Potton 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 Potton, both held by Countess Judith, a niece of the king. The larger of the two, ten hides, was held directly by the countess herself, with no tenant. The manor included a mill, a watermill on the Ivel as windmills were unknown in England before the last quarter of the 12th century, and a "pasture for the village livestock". The manor included eighteen villagers, two freemen, thirteen smallholders and three slaves. These were the heads of household and to form a rough guess of the population one would need to multiply these figures by at least four, suggesting a total population of about one hundred and fifty or so (including the family noted below).
In 1066 the manor had been worth £13, when held by Earl Tostig. He was a brother of King Harold, killed fighting against him on the side of Norwegian king Harald Hardrada at Stamford Bride in 1066. A small part of the manor, one hide, one virgate had been held by four local freemen. By the time Judith acquired the manor it had sunk in value to one hundred shillings but had risen to £12 by 1086. The reason for the diminution in value of so many Bedfordshire manors, it has been suggested, is that they were predated upon by William the Conqueror's armies as they moved north and east to quell rebellion.
The other small holding of Judith's was half a virgate, tenanted by a man named Hugh. In 1066, when, like the main manor, held by Tostig, it had been worth two shillings, but, contrary to its larger neighbour the value had risen to five shillings by the time Judith acquired it and had remained at that value until 1086.
Interestingly Potton had a number of manors which lay in other parts of the county attached to it. Two of these were held by Countess Judith – in Cockayne Hatley and in Everton, and one, Chalton near Blunham, was held by the wife of Hugh de Grandmesnil.