Domesday Book

by Barbara Butler

The Domesday Book - 1086

William commissioned the Domesday book, the first Census of England, in 1085, and received the first draft in 1086. As this system was to form the basis for taxation it had to be verified by a jury of four Frenchmen and one Englishman. It was also used to confirm which of William’s knights and Bishops had acquired land, how much it was worth and how many fighting men he could call upon in the event of an invasion from Scandinavia. So sophisticated was it’s organization and so all embracing it’s implications for the landowners, with no appeal, that they likened it to the Last Day of Judgement or Domesday. The following information is from the 1986 translation into modern English. It tells us most of what we know about Saxon/Norman Witnesham and Swilland in the 11th. Century.

By 1086 the upper tiers of the Norman aristocracy held almost half the land, as follows;

King and family 17%; bishops and Abbotts 26%; Tenants in chief 54%. Leaving 1% of the total English lands for free men. The great majority of large landholders were French friends of William.

The total population of England cannot be calculated; some major cities were missed out completely. It is estimated to have been between 1 ½ and 2 million, about half the number in Roman times. East Anglia and Kent were the most densely populated areas, having 10 people per square mile.

The only castle specifically mentioned in the survey is Eye, built between 1066 and 1086, the base of the Malets, who had 221 holdings in Suffolk.

Leofwin of Witnesham was one of the Anglo-Saxons holding land before 1066.

Queen Edith, who had held Swilland, was the daughter of Godwin, Earl of Wessex. She was Edward the Confessor’s queen, who died in 1075. She was patron of the Benedictine nuns, and it is likely that she endowed the Swilland church, in Saxon times. It would likely have been a wooden structure, replaced by stone, although early Norman village churches were indistinguishable from those built in Anglo-Saxon England. Those that survive, like Swilland church, are a tangible link between the England of 900 years ago, and the England of today. Manors varied in size. There is one mentioned in Swilland. Although there is no record of precisely where, there is evidence to suggest it could have been on the moated field where the original Burghesh House stood. Whether the one mentioned in 1086 was a Saxon longhouse, or early Norman is not known. Newton was a separate vill, having 2, possibly 3 manors.

St. Ethelfreda’s refers to the Abbey at Ely, endowed by the Saxon Queen in 673, destroyed by the Danish invasion of 870, refounded in 970 for Benedictine minks.

Geoffrey de Magnaville, a latinised version of ‘Mandeville’ near Tressier in the Bessin, from whence he came. He held lands in 11 counties, being a particular friend of the King. He founded the Benedictine Priory of Hurley; wives were Athelais and Leceline.His son William was first Constable of the Tower of London.

Roger de Orberville (Iberville) was granted extensive lands, including Henley and Witnesham. He appears to have held the soc for Walter the Deacon’s lands.

Walter the Deacon also held Henley, among other properties, the King and the Earl (Roger) having the soc.

Witnesham and Swilland held slaves, but not Fynford.

Soc or soke refers to land attached to a manor for payment of dues and for judicial purposes. The Sokelands were often large and may be of very old origin. Walter the Deacon did not hold the soc for his lands, which would limit his income.

Demesne was the highest class of independent peasantry, often holding 30-100 acres. They were below sokemen.

Advowson – the right to present a cleric to a vacant eccliastical position, a valuable source of patronage.

Carucate (carucata) is derived from Latin ‘caruca’, meaning plough. It represents the measure of land that could be ploughed in a day by one team.

Acre, or acra, or ager is a measurement of pasture or meadow, often lush, beside a stream, and much valued.

Pig is actually a land measurement, being the woodland required to fatten one pig on it’s acorns. Imagine our villages, their rich pastures and tilled fields, the thick dark forests of English Oak. The pigs were different from today’s, being domesticated boar, small and fierce. A manor was not a huge building, but a one or two room long house, smoky, with no windows.

