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Elstow 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 Domesday Book records that Elstow was held by Countess Judith. She was a niece of William the Conqueror (1066-1087) and founded Elstow Abbey. The manor was a small one, just three hides and a half and so likely did not include much of the modern parish. Given that Judith had founded the abbey it comes as no surprise that the nuns held the manor from her.

The manor included fourteen villagers, eleven smallholders and four slaves – a total of twenty nine. These, of course, would just have been the heads of household. To arrive at an idea of the total population one would have to multiply this figure by at least four suggesting a total population of around one hundred and twenty, a good sized village for the time.

The manor included a mill valued at twenty four shillings. This would have been a as windmills were unknown in England before the last quarter of the 12th century. There was also enough woodland for sixty pigs.

In 1066 the manor had been held by four freemen of King Edward the Confessor [1042-1066] who could grant or sell it. The Domesday Book contains the odd comment that "but their jurisdiction always lay in Kempston" presumably meaning that the court which these four freemen, also called sokemen, held was in Kempston rather than in Elstow and so the manor must have included some land belonging to Kempston as well as to Elstow.

When these sokemen held the manor it had been worth £10. When William took it away from them and gave it to his niece it was worth just a fifth of that – forty shillings. The reason for such a decrease is likely that the manor was in the path of William's armies as they rode through on their way to pacify rebellion (perhaps that of 1075, ironically joined and soon deserted by Judith's husband Waltheof during which royalist forces moved against East Anglia). By the time of Domesday Book the manor had risen in value to a hundred shillings, half its value in 1066.