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Odell 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 recorded two manors in Odell. One was held by an Arnulf of Ardres (a town near Calais). He had four and a half hides and a third of a virgate and held the manor from Count Eustace II of Boulogne. The manor comprised three villagers, seven smallholders and two slaves. Each of these people would probably have had a family, giving a possible total of around fifty people. Before 1066 Alfwold, a thegn of King Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) had held the manor and it had then been worth £8. This had declined to £5 by the time Alfwold was deprived of it by the new Norman King and by 1086 the value had sunk still further to £3. This holding, later identified with Little Odell Manor may well have been in the west of the modern parish around Little Odell.

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 larger, more important manor, of five hides, one virgate and parts of a further virgate was held by Walter of Flanders directly from King William I. He had the manor after William deprived its Anglo-Saxon thegn, Leofnoth. The manor contained thirteen villagers, five smallholders and five slaves - perhaps around ninety people all told, meaning that odell probably held just shy of a hundred and fifty people - three times the size of Harrold at that date! This manor also contained a mill on the River Great Ouse worth two hundred eels and woodland for sixty pigs. In Leofnoth's days it had been worth £10, this had fallen to £8 by the time Walter was given it and it was only worth £5 by 1086.