Lower Dean 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.
Dean had no less than five holdings at the time of Domesday Book. The largest of these was five hides owned by the Bishop of Coutances, at this time Geoffrey de Montbray. This bishop was also a warrior and fought with William the Conqueror at his victory over the last Anglo-Saxon king, Harrold II at Hastings in 1066. He had land in twelve counties and had dispossessed six freemen in Dean who were now his tenants but had owned most of the holding in 1066. Their overlord had been Burgred and they could not sell half a hide without his permission, though the remaining four and a half hides they could sell without permission. They could also “withdraw to another lord” without Burgred’s permission. Nothing could show the relative freedom of common Englishmen before 1066 and their loss of rights after it. The holding also had six smallholders and two slaves. It had been worth 40 shillings in 1066 and was relatively rare in Bedfordshire in that by the time the Bishop took it the holding had increased in value, to 60 shillings, the same as in 1086. This holding seems to have been largely in Lower Dean and later became the Manor of Nether Dean alias Over Dean and Nether Dean.
Another two hides and half a virgate in Dean was held by Remigius de Fécamp, Bishop of Lincoln, another follower of William I and supposed to be related to him in some way. His tenant was a man named Godfrey. The holding included eight smallholders and two slaves. Again, the value had increased. It had been worth 30 shillings in 1066 and when Remigius was given it but was worth 40 shillings in 1086. A thegn called Godric had been the owner in 1066. This manor was based in Upper dean and later became the Manor of Overdean alias Overdean and Netherdean.
William de Warenne was another of William’s coterie and fought with him at Hastings. He was created Earl of Surrey by William’s son, William II Rufus. His manor in Dean comprised two hides and had been taken away from the three freemen who subsequently became de Warenne’s tenants. Two of them had been able to sell without their lord’s permission, though the third could not. There were also five smallholders and one slave. As well as dispossessing these freemen de Warenne had stolen half a hide and half a virgates from William Speke who “was put in possession through the King and his deliverer, but William de Warenne dispossessed him without the King’s writ and took away two horses from his men and has not yet given them back. This the men of the Hundred confirm”. The value of this holding was unchanged from 1066 at 30 shillings. This later formed part of the Manor of Nether Dean.
Very unusually some land was still owned by the same people who had owned it in 1066. Seven and a quarter virgates were owned by eleven freemen and the value was 30 shillings in 1066 and 1086. A further half virgate was held by Godfrey Dear of Bedford, the owner in 1066 and the value was twelve pence, as it had been in 1066.