Skip Navigation

Welcome to Bedford Borough Council

Home > Community Histories > Southill > Southill in 1086

Southill 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 Southill as having seven separate land holdings. The largest of these was in the hands of William Speke or Espec. He had five hides and half a virgate and had "two Frenchmen" as his tenants. The holding had eight villagers, eight smallholders and six slaves attached to it and included woodland for two hundred pigs. Sixteen freemen had owned this holding in 1066 when it had been worth £3. By the time Speke acquired it the land had risen to a value of £4 and had added an extra ten shillings in value by 1086.

Eudo, son of Hubert, also known as Eudo the Steward held half a virgate in Southill, with William de Cairon as tenant, de Cairon also held land from Eudo in Stanford. A man named Alric had held this land under Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) and it had been worth four shillings in 1066. This value had decreased to tree shillings by 1086. It is suggested by historians that the reason for the lowering of the value of so many manors in Bedfordshire 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.

Hugh de Beauchamp owned two hides, one virgate in Southill. He had extensive holdings in Bedfordshire and would later be created Baron of Bedford. He also owned land in Stanford. His Southill holding included woodland for a hundred pigs and had been held by eight freemen in 1066 when it had been worth fifty shillings. This value ad decreased to forty shillings by the time Hugh acquired it and remained at that level in 1086.

Walter of Flanders had two holdings in Southill. One of these comprised half a hide of woodland, "which his predecessor held before 1066". This predecessor was, presumably, the unnamed man who owned Walter's other holding. This comprised one virgate and was tenanted by a man named Alric. This had been worth ten shillings in 1066 but had sunk to three by the time Walter acquired it, rising to five shillings value in 1086. Domesday Book notes: "Leofwin, a thegn of King Edward's, held this land in pledge before 1066; but after King William came to England, the man who pledged it redeemed this land, and Sihere appropriated it in the King's despite as the men of the Hundred testify".

A man named Richard Poynant held half a hide of woodland in Southill which the Anglo-Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury, Stigand, had held in 1066. Stifand was deposed in 1070 and replaced by Lanfranc, an Italian who had been Abbot of Caen in Normandy. The final piece of land in Southill recorded by Domesday Book was owned by Countess Judith, William the Conqueror's niece who had been married to the Anglo-Saxon Earl Waltheof. He had rebelled twice against William and had finally lost his head for it. Judith's holding comprised one hide, tenanted by a man named Hugh. The holding had three villagers, three smallholders and a slave attached to it and contained woodland for sixty pigs. It had been held by Waltheof's man Tuffa in 1066 when it had been worth sixty shillings. The value was forty shillings when Judith acquired it and just thirty shillings by 1086.

Southill thus contained eleven villagers, eleven smallholders and seven slaves in 1086. These men would have had families and so the likely total population was around 120, making it a good sized settlement for its time.