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Eaton Bray 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.

There was just one holding in Eaton Bray in 1086 which probably covered most if not all of the modern parish. Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, half-brother of King William owned twelve hides and one virgate. His holding included 20 villagers, 13 smallholders and 2 slaves – a total of 35. These numbers would only count the heads of households so to arrive at a true figure for the population one needs to multiply this figure by at least four, suggesting a total population of at least 140, making Eaton Bray a more substantial settlement for the time.

The manor also included woodland for three hundred pigs and an income of twelvepence. Before the Norman invasion a thegn of Queen Edith, Alfsi, had held the manor and “could grant and sell”, it had then been worth £20. It was worth the same amount when the king disenfranchised Alfsi to the benefit of his half-brother but by 1086 the value had sunk to £16. This may have been due to depredations by Norman armies travelling to quell revolts, the first County Archivist, George Herbert Fowler drew up a map showing these diminutions in value of Bedfordshire manors and they seem to point to a broadly south-west to north east movement.