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Little 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.

Domesday Book records two manors or holdings in Little Barford. The first of these was held by the Benedictine Abbey of Ramsey [Huntingdonshire] and comprised five hides tenanted by Eudo the Steward, Eudo Dapifer (who had seventeen manors in the county held directly from the King and others in other counties); he sublet it to a man named Osbern. The manor comprised nine villagers, four smallholders and three slaves - a total of sixteen heads of household and so this figure should be multiplied by a factor of at least four to allow for wives and children - perhaps around sixty to seventy people. The manor contained a mill worth twelve shillings and a hundred and twenty five eels. This, presumably, lay on the River Great Ouse as the only mills in England at the time were watermills.

The abbey had held the manor in 1066 when it was worth £4, the value had sunk to £3 "when acquired" (presumably when William I allowed the abbey to continue its ownership) though this had risen to £4 again 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 manor was held by a man named Osbern, son of Walter and it seems a reasonable guess that he was also the Osbern who was subleasing Ramsey Abbey's manor from Eudo, although an Osbern, son of Richard and an Osbern Fisher were also manor holders in Bedfordshire. Osbern held his manor without a tenant and it comprised three hides and contained four villagers, two smallholders and five slaves - say 45 people or so. The manor had been held by Wulfmer of Eaton, a thegn of King Edward the Confessor in 1066 and had been worth sixty shillings, which had fallen to forty shillings when Osbern acquired it, rising to sixty shillings again by 1086.