Sh = Shilling, from Latin ‘solidus’. There was no actual coin representing twelve pennies. Pennies were called ‘dinaru’, and are represented by ‘d’. They were made of silver; one pound of silver made 240 pennies, or one pound sterling. They were cut in half, or quarters to make smaller denominations as ‘farthings’ = four-things. There were golden guineas, and later larger silver coins, but the penny was the main coin for nearly 900 years.. Not until the 1960’s did this money measurement change. The taxes mentioned are Dane geld, raised supposedly to resist Danish invaders.

Hundred (Hundredum) is a large administrative subdivision of land, (suggestion is 100 families) each having its own representative body from local villages. Domesday commissioners collected information from these assemblies for the Domesday survey.



(Sometime Swynlaund; Swinelonde R.B:; Suinlanda, Domesday Book.

From Anglo Saxon, swin, (swine) literally ‘swine-land’.

Adjacent to Witnesham in the south and a Roman Road to the north.)


Queen Edith held SWILLAND before 1066;

2 carucates of land and 40 acres as a manor.

Always 6 villagers; 6 smallholders; 1 slaves (serfs); 2 ploughteams in lordship (demesne);

3 men’s ploughs.Meadow, 4 acres; woodland at 6 pigs.

A church, with 5 acres.

1 cob, 8 cattle, 9 pigs (hogs), before 1066 60 sheep after, 100.

Value (tax) (at the time of the Confessor) 50s; after 70s. It has 6 furlongs length 4 in width; 20d in tax.

(It belongs to) Walter the Deacon in Lordship. The Queen (had) the jurisdiction.


Manor of 102 acres (was held) by Brictmer as a free man. (Now) belonging to

Roger of Rames, held by Arnold. 2 villagers (villains) and 2 smallholders; now 4 smallholders.

Always 1 plough in Lordship. Then and later 2 men’s ploughs, now nothing.

Meadow, 2 acres, 1 cob; then 20 pigs, now 16; then 20 sheep, now 12. Value 20s.

Also one acre in Finesford.

Manor of 40 acres (was held) by Leofson a free man under patronage of Stigard.

1 plough, now 2 oxen. Meadow 1 acre. Value then 20s; now 10.

(Now) belonging to Roger of Rames, held by Ralph.

The King and the Early have jurisdiction over the whole..

(There is some doubt about the Domesday reference to Newton Hall as it is listed under Bosmere Hundred. It is probably Old Newton..)


WITNESHAM, (Sometime ‘Wytenesham’, Witta’s/Witten’s meadow or enclosure.)

Witdentha in Carleforda in Domesday Book (1086)

In WITNESHAM Leofwin, a free man, held before 1066; 3 carucates of land.

Always 10 villagers; 4 smallholders (bordars); (then) 6 slaves, now 5.

Always 3 ploughs in lordship, 4 men’s ploughs.

Meadow, 10 acres; 3 cobs (rouncies), 8 cattle (beasts), 68 pigs, 180 sheep, 30 goats, 7 beehives.

Value then 60s now £12. It has 8 furlongs (quarentenes)in length, 4 in width (breadth), 5d. in tax (gelt).

In FINESFORD Ford through the Fynn (now lower Witnesham)

There are 5 holdings in Lordship; 26 free men under the patronage of Walter’s predecessor; 1 carucate of land.

St. Ethelreda’s (has) the jurisdiction. (Then) between them 3 ploughs, now 2.

Meadow, 4 acres. Value 40s. It has 10 furlongs in length, 3 in width, 10d. in tax.

LANDS OF LEVEVA, a freewoman under commendation to Abbot of Ely.

40 acres, 1 ploughteam, 3 bordars, valued at 6s.


24 acres and 1 acre of meadow, then Tepekin. ½ a ploughteam, a freewoman holds ½ an acre, value 4s.


6 acres and 1 acre belonging to Newton, held of Roger by Ralph.


Held of him by William, son of Sahala de Boville.

2 acres, value 4d. in Confessors time by Halden. The abbott of Ely had the soc.