The Countryside

The English Village at the time of the Domesday Book

A Domesday village In most parts of the English countryside the Norman Conquest brought about no radical changes, although the population acquired new landlords. The great survey of landholding, the Domesday Book of 1086, reveals a country divided up into local government units known as manors, each ruled by a manorial lord who ultimately held his land from the king himself. In most parts of England Domesday Book implies that each manor contained one, but sometimes more than one, village.

The processes by which the English village was created are complex, but in many parts of the country from, perhaps, the 10th century onwards scattered farms and hamlets were gradually replaced by nucleated settlements laid out in a regular manner. Along one or more main streets, house plots of roughly similar size were created; the lord might have a larger plot within a ditched or fenced enclosure and close by there was usually the village church. After the Conquest the lord's residence was often converted into a motte and bailey castle.

Ram from the York PsalterA certain amount of the manorial land attached to a village was the lord's demesne, land he farmed himself and on which the villagers were obliged to work for a number of days in the year. In addition, the village was surrounded by large open fields for arable farming. Each field was broken up into long, narrow strips which were divided up amongst the villagers. The Domesday Book shows that villages also had pasture and common land for keeping animals, and woodland which provided building material and fuel. Mentioned in some entries are mills and industrial facilities, such as iron works and potteries.


previous page  The Anglo-Norman Territories  next page