|Peldon in the Domesday Book
Twenty years after the invasion of England by the Normans, William the Conqueror called together his councillors to order a survey of the country, now known as The Domesday Book. This meeting in Gloucester at Christmas 1085 was reported in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of that year.
... the king [had] a large meeting and very deep consultations with his council, about this land; how it was occupied, and by what sort of men. Then sent he his men all over England into each shire; commissioning them to find out 'How many hundreds of hides [measurement of land] were in the shire, what land the king himself had, and what stock upon the land; or what dues he ought to have by the year from the shire'. Also he commissioned them to record in writing 'how much land his archbishops had, and his diocesan bishops and his abbots, and his earls' and ... 'what or how much each man had, who was an occupier of land in England, either in land or in stock, and how much money it were worth'. So very narrowly, indeed, did he commission them to trace it out, that there was not one single hide, nor a yard of land, nay, moreover (it is shameful to tell, though he thought it no shame to do it), not even an ox, nor a cow, nor a swine was there left, that was not set down in his writ. And all the recorded particulars were afterwards brought to him'.The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle translated by the Rev James Ingram. Everyman's Library
There were seven or eight panels of bishops and earls who, between them, interviewed representatives from all the administrative areas called 'hundreds'. Here in Peldon our hundred was, and still is, Winstree Hundred.
Written in Latin and highly abbreviated, most of the returns were put into what is known as 'Great Domesday', but in Essex, our returns, along with those of Suffolk and Norfolk, were entered in a separate book, now referred to as Little Domesday'. Fortunately for the Essex historian, Little Domesday contains fewer abbreviations and a wider range of information, often listing every sheep, cow, goat and pig, whereas in the Great Domesday much of this detail was edited out in the final version.
An engraving of the two Domesday books from circa 1900
From the on-line site www.opendomesday.org we learn that the King and his family had 17% of the land overall, Bishops and Abbots 26% and tenants-in-chief 54%. Tenants-in-chief who were lords or members of the church usually had under-tenants.
In East Anglia, an area of the country most densely populated, it is estimated that in 1086 there were on average over 10 people per square mile. Villages such as Peldon, would be tiny, there would be isolated farms and hamlets interspersed with fields. Crops grown were mainly wheat, barley, oats and beans. Land use at the time of the Domesday survey was 35% arable, 25% pasture, 15% woodland and 25% other. Grain would be ground by water mills - there were no windmills until the twelfth century.
There are three entries in the Domesday Book for Peldon and, in all the entries, the survey compares the value in 1086 with that twenty years previous at the point just before King Edward the Confessor's death.
The first entry for Peldon refers to 'Samantuna' subsequently known as Sampsons Farm, which stands near the sea wall. The word 'Wenistrey' refers to Winstree, the name of the local Hundred (administrative area) that is still used today.
Samantuna was owned by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, half-brother of William the Conqueror.
Sampsons Farm from opendomesday.org
The Bishop of Bayeux
Winstree Hundred Ralph son of Turold [Fitzturold]holds Sampsons of the Bishop, which 2 free men held as half a hide* and 35 acres. Then as now half a plough. Now 2 bordars [smallholders]. It was then worth 16s; now 15.
*The word 'hide' refers to a measurement of land, traditionally 120 acres, and the reference to a 'plough' indicates a team of eight oxen.
Bishop Odo was also Earl of Kent. He was at the battle of Hastings and depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. It is believed he commissioned the tapestry and that it was stitched in England in the 1070s when Odo was resident in Kent. He acquired vast estates in England, larger than anyone else except the King. He owned land in 23 counties, mainly in the South East and East Anglia.
Between 1082 and 1087 Odo was imprisoned for defrauding the Crown, and all his estates were taken back by the King. On King William's deathbed in 1087, the King was persuaded to release his half-brother from prison. However, Odo took part in an uprising against the new King, William Rufus, in 1088 and lost his lands again, as did Ralph FitzTurold mentioned above. Ralph FitzTurold held places in Kent and Essex from Odo, lands that it is believed he seized from Odo, presumably while Odo was in prison. Odo died in 1097.
Odo pictured during the Battle of Hastings on the Bayeux Tapestry wielding a club
The next entry for Peldon reveals a manor belonging to tenant-in-chief, Swein, held by Odo. In this entry, Odo is not listed as Bishop therefore it is likely to be an under-tenant of the same name; there is an Odo holding land in Tollesbury from Swein.
