The Hampshire Domesday (1)

The Hampshire Domesday (1) The County in the Reign of Edward the Confessor 1043-66

In the 11th century the office of ealdorman of the county declined in importance. Instead, the most important layman in Hampshire was the Earl (comes) of Wessex, a nobleman with great estates who left the routine work of administration to his deputy (vice-comes) the shire reeve (sheriff) of Hampshire. In the reign of Edward the Confessor (1043-66) the most powerful man of Wessex was Earl Godwin, whose daughter Edith married the king, and whose second son, Harold, was the famous last Anglo-Saxon king of England. Twenty years after Harold’s defeat and death at Hastings, William the Conqueror caused to be compiled his great Domesday Survey. ‘Domesday Book’ consists of two volumes of which the smaller, ‘Little Domesday’, is concerned only with East Anglia; the larger survey covers all the other counties, including Hampshire. This survey is of paramount importance in the history of the county for its object was to furnish detailed information of the financial and economic condition of Hampshire not only as it was in 1086, but as it had been at the end of the reign of the Confessor, ‘On the day when King Edward was alive and dead’, and also to note the value of landed estates if and when they had been re-granted by King William earlier in his reign. The plan of the Inquiry is very simple. Hampshire was surveyed under the names of the great owners of land, including the king himself; within each personal estate thus described the county was further divided into Hundreds. Each Hundred had its own ancient name and its own local court, and within each Hundred the basic holding was the manor, which varied in size and in the geld which it paid. Though this division is not without difficulty and meant, for example, that in order to construct a picture of any particular Hundred, the whole survey had to be used, the record as a whole is complete and efficient, the greatest single achievement of all early English administration. When it was finished it was kept in the Treasury at Winchester, by royal command. The king’s instructions to his Commissioners has survived, and it is clear from their orders and from the results of their work that they were required to obtain as detailed an account of each manor as was possible, who the inhabitants were, if they paid geld direct to the king or if it was paid by the lord of the manor, how much land there was, whether  wooded or meadow, or pasture, if there was a mill and if there was a church. This survey of manors and their holders thus provides the social and economic basis of the essential political feudalism by which the Conqueror ruled his kingdom. All the information was supplied by juries from each Hundred, and other men, too, the sheriff of the county, reeves, priests, who gave additional evidence on oath if required to do so.

In the Hampshire of Edward the Confessor, the king himself was the most important landed proprietor, and his most important separate estate was the city of Winchester, where his position in some respects was that of general landlord to the burgesses of the city. Their distinc­tive burgess tenure was essentially their free right to let and to sell their freehold property provided they gave due notice in the borough court. Property held by burgess tenure in this way paid the king a ‘gablum’, a rent for each house-gable, and the duty of paying gablum passed with the property from owner to owner. It was still being assessed in Winchester in the 18th century, as tarrage. Edward the Confessor obtained this rent from 63 burgesses, but this information is not in Domesday Book. Winchester, the capital of England, was probably too large a town to fit into the general survey and, like London, was left out. Special surveys of the town made in 1110 and 1148, bound together in one volume, the so-called Winchester Domesday, make good this earlier deficiency. On the eve of the Norman Conquest Winchester was a flourishing city. On the north side of the High Street stood two halls of ‘Chenictes’, gilds of knights whose function was perhaps to defend the city. The eastern hail can be identified as the later St. John’s House; the other, western, hail was on a site which was fronted by shops belonging to Newrninster, approached by a lane off the High Street, at the rear of the building which is now No. 85 High Street. Near the Westgate was a house which belonged to the king’s consort, Godwin’s daughter, farther down the High Street were the minters and moneyers, makers of the king’s coin, the money of England, Aelfwine, Aitwardesonne, Alestan and Andrebod, as well as Godwin Socche, the master moneyer. Local government in Winchester was still very much controlled by the frequent presence of the king, but its beginning is indicated by the mention of Winchester reeves and street beadles. This information and much else about Anglo-Saxon Winchester is to be found in the earlier of the two Winchester surveys, which compares the town as it was in 1110 with what it had been in the time of King Edward. To it may be added some occasional references which occur in Domesday Book proper, when the city is mentioned because certain county landowners have financial interests in it, for example the Abbess of Wherwell who had a mill and 31 messuages, and the Abbess of Romsey who also had burgesses in Winchester.

