have been revised to produce the I.E. Certainly the correspondence between the two is great and the differences are such that could have resulted from errors in copying.
Norfolk Settlements and their distribution
The total number of separate places – 731 – may not be accurate; today there are many villages bearing the same place name, and it is not always clear whether more than one existed in the eleventh-century. Great and Little Massingham were dealt with as Massingham (today, ½ mile separates them.)
Great Massingham – the pond is an old clay pit
There are places about which very little information is given. Perhaps the Domesday record is incomplete, or the relevant details are included with another village, eg: Rippon Hall is included in the measurement of the neighbouring village of Hevingham, but we are not told whether its men, ploughs, woods and meadow are included in the total for these items in Hevingham. The Little Domesday is silent on Bergh Apton. Were it not an Ely manor and therefore in the I.E., we would know nothing about it.
Not all the 731 names appear on the present day map. Some remain as houses or topographical features. Bawsey was recorded as a parish – all that remains today is a church and a farm.
Bawsey Church today – taken from Bawsey Farm
Some idea of the nature of the information in the Domesday folios from Norfolk and of the form in which it is presented may be obtained from the entry for Bircham Newton (Docking):
“Bircham Newton was held by Tove, a freeman, as two carucates. Then as now 4 villeins and 3 bordars.* Then 3 serfs afterwards and now 1. Then one plough on the demesne, afterwards 2 now 3. Then and afterwards 4 ploughs belonging to the men, now 2 ½. Then as now 2 rounceys** and 10 swine. Then 220 sheep, now 540. To this manor belong 11 freemen with 1 ½ carucates and 11 ½ acres. There is 1 church with 20 acres, worth 16 pence. These freemen Eudo his predecessors had; Stigand had the soke. It was then worth 60 shillings, afterwards and now 100. The whole is half a league in length and a half in breadth, and renders 15 pence out of 20 shillings in geld.”
Bircham Newton Church is now a private dwelling
The extent of woodland on a holding is usually indicated by the number of swine it could support – the swine fed on the acorns and the beech mast – providing a convenient measure. Thus the normal entry is ‘wood for n swine’.
The number ranges from 1 or 2 up to 100, with a few entries at over 1000. The larger entries are usually given in round figures, but the small entries are detailed, suggesting exactness.
It may not follow that the swine were actually there – they were just used as a unit of measurement.
A Deer Park is mentioned at Costessey. (Pronounced, should you ever need to know, as Cossey!)
The entries are uniform:- “N acres of meadow”, varying from 1-100 and even 200. Figures above 50 though, are rare. Its distribution is concentrated around the Broadlands – winter floods meaning good crops of hay along the margins of the more permanent stretches of water. There was not as much in the Fenland as might be expected, but many of the streams that drained into the Fenland were bordered by fair quantities.
Unlike meadow, pasture is not regularly mentioned, in fact only in 11 places, and only 5 of these mention pasture for sheep. Of those it is sometimes unclear whether sheep were actually present, eg: “At Haddisloe in Clavering there was pasture capable (my italics) of supporting a total of 170 sheep.”
It is only mentioned in connection with three places. Two lie near to the marshes of the lower Yare and Waveney rivers; the third extends into the Nar Valley which is an extension of the Fenlands. Obviously these cannot have represented all the marsh in a county which includes part of the Fenland and the Broadland.
The pasture for sheep recorded presumably refers to marshy flats on which the sheep fed. But even with these five localities the greater part of the Norfolk marshland remains unaccounted for in the Domesday text.
They are recorded for 1086 in connection with 61 places in Norfolk. Only the number is mentioned – no reference is made to their value, as is the case in other counties. There is usually one fishery in a vill, but 2,3 or even or 7 are recorded. There are ½ fisheries, usually when two adjacent villages shared a fishery and a half is recorded for each. There are some cases where the fractions are impossible to combine. Gayton Thorpe in Freebridge had ¼ but we hear nothing of the other ¾. For the most part the fisheries lay in the west – in and near the Fenland. Elsewhere the distribution is sporadic, and quite often they are not mentioned where one would expect – for example, none is mentioned in the Broadland.
There is no mention of sea-fisheries, although we can’t be certain that those in Hunstanton and Heacham (on the West coast) were not sea-fisheries.
