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Roxton 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 Book records two manors, or holdings, in Roxton. The first of these was held by Hugh de Beauchamp, later created Baron of Bedford. His tenant was a man named Rhiwallon, who also had manors in Great Barford and Chawston. Rhiwallon's Roxton manor comprised one hide, one virgate and had a small wood, enough for four pigs. His estate had two smallholders and a slave and had been owned by four freemen in 1066 when it had been worth twenty shillings. By the time Hugh acquired it the value was still twenty shillings but had been halved by 1086.

It is suggested by historians that the reason for the general lowering of the value of manors in the area is accounted for by William I's armies coming through Bedfordshire on their way to put down rebellions in the north. They would have lived off the land and no doubt have committed certain acts of vandalism in what was, to them, still alien, even enemy, territory.

The other manor was held by William Speke and was very much larger, at eight hides, three virgates. He did not have a tenant. The manor had twelve villagers, a smallholder and a slave as well as a mill worth thirty three shillings and two hundred and sixty eels. Such a mill probably stood on the River Great Ouse as only watermills, no windmills, were known in England at that date. Speke's manor also had woodland for twenty pigs. Twelve freemen had held it in 1066 (were these the twelve villagers, now dispossessed by this Norman favourite of the king?) when it was worth £10. This had fallen drastically in value to fifty shillings when Speke acquired it but had risen to £7 by 1086.

The two manors combined accounted for twelve villagers, three smallholders and two slaves - seventeen heads of household. This figure needs to be multiplied by a factor of at least four to allow for wives and children, suggesting a modest population of around seventy or so.