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The Royal Manor of Leighton Buzzard

Leighton Domesday entry

Only one manor is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 for Leighton Buzzard - it was a royal manor, owned and largely farmed by the royal household. It comprised a huge 47 hides and, no doubt, included most of the modern civil parishes of Billington, Eggington and Stanbridge; these parishes were hamlets of the parish of Leighton Buzzard until the 18th century, in the case of Stanbridge and the 19th in the case of Billington and Eggington. The Manor of Leighton Buzzard was the largest Royal Manor in Bedfordshire in 1086.

Domesday Book noted that the manor had only contained 30 hides before 1066. The King farmed 43 hides directly (the other four were held from him by Bishop Remigius, as explained below) and the whole manor contained 82 villagers, 30 smallholders and 2 slaves - a total of 114. To reach a true understanding of this figure one needs to multiply it by a factor of a least four to account for these men's dependents, thus the population was likely to have been in excess of 450.

The manor also contained two mills, valued at 30 shillings and woodland for a hundred pigs. Leighton Buzzard already had a market, making it one of the most ancient in the county - the market tolls paid £7 per annum. The manor paid £22 per annum to the King, as well as half a day's provisions in wheat and honey "and other things which belong to the revenue". It also paid two ounces of gold "for the Queen's work", 70 shillings "for one pack horse and for customary dog dues", as well as a further hundred shillings "by weight" and forty shillings "in white silver" - whatever that may mean. A further ounce of gold per year was paid "for the Sheriff's work".

Wynsi the Chamberlain to King Edward the Confessor had held ten hides here before 1066 which were not part of the manor until added to it by Ralph Tallboys after the Conquest. The other seven hides which made the difference in size between 1066 and 1086 were added by Tallboys after confiscation from Starker, a thegn of Edward the Confessor. It seems a good guess that these seventeen hides were probably in the hamlets of Billington, Eggington and Stanbridge.

Domesday Book noted that Bishop Remigius of Lincoln held the church with four hides belonging to it, which were part of the 47 hides of the manor - this holding included six villagers and six smallholders. The church and these four hides was valued at £4 and had been held before the conquest by a Bishop Wulfwy. This was the origin of the Manor of Leighton Prebends.

Shedding light on the Royal Manor towards the end of its existence is an Extent of the Manor of about 1155 prepared for the Constable of England of King Henry II (1154-1189), who was engaged in assessing all the royal manors in the wake of the civil wars during the reign of Henry's predecessor Stephen (1135-1154). The Extent was transcribed and translated by Robert Richmond in Bedfordshire Historical Records Society Volume VIII of 1924. The translation is as follows:

"Jurors of Leighton: Harding; Albricht; Ordwi; Almar; Herbert; Osbert; William; Ailmer; Hugh [an interesting mix of Anglo-Saxon and Norman French names].

The stock of this manor: Thirty-six oxen each of 2 shillings; and two farm-horses each of 3 shillings; and seven beasts not for draft, each of 12 pence; and two hundred and sixty-five sheep each of 4 pence; and thirteen swine each of 12 pence; and twenty-three swine each of 8 pence; of all this stock the Constable found only six oxen when he received the shire. Sum £9, 9 shillings and 8 pence [six £11/17/8].

On the manor there should be two granges; one of them should be eighty-five feet in length and twenty-four in width including the aisles, and eighteen feet in height to the ridge. The greater part of this grange should be filled with corn and white wheat, and the lesser with barley and oats, but so that the whole be filled. There should be a second grange of fifty-two feet in length and twenty feet in width including the aisles and nineteen feet in height to the ridge, the larger part of it filled with corn and the smaller with oats. There ought to be a building twenty-five feet in length and sixteen in width and fifteen feet in height to the ridge, for threshing the corn, half of it full of corn for sowing and half empty. There should be a building twenty-four feet in length with a single aisle, and a small building to the value of 12 pence. There [should be] two cow-houses each twenty-four feet in length and one shippon [cow shed] a hundred feet in length. There should be two wagons of 4 shillings. To install these buildings requires £7 14 shillings, together with the custom which they have of right upon the neighbouring woods. Two hundred and forty-three acres ought to be sown there on the winter sowing, and for sowing them there should be four score and seventeen soams [a soam was the load a horse could carry], each soam of 20 pence. And of three-month grain one hundred and sixteen acres [should be sown] for which there are needed fifty-eight soams, each of 8 pence, and after sowing there should remain in the granges twelve pounds' worth of grain to make up the farm. Of all this grain the Constable found there only ten shillings' worth. Sum of all the seed-corn £9 10 shillings 4 pence [sic £10/0/4]".

The document makes it clear that there had been severe depredations on the produce of the manor, either by armies, bandits or the local people. What is less clear is whether the buildings mentioned survived though, perhaps, the implication is that they did, but in a ruined or partially destroyed state, hence the reference to the cost of "install"-ing them and the "custom they have of right upon the neighbouring woods" in other words the right to take timber for rebuilding. This would show that Leighton Buzzard and district was quite seriously affected by the wars.

The site of the manor buildings is unknown but may have been in or near The Heath or King's Wood in Heath & Reach, as the neighbouring woodland; however, mention of "the old assart near to Billington" from a document of 1242 in the Diocesan Archive in Lincoln means that area, too, may be a candidate, an assart usually being a clearance of woodland for agriculture. This latter possibility may tie in with the later Manor whch shared the site of Grove Priory.

In 1129 Henry I (1100-1135) gave £56 a year arising out of the manor to the French Abbey of Fontevrault in Anjou. In 1164 Henry II granted the manor itself to the abbey, where he and his queen would later be buried. The manor then gradually came to be known as the Manor of Leighton Alias Grovebury.