The famous striped cliffs on the coast at Hunstanton
Here again, salt pans (mentioned in connection with 62 villages) are only referred to in number – their values are not recorded. The number ranges from under 1 to over 40. Again, fractions are mentioned, some of which are impossible to combine. At Shernborne in Docking, ½ is mentioned, with no mention of the other ½. The distribution of the salt making industry is confined to the eastern and western marshlands. The big gap separating them is broken only by Burnham on the north coast.
Burnham Overy Staithe
Some villages away from these two regions are recorded as having salt pans but as it is geographically impossible that they were situated in these places it seems that the saltpans attributed to the villages were actually in the Fenland – leaving no doubt that the main salt making activity was centred on the Fenland and Broadland regions.
Domesday entry for Rudham, where my mother now lives – note the mention of the salt pan, and Alain of Brittany, our purported ancestor!
In 1086, 302 settlements had mills. In 13 other places mills had existed in 1066 but had apparently disappeared by 1086. Normally only the number was stated, varying from a fraction up to 9. Of two holdings in Bayfield (Holt) one had ¼, while the other had ¾. While it seems that neighbouring villages often shared a mill, often it impossible to piece the fractions together. (Snettisham is recorded as having 7 mills – Mill Lane exists today, running near a stream.)
Snettisham Mill – the stream runs behind the building
The mills were watermills, aligned along streams. But the distribution is not what might be expected. The areas with most arable land and the most dense population, are not the areas with the largest number or the largest cluster of mills.
Churches are mentioned in connection with 217 villages, apart from Norwich, Thetford and Yarmouth. These can’t have been the only ones in the county – Holt and Dunham were important enough to have markets, and yet no church is recorded for either place.
St Mary’s Old Hunstanton – ‘modern’ – from the 14thc!
There are some hundreds with only one church. The I.E. records 7 places with churches not recorded in the Domesday. Some had two churches and form double parishes today. Again there are untraceable fractions.
Priests are recorded where there is no church. At Hevingham a priest sang ‘three masses a week’ – likely then that there was a church. Normally the value was stated with the number of acres it held, thus at Appleton, Freebridge, “one church with 12 acres, and it is worth 12 pence.”
Horses are frequently recorded, and groups of wild or unbroken mares were found in many parishes. The most common variety of horse was the rouncey. Donkeys are only occasionally mentioned. Goats are recorded for a number of holdings, but the flocks were much smaller than those of sheep, usually under 50, sometimes less than 10.
Cows must have been kept in considerable numbers for breeding oxen for the land, but strangely they are seldom mentioned.
Sheep are associated with the salt marshes. The largest number, 1300, was at West Walton in the Fenland. It’s possible that some sheep of the northwest hundreds pastured on the salt marshes of the coast. Numbers of sheep increased and decreased between 1066 and 1086 ith no real explanation.
There are only 3. ½ at Dunham, ¼ at Litcham, one at Holt. There is nothing to indicate why there should be one at the first two, and no trace of the missing fractions. It must be a shortlist which does not cover all the markets of Norfolk.
The old market place at Holt. Only the street sign – on the building on the left- offers a clue to its origins
Occasionally recorded along with livestock, the number is usually under 10, although 27 are recorded at Methwold. The value is never stated. Beekeeping was important for mead, wax and sugar. The entries cannot represent all the hives in Norfolk. Occasionally a render of honey is stated where no hives are mentioned.
Little at all remains to be seen of Domesday Norfolk. But the traces of this historic county are still there to be found, and Little Domesday survives as a remarkably detailed record of what was there in the eleventh-century, and gave me plenty of clues for modern locations.
Domesday Studies – the Eastern Counties R Welldon-Finn
The Norman Conquest and its effects on the Economy 1066-1086 R Welldon-Finn
History from the Sources – The Domesday Book ed. J Morris
The Domesday Geography of Eastern England HC Darby
English Society in the early middle Ages – DM Stenton
*bordar – A person ranking below villeins and above serfs in the social hierarchy of a manor, holding just enough land to feed a family (about 5 acres) and required to provide labour on the demesne on specified days of the week.
**The term rouncey (also spelled rouncy or rounsey) was used during the Middle Ages to refer to an ordinary, all-purpose horse. They were used for riding, but could also be trained for war. It was not unknown for them to be used as pack horses.
[All photographs apart from Ely taken by, and copyright of, the author]
This article originally appeared on the EHFA blog on 15th August 2016