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Kempston 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 entry for Kempston shows that it was owned by Countess Judith, a niece of William the Conqueror, who also owned land in Elstow, Houghton Conquest and Wilshamstead. She was married to Earl Waltheof, the only Anglo-Saxon nobleman to keep any vestige of power after 1066, until he rebelled twice against William and was executed in 1076.

The manor was ten hides in extent and had eighteen villagers, twelve smallholders and eight slaves. These thirty eight people would just have been heads of household and to arrive at a guess as to the size of the settlement one needs to multiply this figure by at least four, suggesting a total population in excess of one hundred and fifty – a very good size for the time.

The manor also contained a mill, valued at five shillings and had woodland for two hundred pigs. In 1066 Kempston had belonged to King Harold’s brother Gyrth, who died with him at Hastings. It had then been worth £30. When Judith acquired it the value had sunk to £22 and by 1086 had sunk still further to £18. This decrease in the value of so many Bedfordshire manors came about, it is theorised, by the depredations of William I’s armies as they moved to crush revolts in the north and in the Fens.