Though the other boroughs of Twynham and Southampton are both individually described in the Survey of 1086, the account given of them is very scanty. Perhaps Hamtun was still on its early Anglo-Saxon site, and not fully recovered from its sacking of 980. Yet its burgesses, apparently 76 in number, paid £7 gablum to the king The rebuilding of the town may have been begun in Cnut’s time, in an area now represented by the medieval walled town. The mother church remained the minster at South Stoneham.

In the country generally King Edward’s royal demesne, the manors which he had not let to a tenant, varied in size and in value and were scattered over Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. He had land at Basingstoke, Hurstboume, Andover, Wymering, Portchester, Rockbourne, King’s Somborne, Titchfield, and Twyford. His queen drew revenues from Anstey near Alton, Greatham, Selborne, Upton, Kingsclere, and Penton Grafton. Her father, the Earl of Wessex, and her brothers were all richly endowed with Hampshire revenues, but the Godwin fortunes varied with politics. The earl was banished for a short time in 1051 and though he was back at the king’s table in 1053 his death in that year and at that table was considered by many to be a fit punishment for his alleged part in the murder of the king’s brother, Alfred. The Winchester annalist compiling the chronicle which was kept in the Old Minster recorded the event with brevity, ‘”May this crumb choke me,” said Earl Godwin, “If I killed your brother” . . . and be died’. Godwin’s second son, Harold, succeeded him as Earl of Wessex.

Amongst other prominent lay landowners were royal ‘thegns’ and courtiers. One of them, Odo de Winchestre, had property which included land in the Isle of Wight and at Chawton, and his brother Eldred was tenant at Micheldever of Newminster and of the Bishop of Winchester. Perhaps the most important of the thegns was Cheping of Worthy who had 14 manors as well as two houses in Winchester and three in Southampton.

The estates of lay owners might vary with political change. Manors owned by ecclesiastics were not usually subject to such political hazards and in Hampshire a fundamental and unchanging feature of the economy of the county even as recently as the mid-19th century was the large proportion of land, the many manors, owned by the Church. Chief amongst these ecclesiastical owners was the Bishop of Winchester himself. It was the wealth of the Anglo-Saxon bishopric which made it possible for Bishop Ethelwold to rebuild the cathedral church of the old monastery in Winchester, and for later, medieval, bishops to make it a storehouse of countless treasures. It is not yet really
clear at what historical point there occurred a main division of the bishop’s property into those manors which provided the resources and revenue of the bishoprics and those which were for the ‘support of the monks’, that is, for the cathedral and priory church of St. Swithun in Winchester. The bishop’s own manors and those of the priory made up the two major landed estates in the county, much of the land being of royal gift of considerable antiquity; of manor after manor it is recorded in Domesday that it belonged to the bishop or that it was always the minster’s. Very few private donations are recorded, one interesting exception being the gift (to Newminster) of land at Tatchbury in Eling by the sheriff, Ezi, a gift made for King Edward’s soul.

Other Hampshire monasteries had smaller but also valuable estates, Newminster, the canons of Twynham, the nuns of St. Mary’s (Win­chester), Romsey, and Wherwell. Many of these ecclesiastical manors were kept in demesne, that is worked directly by the monastery concerned, through its own local lay officials; the minority were let to lay tenants at money rents, though rents in kind were not unknown. Newminster let Comer in Corhampton for the annual rent of wine, perhaps from grapes grown locally, especially since wine is produced today in nearby Hambledon. It is this aspect of Domesday, the use which it records of the land, which makes it so important as a source of Hampshire’s social and economic history. Though the main unit was the manor, that term was applied in many different ways. The huge Priory manor of Chilcomb stretched for many miles round Winchester. Other manors were obviously smaller districts; some are said to have had halls, perhaps the predecessors of what were later and often wrongly called ‘manor houses’. Thus there were two halls at Warnford, two at Clere, three at Knapp, in Christchurch, one at Portchester, with its own fishery, one at Boarhunt, with its own mill.

With the many mills and churches they formed the only permanent buildings in or near the poor and squalid hovels which made up the majority of buildings in Hampshire Anglo-Saxon villages. It is clear that there was much mixed farming and that rivers and forest played an important part in the county’s economy. Forests were not merely waste places where the nobility could hunt; forest land fed swine and produced. honey, timber and rough pasture for cattle. Hampshire’s many rivers were also a valuable asset to those whose estates contained them. Hay, from water meadows, and fish, including eels, were only part of this riverside wealth and the production of flour, from differing kinds of grains,’ depended almost entirely on the existence of many rivers with water-mills.