Introduction and Method
Summary Table
Bibliography and Thanks
The Lands of the King, Witham
The Fee of the Bishop of London, Howbridge Hall
The Land of Saint Edmunds, Benton Hall
The Lands of Count Eustace, Bluntshall and Witham
The Lands of Robert Gernon, Witham (Powers Hall), Howbridge Hall
The Lands of Ranulf Peverel, Bluntshall
The Land of Moduin, Witham

This is an adaptation of a booklet written by my mother, Janet Gyford. It details the entries in the Domesday Book relating to the town of Witham, in the county of Essex, in the UK. The Domesday Book was a record of the survey of England carried out in 1086 by William the Conqueror in order to assess taxes and find out other details of the country he conquered 20 years earlier. The book is preserved in two volumes at the Public Record Office, London, and its name comes from the belief that its judgement was as final as that of Domesday. Apart from this paragraph, and a couple of necessary alterations, all the material is as originally written.
Phil Gyford, 1995.

This publication is intended primarily as a simple source of local information. It concerns the entries in the Domesday Book of 1086 which relate to the area of the later parish of Witham. It therefore needs to be used in conjunction with other more explanatory works. A brief list of some of the most relevant publications is given in the Bibliography.

Essex is fortunate to have been included in the Little Domesday, which also incorporated Suffolk and Norfolk, and was more detailed than the surviving Survey of the rest of England. This may be because the latter had undergone a summarising process which the Little Domesday escaped.

One of the most important points to understand about the Domesday Survey is that it was prepared in 1086, in order to compare that year with 1066, the year of the Norman invasion. Information relating only to 1086 was usually indicated by one of two methods, namely the use of the present tense and/or the word "m[od]o" (now). Information relating only to 1066 was indicated by three main methods. These were the use of the past tense, the word "t[un]c" (then), and/or the phrase "t[empore] r[egis] e[duardi]" (in the time of King Edward).

Items which refer to both dates are sometimes introduced by the word "se[m]p[er]" (always). Many items have none of these details; sometimes it is possible to deduce that they belong to a list of other items that do have a time given. Where this is not so, they are normally assumed to belong to both dates, though this assumption may not be correct.

The Summary Table summarises the information available for Witham parish, in so far as this is possible in view of the various ambiguities.

The type of information collected for Domesday was chosen particularly to assist and augment King William's tax collecting, so it does not necessarily include matters that we ourselves would regard as having been important. The significance of what we do have is the subject of continual research and discussion. The entries for the Witham parish area include quite a number of the points at issue. Some of these have been referred to in the following general comments, and in the notes on each entry.


 Introduction: Place, Area and Value
Witham lies in the centre of Essex, on the main route from London in the south-west, to Colchester and the coast in the north-east (see map). In both 1066 and 1086, the main settlement in the Witham parish area was the one usually referred to then merely as "Witham", centred on what we now know as Chipping Hill. It is very probable that this main manor also included Cressing, a parish to the north which is not mentioned by name in Domesday, but was to be associated with Witham from the 12th century onwards under the Knights Templars. Their survey of 1185 describes Witham and Cressing together as being a manor of 5 hides, and Witham alone was assessed at 5 hides in 1066.

In addition to the settlement at Chipping Hill, this main manor of Witham included the land on which the Templars were eventually to build the 13th century town of Newland, now Witham town centre. There was also a ring of four smaller settlements to west and south, Powershall, Bluntshall, Howbridge Hall and Benton Hall (in the Domesday text Powershall is known merely as "Witham", and Benton Hall as "Breddinchou"). These are all represented today by large houses. Both the main Witham manor and some of these outer settlements were divided into more than one holding at Domesday.

Some holdings were described in Domesday as manors and others not. The significance of this is debatable, but usually the places not so described are small, like the smallest two of the three entries called 'Witham'. As in this case, the "non-manors" can sometimes be seen as subsections of other entries which are called manors.

At the beginning of each entry, we find an indication of the "size" of the holding in terms of hides and acres. A hide usually included 120 acres. It was used as a guide to value as much as to area, so any relation to our own measurements is only very approximate. But the areas given for places in Witham parish such as Howbridge, Blunts Hall and Powershall, do bear some resemblance to the known size of their lands in later years.

At least some royal manors had a larger size of hide. One Essex example is Havering, discussed in the local volume of the Victoria County History. Certainly when the Templars surveyed the previously royal manor of Witham and Cressing in 1185, the total acreage of the rented land alone well exceeded 5 x 120, even though it was described as a five hide manor. But this is one of many subjects on which more research is needed.

The "value" given at the end of the entry is presumed to represent an annual income. It is usually roughly in proportion to the hidage. It is common only to have one figure, so comparison between the two dates is not always possible.


 Introduction: People
In theory the King was the ultimate owner of all the land. Most manors also had a "tenant in chief", or lord. Since the conquest, they had been obliged in return to provide the King with knight service, that is a certain number of equipped knights to serve and protect him.