In the original entry shown below, the old name for Peldon, 'Peltenduna' is clear. Entries are highly abbreviated, one of the most common being
T. R. E. standing for the Latin Tempore Regis Edwardi 'in the time of King Edward'.
Odo holds Peldon of Swein, which one free man held in the time of Edward the Confessor as a manor and as half a hide.
Then as now half a plough.
It is worth 10s.
Swein of Essex (in the original text above written as 'Sueno') was the son of Robert Fitzwymarc who was Sheriff of Essex. Robert was a Norman Lord and had been a favourite of King Edward the Confessor; he was then to go on to serve William the Conqueror. He settled in Clavering in Essex and his son, Swein, was probably born there. Robert seems to have helped manage the transition from Saxon to Norman rule and he was able to keep all his lands which in due course he left to Swein his son. The family name is still commemorated in Rayleigh; one of the secondary schools bears the name Fitzwymarc.
Swein was to be one of the wealthiest landowners in the country post-conquest and estimated to be the fourth largest landowner in Essex. In the 1086 survey his lands were worth £255, most of his land being within the Rochford and Barstable Hundred. He built Rayleigh Castle which became his administrative centre and was intended to be a defence against any invading army as well as controlling the local population. It is the only castle in Essex mentioned in the Domesday book.
Little of the castle exists at Rayleigh now, just the earthworks remain of a medieval motte and bailey, the timber building being long gone, although it is believed to have stood for 300 years. Overlooking the Crouch Valley, the mound on which the castle stood is 50 feet high with an inner bailey 260 feet by 150 feet. Both the motte and the inner bailey are surrounded by deep dry ditches. The wooden keep is not thought to have been rebuilt in stone although stone and rubble has been excavated from the inner bailey. The site now belongs to the National Trust.
Rayleigh Castle - from From
Swein became Sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire, a post responsible for ensuring the collection of taxes for the king and keeping law and order.
The final entry for Peldon gives William the Deacon as the owner of a manor and land in Peldon including the church. He also held land in Shalford being tenant-in-chief both there and in Peldon in 1086.
In this entry we see that there were two ploughs belonging to the demesne (ie to the Lord of the Manor) and two owned by the men. There were several words, now no longer used, to denote fine distinctions between peasants but essentially a 'villan' (which seems to be the word now used for villein) was a villager and a 'bordar' a smallholder. A 'sokeman' was halfway between a free tenant and a bonded one. He paid taxes on his land but also owed service to his Lord.
William the Deacon Winstree Hundred, Peldon
Thorkil, a free man, held Peldon in the time of Edward the Confessor as a manor and as 5 hides. Then as now 2 ploughs in demesne and the men 2 ploughs. Then 4 villagers[villans]; now 3. Then 9 bordars [smallholders]; now 10. Then 2 slaves now 4. Woodland for 60 pigs, 1 saltpan and 1 church with 30 acres. Then as now half a plough and 1 sokeman with 17 acres. Of these 5 hides, Hamo the steward took away 80 acres of arable land and 200 acres of marsh, all of which belonged to this manor in the time of Edward the Confessor and after the arrival of King William, as the Hundred testifies. And we have received the appropriation (to be placed) into the king's hands. The abovesaid manor with all this was then, and when received, worth £6, and now it is worth 100s. And that which was taken away from it is worth 20s.
Thorkil is clearly someone of Danish origin but nothing else is known about him.
Hamo the Steward, son of a Norman noble, was a leading official during the eleventh century and had extensive landholdings in Essex, Kent and Surrey, the largest being Essex.
He was Steward to the King, certainly from 1069, and was appointed Sheriff of Kent in 1077, holding the post until his death circa 1100.
Hamo was sued in 1076 when, acting as the King's agent and with the King's licence he took lands for Bishop Odo of Bayeux. Is this what is being referred to in the entry above? He did, however, continue to act as the King's steward both for William I and his son William II, known as William Rufus.
The Domesday Book could only be a snapshot of the country at the point of the survey and land ownership was to change very quickly and repeatedly. Its scope was unparalleled in Europe.
It was not until a Return of Owners of Land known as the 'Modern Domesday' was taken in 1873, nearly 800 years later, that the first complete post-Domesday picture of the distribution of landed property was taken.
Peldon History Project
"The Domesday Book: Essex" Phillimore
Return of Owners of Land 1873
"The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle" translated by the Rev James Ingram. Everyman's Library