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Milton Bryan 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.

There were two manors in Milton Bryan in 1086. The first of these was held by King William’s half-brother, Odo, Bishop of Bayeux. It comprised four hides and Odo’s tenant was a man named Ansgot. The population was four villagers, three smallholders and eight slaves. These fifteen people would have been heads of households and so the numbers need to be multiplied by a factor of four or so to find the true number of people living on the manor lands. The manor included woodland for thirty pigs. Before 1066 the manor had been owned by seven freemen, who were stripped of it by the new Norman king to give to his half brother. In 1066 the manor had been worth forty shillings. One of the few Bedfordshire manors to have risen in value since the Norman Conquest, it was worth £4 by the time Odo acquired it and had this same value in 1086.

The other manor belonged to Hugh de Beauchamp, the most powerful man in the county, and contained six hides, held by Hugh’s chief tenant, a man named William Froissart. There were six villagers, three smallholders and four slaves as well as woodland for forty pigs. The manor had belonged to Auti “one of Earl Ælgar’s housecarls” . A housecarl was a personal guard of a magnate or ruler and King Harold’s housecarls were the cream of the Anglo-Saxon army, many of them were Danish or descended from Danes who formed the guard of Danish usurper as King of England, Cnut (1016-1035). They fought with enormous two handed axes and were virtually wiped out at Hastings in a last stand, Auti may have lost his life with them. In Auti’s time the manor was worth £8, by the time de Beauchamp acquired it the value had been halved but had risen to £6 by 1086.

The total of ten villagers, six smallholders and twelve slaves suggests that Milton Bryan had a population of around 112. This makes it, in contrast to today, a substantial settlement in the locality.