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Wyboston 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.

Amazingly for such a small settlement, Domesday Book records six manors, or holdings, in Wyboston. The first of these was held by the Benedictine Abbey of Ramsey in Huntingdonshire and comprised a small area of one and a half virgates "It has been laid waste; value however 16 pence". The land had belonged to the abbey before the Norman Conquest. 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. Clear evidence lies here in this small holding having been laid waste, no doubt its situation close to the Great North Road (the modern A1) accounted for its fate.

Another manor was held by a man known as Eudo the Steward or Eudo, son of Hubert, who held twenty seven manors in Bedfordshire as well as other manors in other counties. His holding comprised six hides, three virgates and had eight villagers, eight smallholders and three slaves. It had been held by four thegns of King Edward the Confessor in 1066 and had been worth £10. This value had been slashed by 90% by the time Eudo acquired it, to just twenty shillings, but had risen to £3 by 1086.

A small half virgate holding was in the hands of Hugh de Beauchamp, later created Baron of Bedford. It had been held by a thegn of Edward the Confessor's called Askell and the value "is and always was" two shillings.

A fourth holding was in the hands of Nigel de Albini whose tenant was a man named Pirot, who also held a manor in Northill from Eudo. This manor extended to nine hides, one virgate and had twelve villagers and six smallholders. It had belonged to twelve freemen in 1066 (it seems a fair guess that these were the twelve, now dispossessed, villagers) and had been worth £10. The value had fallen to £4 by the time Nigel acquired it but had risen to £6 by 1086.

Richard, son of Count Gilbert held another manor in Wyboston. He is also known as Richard FitzGilbert, Richard, Lord of Clare, Richard Bienfaite and Richard of Orbec and Tonbridge. His father was Count of Brionne, in Normandy. His Wyboston manor was tenanted by the "monks of Saint Neot" [Saint Neots Priory had been dedicated in 974 and refounded about 1080 as a daughter house of the Abbey of Bec in France]. The manor had woodland for a hundred pigs and had belonged outright to Saint Neot's in 1066 when it had been worth twenty one shillings, though this had fallen to eleven shillings when acquired by Richard and remained at that value in 1086.

The last manor was held by Azelina, wife of Ralph Tallboys and was tenanted by a man named Iudichael. It comprised five and a half virgates, one villager and two smallholders. It had belonged to Aelmer, tenant of Wulfmer of Eaton [Socon?], a thegn of King Edward the Confessor in 1066 and had been worth thirty shillings. By the time Azelina acquired it the value had fallen to just five shillings but had doubled to ten shillings by 1086.

To judge by Domesday Book, Wyboston had a population of twenty one villagers, sixteen smallholders and three slaves in 1086 - forty men. This figure needs to be multiplied by a factor of at least four to allow for wives and children, suggesting a population of around a hundred and sixty or so, making it a large settlement by the standards of the day, in contrast to its smaller relative size in the last two hundred years.