Cardington 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.
Domesday records two manors in Cardington. One was held by Hugh de Beauchamp, later created Baron of Bedford. He had six and a half hides and two parts of one virgate. Twelve villagers and six smallholders lived on the estate which also contained woodland for a hundred and twenty pigs. There was also a “park for woodland beasts”. When Hugh acquired it the manor had been worth forty shillings. In 1066 it had been worth a hundred shillings and had returned to this value by the time Domesday Book was compiled. This fluctuation in value may have been due to depredations by William’s armies as they moved north to deal with rebellion. If so the damage had obviously been put right by 1086.
A smaller manor was held by Countess Judith, niece of William I who had married the English Earl Waltheof; he was executed for treason in 1076. The land was held by Hugh from the Countess. The Domesday Book does not elucidate further on Hugh’s identity but it seems a reasonable guess that it was Hugh de Beauchamp. This holding comprised three hides, one virgates and another third of a virgate and contained twelve villagers, three smallholders and three slaves. The value was forty shillings, the same as it had been in 1066 when it had been owned by Azelin, a supporter of Earl Tostig. Tostig was a brother of King Harold of England who had joined the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada in his attack on the country in 1066 and had died with him at Stamford Bridge fighting against his brother. Azelin could only buy and sell land with permission of the owner of the manor of Kempston, Earl Gyrth, another brother of Harold and Tostig. When Countess Judith acquired the manor it had only been worth twenty shillings so, like Hugh’s manor, the value had returned to pre-Conquest level after a fall in value immediately after the Norman invasion.
The total population of the two manors was, thus, twenty four villagers, nine smallholders and three slaves – a total of thirty six. These, of course, were just the heads of household and so this figure probably needs to be multiplied by a factor of four or so to reach the real figure – perhaps between one hundred and forty and one hundred and fifty – a good sized village for the time, certainly proportionately bigger than Cardington today.