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Kensworth 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.

Kensworth, then, of course, in Hertfordshire, was held by Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London. It had ten hides, eight villagers, three smallholders, three slaves and woodland for a hundred pigs. The numbers of people are the heads of household and need to be multiplied by a factor of at least four to give some idea of the population – perhaps around sixty.

The holding had been worth a hundred shillings when Saint Paul’s acquired it, the same as in 1066 but by 1086 the value had fallen to seventy shillings. This decrease in value, common in Bedfordshire, is usually ascribed to the depredations of William’s armies as they marched north and east to put down rebellions. In 1066 the land had been held by a man named Aelfric, a follower of Earl Waltheof of Northumbria, who was executed by William I in 1076.