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The Domesday Book
So far as we can tell, Barrowby was a good place to go about farming in the late Anglo-Saxon era – perhaps locally more an Anglo-Scandinavian era. But we have no written records. And any archaeological evidence, slender as it might be, is most likely buried under the modern houses and gardens.
As with most places in England, we only get to know the details of late Anglo-Saxon life from twenty years after the end of the Anglo-Saxon kings. England was conquered by the Normans in 1066 – in large part because it was a very successful kingdom worth fighting for. By which I mean it was organised to produce agricultural produce very efficiently and 'profitably'. And was also well-organised administratively so that the king could 'tax' those profits. But details of how all this organisation operated had only been maintained orally – there was little written record, apart from grants of land.
William the Conqueror wanted to know all the details of this organisation, down to every landholding in every parish. This detailed survey resulted in the so-called Domesday Book. It sheds considerable light on some aspects of life – but only those that are liable for taxation. By comparing with other settlements the entries for individual parishes can be put into some sort of wider context.
For example, the Domesday Book tells us that Barrowby had 55 households (perhaps about 275 adults and children, assuming an average of five people per household). This puts it in the top twenty percent of settlements in the country.
Most of the land in Barrowby was held by a Norman, Robert Malet. He was also given lands in Suffolk (221 villages), Yorkshire (32 villages), Lincolnshire (8 villages in total), Essex (3 villages), Nottinghamshire (2 villages) and Hampshire (1 village). He found favour with William in 1075–6 when his men helped capture Norwich Castle and defeat a rebellion led by Ralph, Earl of Norfolk. By the time King Henry I came to the throne in 1100 Robert Malet was Great Chamberlain. However Malet supported the claim of Robert, Duke of Normandy (William I's eldest son – Henry was his fourth son), and this time was on the loosing side, resulting in banishment to Normandy and his lands being confiscated. All his lands, including Barrowby and Casthorpe, were transferred to Stephen of Blois. Malet died on the battlefield at Tinchebrai in 1106.
Barrowby was the most important of Robert Malet's holdings in Lincolnshire. The others were Casthorpe, Stenwith, Sedgebrook, Allington, Wilsford and Ingoldsby – all of which were administered from Barrowby.
The importance of Barrowby in the eleventh century is most probably because it was a Roman estate centre. There is clear evidence of a Roman villa, although details of the location must remain confidential (thanks to Nigel Jones for sharing).
In addition Malet administered the holdings of Ivor Taillebois at Burton Coggles, Bassingthorpe, Braceby, Sapperton, Barkston and Syston (the latter two known as Honington Sokeland) even though many of these places are over ten miles away.
In February 2023 I uploaded a video about these villages, specifically looking at the relationship between Church and Manor.
The lands of Robert Malet – and how he might have toured them.
Google Maps say the route is 55 miles.
Barrowby is shown as destination 'A' and 'O'. Stenwith is 'M'.
Grantham is shown as 'road'.
Part of the relevant Domesday Book entries,
showing the lands of Robert Malet.
Seemingly all the people living in Barrowby in 1086 were involved in agriculture. There were two households of 'freemen' and two 'smallholders'. But the remaining fifty households were 'villagers', needing to provide labour for the lord's land as well as farming their own allocations. And their work would have been hard, as there were no less than fifteen plough teams (five for the lord and ten for the others) so clearly the lighter soils of the parish were extensively used for arable. So many plough teams would have required up to 120 mature oxen, together with juveniles. Little wonder that there was sixty acres of meadow.
In the main text I use the terms 'freemen', 'villagers' and 'smallholders'. In the Domesday Book the equivalent terms are 'sokemen', 'villeins' and 'borders'.
'Sokemen' were free from most obligations to the lord.
'Villeins' were not free and their right to farm land allocated to them depended on providing labour to the lord. The lord could promote a villein to a sokeman, although what might bring this about is not clearly recorded.
'Borders' were not free either and had very little land. They often worked for villeins or served the community as shepherds, carpenters or other tradesmen.
The church would predate the conquest. And we get one more peep at pre-1066 life in Barrowby – the name of the man who held the land. He was called Godwin.
