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Houghton Conquest 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.

In 1086 Houghton Conquest was divided into three estates. The largest of these, five hides, was held by Hugh de Beauchamp, later created Baron of Bedford. His estate contained eight villagers, six smallholders and two slaves. These sixteen people were the heads of household and we should think of them representing family groups. The manor had woodland for two hundred pigs and was worth one hundred shillings. In 1066, when owned by seven freemen, it had been worth £7. This decrease in value is common in Bedfordshire and is thought to derive from depredations of William I’s armies moving through the countryside to put down rebellions.

Countess Judith was William’s niece. She owned considerable lands in Bedfordshire including half a hide in Houghton Conquest. She founded nearby Elstow Abbey. Her estate in Houghton included two smallholders and woodland for 25 pigs; her tenant was a man named Hugh. It had been worth twelve shillings in 1066 when held by a man named Leofsi, a follower of Earl Tostig, brother of and traitor against King Harold I, joining his enemy Harald Hardrada of Norway in an invasion of Yorkshire in 1066 in which both Tostig and Harald were killed. The value in 1086 was ten shillings.

The other estate in Houghton Conquest was 4½ hides held by Adelize, the wife of Hugh de Grandmesnil. Hugh had fought alongside William I at Hastings in 1066. Her tenant was a man called Arnold, though he only held 3½ of the hides, the other hide being held by a “freeman”. The manor contained eleven villagers, seven smallholders and three slaves as well as woodland for 225 pigs. It had been worth £8 in 1066 which had declined to sixty shillings when Adelize received it, but had increased in value to £4 by 1086.

The entry in Domesday Book tells us that Adelize also claimed half a virgate and thirty acres of woodland from Hugh de Beauchamp: “The men of the Hundred bear witness that before 1066 this land lay with the other land which Adelize holds and the holder of this land could grant or sell to whom he woud. Ralph Tallboys appropriated this land wrongfully when he was Sheriff”.

This gives a total population of 19 villagers, 13 smallholders and 7 slaves for a total of 39. As this number represents the heads of household, to get an idea of the total population it is probably necessary to multiply this figure by a factor of at least four suggesting a total population to somewhere around 156. This makes it a very substantial settlement for the place and time, Ampthill, for example had about 36 people and Woburn 68.