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Old Warden 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.

Three holdings are recorded in Old Warden by Domesday Book. The first of these was held by William Speke or Espec who held the manor without a tenant. His holding comprised nine hides and contained a mill worth twelve shillings, which would have been a watermill as windmills were unknown in England in 1086. Eighteen villagers, four smallholders and four slaves were attached to the manor. It had belonged to eight freemen in 1066 and had been worth £8. This value had fallen to £6 when Speke acquired it and remained at that level in 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.

Another holding in Old Warden was in the hands of a man named Ralph de L'isle and, again, he held it without a tenant. The holding comprised one and a half virgates and "lies in Biggleswade; it is assessed there. Before 1066 the holder could neither sell nor grant without the permission of the holder of Biggleswade" who had been the last Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Canterbury - Stigand, who was deposed by the Normans in 1070.

The final piece of land in Old Warden mentioned in Domesday was half a hide belonging to Azelina, wife of Ralph Tallboys and being part of her marriage portion (land bought to the marriage by a woman which would still be hers in the event of the death of her husband). Her tenant was Walter the Monk who had a smallholder working it. In 1066 it had belonged to Goding "Edric the Bald's man" and had been worth 20 shillings. By the time Azelina acquired it the value had fallen to 10 shillings and remained at this level in 1086.

Altogether Old Warden contained eighteen villagers, five smallholders and four slaves - a total of twenty seven. Most of these men would have had families, suggesting a good sized population of just over a hundred people.