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Battlesden 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.

Battlesden's first mention in history is in the Domesday Book. Walter Giffard held the Manor of Battlesden in 1086, having been granted it by King William I, who deprived seven Anglo-Saxon freemen who had held it in 1066. The manor comprised nine hides with a Richard Talbot holding the manor as Giffard's tenant. The manor also contained seven villagers (perhaps the freemen of 1066, or their descendents) as well as ten smallholders. This total of seventeen represents heads of household and needs to be multiplied by a factor of at least four to represent wives and children.

The manor had been worth £8 in 1066 but by the time Giffard acquired it this had sunk to £5 and the figure had not grown 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.

Two smaller landowners are noted in the parish at Domesday. William the Chamberlain held half a hide, with one Robert as his tenant. Before the conquest this land had belonged to one Morcar, a priest from Luton, who also held a hide in Potsgrove from the King. The second smaller holding was in the hands of one Azelina, wife of Ralph Tallebois, or Tallboys, and consisted of a hide and a half. This land had been in the hands of two freemen, Askell and Alwin, in 1066 and by 1086 two villagers (perhaps either them or their descendents) together with a smallholder are noted as living on Azelina's land. In 1066 this holding had been worth £2 but this had been cut in half in value by 1086.

The households of Battlesden in 1086 were thus nine villagers and eleven smallholders. This probably represents a population of around eighty people, considerably more than live there today.