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Wootton 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.

Wootton was owned in 1086 by Albert of Lorraine (or Lotharingia as it was then known). The manor comprised ten hides and had twenty villagers and six slaves. This figure just represents heads of households and needs to be multiplied by a factor of at least four to find the total population, suggesting that it must have been in excess of a hundred, a good-sized population for the time.

The manor included woodland to graze four hundred pigs. It had been worth £10 15 shillings in 1066 when it was owned by Ælmer, a follower of Earl Tostig. Tostig was a brother of King Harold, the man William had defeated and killed at Hastings. Tostig had himself been killed by Harold a few weeks before Hastings at the battle of Stamford Bridge near York, having treacherously joined Norwegian king Harald Hardrada in invading England. When Albert acquired the manor it had sunk in value to £8 but had regained some of that lost value, being worth £10 in 1086. The theory runs that so many Bedfordshire manors declined in value after 1066 because they suffered the ravages of Norman armies riding to crush rebellions.

Another manor of three hides in Shelton “was and is a member of Wootton”. It, too, was held by Albert de Lorraine. It contained seven villagers and four slaves, with enough woodland to graze one hundred pigs. In 1066, when it, too, was held by Ælmer, it had been worth 45 shillings, which had sunk to 20 shillings when Albert acquired it, though by 1086 the value had risen again to 40 shillings.