It was at this level of tenant in chief, that the effect of the Norman invasion can most clearly be seen. In 1066 in the Witham area their numbers had included Saxons such as Burcard, Brictmar, Alwin, and an unnamed free woman. By 1086, these had been ousted by the new King's grants to Normans such as Robert Gernon, Count Eustace, Ranulf Peverel, and ecclesiastical bodies such as St. Edmund's Abbey (at Bury St. Edmunds). Most of them had other holdings distributed throughout the country. These are the names that appear as headings in Domesday.

In 1086 at least, many tenants in chief had granted some or all of their manors to sub-tenants, or "tenants in demesne", who in turn contributed to the required provision of knights for the King. These sub-tenants were also nearly all "Normans". In some cases they may have lived in the manor, though many had more than one such holding. Thus in Witham parish we had Hugh, Humfrey, Ralf son of Brien, Richard, and William son of Grosse. Other places, such as part of Blunts Hall and the main manor of Witham, were retained by their tenant in chief, ie. were "in demesne".

The householders or "men" living in or attached to the manors and settlements were described as freemen, sokemen, villeins, bordars and serfs. In descending order, these distinctions are generally supposed to indicate the degree of freedom which the person or his land had, from control by the lord of the manor. This has been the subject of much research and controversy. The current trend is to suggest that in practice the distinction may not have been as clear cut as historians once thought. As was usual in Essex, the total number of bordars in Witham parish increased between 1066 and 1086, whilst the number of villeins and serfs decreased.

A very rough estimate of actual population can be obtained by applying a multiplier to the number of men, to represent their families and others. There has been disagreement about the size of multiplier. But for instance, applying a multiplier of 5 to the 150 or so men in the Witham parish area gives a total population of about 750 people (probably including Cressing).


 Introduction: Land
The two specialised land uses of woodland and meadow were usually detailed in Domesday. They were normally kept in the control of the holder of the manor itself.

One use of woodland was to provide grazing for pigs or swine, and it was always quoted in terms of numbers of pigs. This was a potential rather than an actual figure. It seems probable that when the Witham parish boundary was eventually delineated, its northern and south-eastern lines were particularly designed to incorporate the woodland of Witham manors (see map).

Meadowland, usually by the rivers, was especially valuable because it was so limited. Its most vital purpose was to produce hay for winter animal feed; it was also used for grazing later in the year.


 Introduction: Mills
Five mills are mentioned in this area at Domesday; these would all have been watermills, windmills not being found in England until about 100 years later. The River Brain runs through the area from north to south, to join the larger Blackwater in the south-east of the area.

Like woods and meadows, the watermills were retained by the lord of the manor. This was because of the profit to be made from their essential function, in this case grinding corn.

In later records we know of only three such mills in Witham parish. Only one of these still has an actual mill building today, namely Blue Mill or Machins Mill, on the Blackwater (this probably belonged to either Blunts Hall or Benton Hall at Domesday). The two other survivors are now only represented by mill houses, at Chipping Hill (no.1 Powershall End), and Newland (Old Mill House, Guithavon Valley). This last eventually belonged to the 13th century settlement of Newland, and may not have been present at Domesday.

Thus there were either two or three Domesday mills that did not survive many centuries. This is a common feature, many mills being recorded at Domesday in places where there is now only a relatively small watercourse, for instance at Faulkbourne and Fairstead, upstream from Witham on the River Brain.


 Introduction: Animals
The most important of these were the oxen, used for ploughing. Their presence is known from the number of "ploughs" or plough-teams given near the beginning of each entry. A plough-team probably consisted of eight oxen. The teams were usually, but not always, divided between those belonging to the lord of the manor for use on his demesne land, and those belonging to "the men".

The other animals mentioned may be taken to have belonged to the lord, but this was rarely stated specifically. They included pigs, sheep and goats, which are relatively self explanatory, though it should be remembered that animals and their products were all put to a much wider range of uses than is the case today. There were also "rounceys" (small horses), and "beasts" (cattle); the latter were occasionally accompanied by calves, as at Blunts Hall. Finally we have three hives of bees at Powers Hall. The numbers of all the animals (other than oxen) appear to have increased between 1066 and 1086. Finn's figures show that this was usual in Essex as a whole, though he does also point out that losses occurred in some of the places on the route from London to the sea.


 Note on Method
The copy of the original text is taken from Domesday Book - Facsimile of the Part relating to Essex, published by the Ordnance Survey in 1862. Guidance on translation was obtained from the three available English translations. The entries are in the order in which they appear in the original Domesday Book.

Following the facsimile of each entry, is an expansion of the latin text in bold type, with the inserted letters in plain type. Below this there is a literal English translation in plain type. This latter has had punctuation inserted, and a few additional words in square brackets. In parts where the original word order could still cause confusion, a second English version appears afterwards in round brackets. Line numbers have been added throughout.

After the English version of the text, there are brief notes on some of the significant points in the entry.



© 1985 Janet Gyford