In Godwin's day the taxation was 12 pounds a year. Robert Malet was expected to pay 16 pounds. So clearly the parish had increased in 'profitability' in the twenty years Malet had been lord – quite probably because of investment in more ploughs and oxen. And now for a really intriguing insight.
Malet's lands seem undervalued compared to other parishes with so many ploughlands. This may be an honest reflection of the lower crop yields from Barrowby's light soils in an era long before artificial fertilisers. Or is this evidence of corruption, as John Smith and John Manterfield suggested (Smith and Manterfield 1973 p31)? After all the Domesday Book surveyors quite likely stayed at Malet's prestigious hall. We may never know. But as 'some things never change' when it comes to those with power and influence then the suspicion remains.
Domesday Book has a separate entry for Casthorpe. There were twenty households (around a hundred inhabitants) but split between four landowners. Robert Malet was one of them – significantly with two more watermills – but the land was occupied by someone known as Ivo Taillebois ('Tallboys').
Before 1066 there had also been four landowners. Algar was the only landholder who retained his holdings until 1086. Two others, Thorfridh and Ulfkil, have splendidly Scandinavian names, while Godwin is much more Anglo-Saxon. Here's the details:–
Lord in 1066: Godwin
Households: 6 freemen.
1 ploughland. 1.3 men's plough teams.
7 acres meadow. 2 mills, value 4 shillings.
Land of Bishop Odo of Bayeux (but occupied by Swein)
Land of Guy of Craon (but occupied by Algar)
Land of Robert of Stafford (but occupied by Hugh)
No one has quite worked out how fractions of ploughlands really worked. It is best to think of these as 'taxation values' rather than evidence for some overly-complexicated farming practices. Land holdings could easily be split up, but the annual cycle of arable farming probably continued much as it always had, which required considerable collaborative effort during the short ploughing season.
The reasonable assumption is that Barrowby was a nucleated settlement by 1086 – and in all probability for a few generations before. Whereas Casthorpe seems to be four dispersed farmsteads. The land of Guy of Craon might have evolved into East Casthorpe while the other three landholdings evolved into West Casthorpe; see the demise of these settlements.
Stenwith had twenty-one households in 1086, perhaps just over a hundred individuals. It doesn't sound a great many but it was among the largest forty percent of settlements recorded in Domesday. And instead of the majority of households being 'villagers', nineteen were freemen and two were smallholders. Freemen were further up the social scale than 'villagers', perhaps making Stenwith a bit 'des res' at the time. In and around the modern settlement at Stenwith are remains of the medieval field system and settlement earthworks (see moated sites).
Once again Robert Malet was the landowner in 1086; consistently he took over from Godwin. There were four ploughlands, neatly matching four plough teams. Other resources included 15 acres of meadow and yet another mill. I doubt very much that it was simply coincidence that Robert Malet had a monopoly on the water mills (see eleventh century mills).
Sedgebrook in 1086 had 32 households (maybe 160 individuals) of which 27 were 'villagers' and five 'smallholders'. Once again Robert Malet was the landholder, having taken over from Godwin. There were nine ploughlands – though rather oddly ten plough teams, four for the lord and six for the villagers. Sixty acres of meadow and eight acres of woodland were reported.
Remarkably there were three watermills, with a combined value of sixteen shillings a year. The watercourses associated with Sedgebrook must have provided plentiful water for these mills to be so profitable.
Overall Sedgebrook was valued at 8 pounds in 1086 and 9 pounds in 1066.
Medieval ridge and furrow survives in some fields around the modern village, and several probable crofts to the west of the church have been observed as soilmarks on aerial photographs. These are almost certainly later than the eleventh century, but could well be continuations of older arable fields and settlements.
Further information about Anglo-Saxon Barrowby
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Articles about BarrowbyBarrowby's location and geology
Seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
Articles and web links for nearby places
rare seventeenth fonts at Muston, Bottesford and Orston from Project Gargoyle Newsletter 2020
Ironstone quarries of Leicestershire
The Grantham Canal
Croxton Kerrial manor house excavations