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Eastcotts 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.

The only part of Eastcotts mentioned in Domesday Book is Harrowden and three separate manors were listed under this place. This suggests that they did not include just today’s Harrowden, but also that part of Harrowden which became Shortstown from 1917 as well as Fenlake and Cotton End.

The largest of these manors, six hides, was held by Nigel de Albini. It included fourteen villagers, ten smallholders and two slaves. The manor contained woodland for fifty pigs. In 1066 it had been worth one hundred shillings, which had declined to forty shillings by the time Nigel acquired it. The reason for this drop in value may be that William’s armies damaged the land as they ranged north to deal with rebellions. By 1086 the value was, once more, one hundred shillings. In 1066 fourteen freemen had held the manor, probably the same fourteen villagers who now formed part of Nigel de Albini's estate. This holding later became the Manor of Cotton End and may, thus, have had most of its land in and around that settlement, though, perhaps partly in Harrowden too, given what Domesday Book says.

The second manor was held by Countess Judith. She was niece of King William I (1066-1087) and had been wife to Earl Waltheof. He was one of the few Anglo-Saxon elite to survive the immediate Conquest with all his lands and was, for a while, in favour with William, until he rebelled in 1069. He was forgiven and married Judith in 1070. He rebelled again in 1075 and was beheaded at Winchester in the following year. Judith had three hides which she leased to the Canons of Bedford. The manor included six villagers and four smallholders. It had been worth forty shillings in 1066, when owned by Azelin, a supporter of Earl Tostig. Tostig was the brother of Harold II (whom William defeated at Hastings in 1066) and joined Norwegian King Harald Hardrada in his attack on England in 1066. Tostig was killed by his brother Harold’s forces at the Battle of Stanford Bridge in Yorkshire. By the time Judith acquired the manor it had fallen in value to twenty shillings, but had risen to thirty shillings by 1086. This holding later became the Manor of Fenlake Barns and so may have had most of its land in Fenlake.

By far the smallest of these manors was held by Ernwin the Priest and comprised one hide. The land included woodland for four pigs. It had been worth five shillings when Ernwin acquired it, having been worth double this in 1066. By 1086 it was, once more, worth ten shillings. The compiler of the Domesday Book commented: [Ernwin’s] father held this land; he was King Edward’s man. He does not have a deliverer or a writ for this land, but has appropriated it in the King’s despite, as the Hundred testifies”. No doubt this Anglo-Saxon, one of the few still owning land in the county by 1086, was dispossessed soon after. Certainly, the holding does not seem to have survived to become a medieval manor at any stage and was probably absorbed by one or both of the larger manors,

The combined population of the two main manors would seem to be twenty villagers, fourteen smallholders and two slaves – thirty six people. Of course, these were just the heads of household. If one multiplies this figure by a fairly conservative factor of four to allow for wives and children one gets a population for the area of a hundred and forty four, making it quite well populated by the standards of the day.