Milton Ernest 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.
Milton Ernest was divided into six different holdings. The largest of these, three hides, one virgate, was held by the wife of Hugh de Grandmesnil and her tenant was Ivo, her husband’s steward. The holding included eight villagers, one slave, a mill worth twenty shillings and woodland for forty pigs. The mill would have been a watermill on the River Great Ouse because windmills were unknown in England for about another century. In 1066 the land had been held by Godwin, a follower of a man named Burgred and had been worth £4. This had decreased to sixty shillings by the time Hugh’s wife acquired it, the same as in 1086. The reason usually ascribed to Bedfordshire manors losing value after 1066 is that they suffered depredations from the armies of William I moving north and east to put down rebellion.
Nigel de Albini or d’Aubney of Cainhoe held three hides less one virgate, his tenant being Thorgils who was, perhaps, given his name, a local man. His holding included four villagers and three smallholders. In 1066 it had been worth forty shillings when owned by six freemen. The value had fallen to thirty shillings by the time Nigel acquired it and remained at that level in 1086.
Walter of Flanders held two hides in Milton Ernest, his tenant being a man named Reginald. The holding included two villagers and a smallholder and had belonged to two freemen, followers of a man named Brictric, in 1066 (the two villagers?) when it had been worth twenty five shillings, which had fallen five shillings by the time Walter acquired it and remained there.
Hugh de Beauchamp, later created Baron of Bedford, held two hides less half a virgate in Milton Ernest, leased by a man named William Basset. The holding included one villager, four smallholders and two slaves as well as woodland for six pigs. It had been worth forty shillings in 1066, falling to thirty by the time Hugh acquired it, where it remained in 1086.
Miles Crispin held sixteen acres in Milton Ernest, previously held by two freemen. Domesday Book states that Robert d’Oilly, presumably the man making the survey in Milton Ernest “placed these freemen in Clapham, wrongly, as the men of the Hundred state, because they never were there before 1066”. So we have a later correction to the original survey.
The final piece of land, half a virgate, was held by a beadle of King William worth twelvepence. Unusually he was a native as Domesday states: “The present holder’s father held this land”.
Excluding the overlords and tenants the numbers of people mentioned in the above entries total seventeen villagers, eight smallholders and three slaves – a total of twenty eight. 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 of somewhere around one hundred and ten, a very large settlement in relation to the rest of the county where many parishes with much higher numbers of people today had perhaps fifty or so population in 1086.