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If there is one date in history everyone knows, it is probably 1066. Thanks to the events of that year, William, Duke of Normandy had turned himself into William, King of England. William knew he had a kingdom and a rich one at that – but what exactly did he own? And how could he guarantee the income necessary to keep the kingdom going? He had of course passed out a lot of lordships to his key followers (for example, Drogo de la Beuvriere was installed as Lord of Holderness), so how did he make sure those followers rendered him the appropriate fees and dues for what they held from him? After all, the basis of the feudal system that was evolving at the time was payment and service to the superior lord.

The answer was to compile a register of everything in England. William commissioned this at Christmas 1085 and additional impetus may have been given to the project with concerns about invasions from abroad, necessitating a full inventory of defences. Within a year, thanks to a remarkable organisational effort, the surveys had largely been carried out. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the great running record of those times, tells us how thoroughly the surveyors did their work. We are told that ‘…there was no single hide nor virgate of land, nor indeed…one ox nor one cow nor one pig which was left out...’.

The formal record – what became known a Domesday Book – was then written up (the final version by a single scribe). By September 1087, when William died, it was largely complete though his death seems to have meant that finalisation of the remaining records was put to one side and never completed.

Looking through Domesday from any point of view can be fascinating – looking to see what, if anything existed (or at least was worth recording) in the area where you live can be quite telling for a start.

The survey was county by county with Eurvicscire (those who have been to or know Jorvik will work that out) being split into its three ridings. East Yorkshire, then as now, had a good deal of quality farmland and valuable properties. But today’s metropolis of Hull doesn’t feature in Domesday, being largely swamp and marsh in those days!

The counties were split into Wapentakes (a Danish system) or Hundreds. These units may well be linked to landholdings but weren’t necessarily continuous areas, some having detached areas. The Wicstun Hundred, for example, included Holme on Spalding Moor and Sancton, as well as Market Weighton – and also Bishop Burton which was in a detached section of the Hundred. Surrounding Bishop Burton were Welleton (Welton, with a small detached area around Lund), Cave and ‘Sneculfcros’ Hundreds – the latter including Beverley.

Reading the original register some names are familiar, some require a little working out:

• Bevreli
• Delton (South Dalton)
• Risbi
• Locheton (Lockington)
• Ettone
• Rageltorp (Raventhorpe – part of Cherry Burton)
• Burtone (Cherry rather than Bishop – the clue being that it is listed as part of that strange Sneculfcros Hundred)
• Molescroft
• Benedlage (Bentley)

The entries focus on the land, of course. Etton, for example, is recorded as having 8 carucates (a carucate being about 120 acres). Risby had six carucates, Bentley two, South Dalton 12. It wasn’t simply about recording the available land – Domesday was very much a valuation document with a view to taxation. There is great mention of the ‘geld’, the main property tax.

Looking through the entries also shows how the hard-working scribe built in some standard abbreviations, key ones being ‘TRE’ (Tempore Regis Edwardi or at the time of King Edward the Confessor) and ‘TRW’ (as will be guessed the time of King William). In other words the survey looks at pre- and post-conquest times, the reign of King Harold that ended at Hastings being subtly ignored.

What the values also tell us is the way that land values had dropped in the period, which in part was due to the impact of the conquest and subsequent harrying of parts of the country. Dalton was worth £4 TRE; ‘now 40s’ (i.e. £2). Lockington had dropped from 10s to 8s. Tellingly Risby was ‘waste’; Bentley was worth 20s TRE but ‘…it is [now] waste yet there is woodland pasture 1 league long and 4 furlongs broad’.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom: unusually, ‘Cotingham’ and ‘Pileford’ (Pillwood – basically now a farm north of Cottingham) records a manor worth TRE £4 ‘now £7’. Perhaps this was partly due to a change of hands: the record shows that ‘Gamal had 16 carucates of land…now Hugh has 4 ploughs there…’.
So where was Bishop Burton in all this? The main entry is actually as part of the entry for Beverley, because it came under the holding of the archbishop.
‘To this manor belong these berewicks Schitebi {Skidby] [and] Burtone. In these there are 31 carucates to the geld.’ There isn’t a separate valuation given of Skidby and Bishop; the whole of Beverley is reported as being worth ‘…TRE £24 to the archbishop, now £14 and £20 to the canons, now the same’. So we can probably deduce that Bishop Burton was productive land and if it had taken its share of degradation, it hadn’t suffered the fate of Risby and Bentley. Separately, there is a note that the archbishop had 17 carucates.

Domesday wasn’t solely about land. There was also a focus on ploughs – an indicator of how productive land could be. The Skidby/Bishop 31 carucates is rated at 18 ploughs. Dalton was rated at six ploughs. Domesday wasn’t a census but it did record some of the people, mainly the villans (‘villagers’ – better off peasants) and bordars (similar to cottars, ‘cottagers’ or ‘wooden hut dwellers’, peasants again but less well off than villans). Knights were also recorded. Bishop/Skidby had 20 villans with six ploughs of their own and three knights with three ploughs. Cherry Burton had 12 villans with 3 ploughs.
As well as the produce of the land, there is attention paid to fisheries, but the rating of these may seem odd to us. Beverley’s fishery rendered 7,000 eels but Cottingham had five fisheries rendering 8,000 eels! Unsurprisingly, Bishop Burton didn’t have any fisheries – then as now the focus was on the land. The pond, even if it was there in 1086, probably wouldn’t have counted as a fishery!

It just goes to show that there is a lot to Bishop Burton. Even if William the Conqueror didn’t get here, his assessors did and his scribes wrote up the village. We have history!