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Great Barford 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.

Four separate holdings for Great Barford are mentioned in the Domesday Book. All were held by Hugh de Beauchamp who, within ten years would be created Baron of Bedford. The first of these holdings was tenanted by a man named Rhiwallon, who also held land from Hugh in Chawston and Roxton. The holding comprised three hides and contained three villagers, five smallholders and three slaves - these were the heads of household and the total needs to be multiplied by a factor of at least four to allow for wives and children - so a total of around fifty people.

The holding contained a mill. At this date a mill means a watermill, as there yet were no windmills in the country, and so it seems as if Rhiwallon's holding included at least some of the bank of the River Great Ouse. This mill was valued at 22 shillings and 80 eels. In 1066 the manor had been held by three freemen of King Edward the Confessor and had been worth £3. When Hugh acquired the manor it was worth just 30 shillings, though it had risen back to £3 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.

The second holding was tenanted by Wimund of Tessel and comprised five hides and "two parts of one hide". It included sixteen villagers, six smallholders and a slave, so perhaps about ninety people in all. It, too, had been held by three freemen and had been worth 60 shillings in 1066, which had fallen to 20 shillings when Hugh acquired it. Clearly Hugh made a considerable investment in the manor as, by 1066, it was worth £10.

The third manor was tenanted by Ansketel the priest and had one and a half hides, one villager, six smallholders and three slaves - around forty people. Like Rhiwallon's holding there was a mill, indicating a riparian location. This mill was worth seven shillings and so was about a third the value of Rhiwallon's - maybe this meant that Ansketel's mill had just one pair of stones and Rhiwallon's had three. In 1066 two freemen had held the manor, then worth 40 shillings, unusually the same value was when acquired and in 1086.

The final holding was tenanted by Theodbald and comprised one hide, three and a third virgates, having one villager, eight smallholders and a slave - again a population of around forty - giving Great Barford as a whole a population of around two hundred and twenty, a large settlement by the standards of the time (around half the size of Leighton Buzzard, for example). In 1066 Theodbald's manor had been held by three freemen and had been worth 60 shillings, this had fallen to 20 shillings when acquired by Hugh but had risen to 40 shillings by 1086.