Potsgrove and Sheep Lane 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.
Potsgrove, including what is now Sheep Lane, was divided into a number of land holdings. By far the biggest was in the hands of Jocelyn the Breton. A number of mercenaries from Brittany fought in William the Conqueror’s army at Hastings, forming the left wing of his army. Jocelyn may have been one of these Bretons at Hastings. His holding amounted to seven and a half hides and contained three villagers, six smallholders and three slaves. These were the heads of households and to arrive at a reasonable guess at the true population the number needs to be multiplied by a factor of at least four, suggesting a population of around fifty or so.
In 1066 four thegns had held the manor and it had been worth £10. By the time William deprived the English landowners and gave the manor to this Breton hireling the value had fallen to one hundred shillings, half the amount. By 1086 the value had fallen still further to fifty shillings. It has been hypothesised that the fall in value of so many Bedfordshire manors relates to the progress of William the Conqueror’s armies heading north and east to quell rebellions, pillaging on their way.
William, the King’s Chamberlain, held one hide from the king which was valued at fifteen shillings. Before 1066 it had been worth forty shillings but had dropped to its 1086 value by the time William acquired it. Morcar “the priest of Luton” had held this land until deprived of it by the Norman king.
Two other small pieces of land were held by royal officials. Herbert, one of William’s reeves held half a hide in Eversholt, three virgates in Woburn and one hide in Potsgrove. These were new land holdings, created “since Ralph Tallboys was Sheriff”. The value was six shillings, having been twenty when acquired and before 1066. Five freemen had held the land in 1066 (presumably separately rather than as one holding).
The other holding was half a hide held by an unnamed man who was one of the king’s grooms. Before 1066 it had been worth ten shillings and had been held by an Englishman called Oswy, a follower of Earl Tostig. The value has halved by the time the groom was given it and it continued at this level in 1086. Tostig had been the brother of King Harold and had joined the invading Norse King Harald Hardrada in 1066, fighting against his brother at Stamford Bridge, where he was killed.