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Bolnhurst in 1086

Domesday Book was commissioned by William the Conqueror (1066-1087) at Christmas 1085. It was designed to show who held every piece of land in the newly conquered Kingdom of England. It was known colloquially as the Domesday Book because it was seen as being as final as the Last Judgement and as difficult to conceal things from. The book does not cover the whole country - Cumberland, Durham, Northumberland, and Westmorland were omitted and London and Winchester likewise, along with some other towns. A separate book, called Little Domesday covered the counties of Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk and, despite its name, it is actually bigger and more detailed than the Great Domesday Book containing the other counties.

Bolnhurst was divided up into five estates in 1086. The largest of these was two hides, one virgate held by the Abbey of Saint Mary’s, Thorney [Cambridgeshire]. The estate included nine villagers and five smallholders and woodland for 106 pigs. It had been worth £6 in 1066 when it was held by a woman called Ælfled as tenant of the abbey. By 1066 the value was just sixty shillings. This may have been due to the depredations of William I’s Norman armies as they rode through the area on their way to put down rebellion.

The other four holdings were not dissimilar in size. Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, William I’s half-brother and in prison after falling from favour in 1082, held half a hide, his tenant being a priest called Tovi. The estate included one villager and one smallholder as well as woodland for thirty pigs. In 1066, when held by a man named Azor, it had been worth twelve shillings, which had sunk to ten shillings by 1086.

Odo had another half hide in Bolnhurst, this one tenanted by two freemen and containing two smallholders (presumably the freemen themselves) as well as woodland for four pigs. The freemen had been the owners in 1066 when it was worth twelve shillings, which had dropped to ten shillings by 1086.

Three virgates in Bolnhurst were held by the Bishop of Coutances. He had exchanged land in Bleadon [Somerset] for them. The estate included a villager and four smallholders as well as woodland for twenty pigs. It had been worth twenty shillings in 1066 when held by a man named Godmund and was worth fifteen shillings in 1086.

The final estate in Bolnhurst was half a hide held by Countess Judith, William I’s niece. Her tenant was a man named Hugh and the estate included two smallholders and woodland for twenty pigs. It had been worth twelve shillings in 1066 when it’s owner had been a thegn called Ælmer. Its value in 1086 was ten shillings.

This gives a total population of 11 villagers and 14 smallholders for a total of 25. As this number represents the heads of household, to get an idea of the total population it is probably necessary to multiply this figure by a factor of at least four suggesting a total population to somewhere around 100. This makes it a substantial settlement for the place and time, Ampthill, for example had about 36 people and Woburn 68.