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Bromham 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 four separate landowners in Bromham. Count Eustace of Boulogne held a hide and a half of land and his tenant, as mesne lord of the manor, was Arnulf of Ardres; Ardres is a small town a few miles from Calais. The holding had been held by two men named Alfwold and Leofric before the Norman Conquest. The holding was then worth twenty shillings. After these native Englishmen were deprived of the land in favour of the French count the land was still worth the same, but by 1086 its value had been halved. The usual explanation for this decrease, common in Bedfordshire, is that the land suffered from the depredations of William the Conqueror’s armies as they moved through the county to crush revolts. The first County Archivist, George Herbert Fowler even produced a map showing the direction of travel of these armies based on the decrease figures in the Domesday Book. This was the only one of the four manors in Bromham to lose in value so perhaps the village was not on the direct path of any army.

Hugh de Beauchamp was an important local magnate, created Baron of Bedford by William the Conqueror’s successor William Rufus [1087-1100]. He held six hides in Bromham and his tenant, who also held land in Biddenham, was a man named Serlo de Rots. This large manor contained sixteen villagers, five smallholders and six slaves, a total of twenty seven families as each of these men would just have been head of household and would have had any number of dependents. Even a fairly conservative figure of three each gives a population for the manor of over a hundred, a good size for the time. The manor also contained a mill (perhaps on or near the site of today’s Bromham Mill) worth twenty shillings and 125 eels. There was also woodland enough for forty pigs. The manor had been held by Alfsi before the Norman Conquest and had been worth the large sum of £4. When acquired it was worth more, unlike Eustace’s holding, one hundred shillings. This had risen to £7 by 1086.

The third holding belonged to Countess Judith, a niece of William the Conqueror, the daughter of his half-sister Adelaide. She was married to Waltheof, Earl of Huntingdon, a powerful Anglo-Saxon nobleman from whom William wished support to legitimise his reign. Waltheof rebelled against his new master twice, in 1069 and 1074, being executed for the latter offence. Judith's holding in Bromham was two hides and her tenant a man named Hugh who also had five villagers and two smallholders. This holding also contained a mill worth forty shillings and a hundred eels, again it may, or may not, have been in the vicinity of today's mill, the book has the cryptic note concerning the mill "it does not lie in this land". The holding had belonged to Godwin, a supporter of King Harrold II (whose father had also been called Godwin) and had been worth ten shillings, the same value as when Judith acquired it. Again, her land seems to have escaped depredations, by 1086 it had doubled in value.

The final holding belonged to one of the king's officers, a man named Osgeat and was small, just a virgate and a "two parts of a virgate". Unusually this man had held the land before the Norman Conquest and was still in possession. The land had been worth five shillings then and had doubled in value by 1086.