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Woburn 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 majority of the land in Woburn was held by Walter Giffard, Lord of Longueville and Norman companion of William the Conqueror. Gifford’s son, also Walter, was created 1st Earl of Buckingham in 1097. His Woburn holding contained ten hides and his tenant was Hugh de Bolbec. The holding contained eight villagers, seven smallholders and four slaves. These nineteen people would been the heads of households and to get a vague idea of the true figure the number should be multiplied by at least four to account for dependents so the real population may have been around eighty, slightly less than the average for a Bedfordshire village at this period.

The holding included woodland for a hundred pigs. It was valued at 100 shillings. This was significantly less than the value when Giffard acquire it, which had been £12. The reason for this has often been given as the despoiling of land by William’s armies as they moved north and east to quell revolts. The land had been worth even more in 1066 when it was held by a thegn of King Edward the Confessor called Alric – it had then been worth £15. The Domesday Book notes “in this manor were six freemen; they held two hides of the land (meaning, presumably, that Alric had the other eight), they could do what they would with them”. Alric and these six freemen were all deprived of their land so that it could be given to Giffard.

Herbert, a reeve of William I’s, also held three virgates of land in Woburn along with half a hide in Eversholt and a hide in Potsgrove. “He holds these lands in the King’s administration; they did not lie there before 1066, but since Ralph Tallboys was Sheriff; he states that he has had them by the King’s assent". These lands held one villager’s family and were worth six shillings. When acquired they had been worth twenty shillings and in 1066, when held by five freemen, they were also worth twenty shillings.