Domesday Survey and Lancashire

Domesday Survey and Lancashire

Twenty years after the battle of Senlac Ridge/Hastings, the Duke now pronounced himself king held a detailed enquiry into the way in which land was owned and taxed in England. he sent out officials into all parts of England except the most northerly areas to ask questions about the extent of land under the plough, the number of plough-teams, mills and fishponds, and to record owners and value of all estates both in 1066 and 1086, the year in which the enquiry was being made. This information arranged by counties was recorded in two volumes of ‘Domeday Book’, nearly 1700 pages all told. Lancashire does not appear because the county did not even exist as an administrative unit, but the one and a half pages concluding the description of Cheshire are headed between the Ribble and the Mersey, and the parts of Lancashire north of the Ribble are included in the Yorkshire section. The detail given is patchy and at times difficult to understand, but these three pages of Latin, with their abbreviations and strangely-spelt names, are the earliest surviving description of the land between the Mersey and the Cumbrian hills.

At the time of the Conquest the royal estate between the Mersey and the Ribble was divided into six unequal divisions called wapentakes by the Norse settlers, and hundreds by the English. Each wapentake took its name from the royal manor within its border. The king’s reeve farmed the manor lands. The rest he divided into small estates or berewicks, to be farmed by thanes, drengs and freemen, who paid rent to the king partly in money in service. In Newton wapentake fifteen drengs farmed berewicks. Each dreng paid the king two shillings rent a year in addition to his customary services. In Warrington wapentake there were thirty-four dengs; in West Derby, sixty-five thanes, and in Salford, twenty-one; and in Blackburn, twenty-eight freemen, and in Leyland, twelve. There royal tenants each farmed two or three carucates of land. A carucate was equal to eight bovates or oxgangs, and, in Lancashire though not elsewhere, six carucates constituted one hide. It is possible to give the equivalent of these measures in acres. Originally a bovate was the area of land which one ox could plough each year, probably about fifteen acres, but by 1086 all these measures seem to have become tax-assessment figures only. The different names by which the tenants were known probably indicated different services and duties, for thanes, freemen and drengs seem to have possessed equivalent social status. Lower down the social scale there were villiens, borders or cotters, and serfs.

Domesday Book paints a picture of south Lancashire as an area of woodland and mosses, in which relatively small patches of land had been cleared and cultivated. Many thousands of acres were described as waste and the plentiful pasture was probably very rough grassland. There were no towns at all. People lived in scattered farmsteads or groups of cottages, and there could hardly have been ten thousand inhabitants in the whole area between the Ribble and the Mersey. Today twice ten thousand spectators are considered to be a poor ‘gate’ for a first-class football match. The land north of the Ribble was divided into two extensive wapentakes, Amounderness, centred upon the manor of Preston, and ‘the king’s land in Euricscire (Yorkshire)’, which included the areas later known as Lonsdale, Kendal, Cartmel and Furness. Before 1066 these lands had belonged to an English noble, Earl Tostig, whom his brother, King Harold, defeated at Stamford Bridge a few days before the battle of Senlac ridge/Hastings. Within five years this northern area had suffered two ruthless invasions, the one in 1065-6 by Tostig’s English enemies, and the other in 1069 when the French-Normans ‘harried the north’ as a punishment for revolt. Domesday Book records that in 1086 only sixteen of the sixty-two berewicks in Amounderness were inhabited, and it gives the impression that Lonsdale was a stricken and impoverished land. The area south of the Ribble could count itself fortunate. In 1086 its estates were assessed at £120 a year, a mere £25 less than their value in the days of Edward the confessor.