The days when Burnley was in Yorkshire

PAST PUNISHMENTS: The stocks at Huncoat. (S)
PAST PUNISHMENTS: The stocks at Huncoat. (S)

As a consequence of recent articles on the de Lacy family, I have been asked to write about Burnley at the time of the Domesday Book.

To those of you familiar with the history of 11th Century England it may be thought this is likely to be a pointless exercise as Burnley gets no mention in the Domesday Book. However, there are things we can say about our town at that time.

Let is start with Domesday itself. The word has been interpreted in different ways. One suggestion is the name comes from the Chapel in which the work was finally written up by clerks working on behalf of the king. Be this as it may, the interpretation I prefer is that the word derives from the commanding authority of content of the book. The Old English word “dom” means “judgement” which, itself, signifies the accuracy, authority and finality of the contents of the book. Another way of putting this is to say “if it was in the book, it was bound to be right”.

In a way, this latter interpretation might be something of a surprise to some. The king who ordered the book to be compiled was William the Conqueror who, as with his Court, spoke Norman French. Why should the book, then, be known by an Old English name? Well, the clergymen who did much of the work in putting together the contents of the book and editing the final copy were not French but English. In fact, at this time and in many respects, the English were much more sophisticated than the Normans and those Englishmen (and women) who had skills needed by the Normans were quickly employed by their new masters. The same can be said of those who made the Bayeux Tapestry.

William I ordered the Domesday Book be complied in 1086, 20 years after his victory at Hastings. He actually made his decision at the Council of Gloucester at Christmas in 1085. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle says that, after the usual business had been confirmed, appointments made, etc. “the king had much thought and very deep discussion with his Council about this country, how it was occupied and with what sort of people. Then he sent his men over all England into every shire and had them find out how many hundred hides there were in the shire, or what land and cattle the king himself had in the country, or what dues he ought to have in twelve months from the shire”.

There was more to it than this, of course, but the writer of the Chronicle added “that there was no single hide or yard of land, nor indeed one ox, nor one cow, nor one pig was there left out, and not put down in his (William’s) record: and all these records were brought to him afterwards”. From this we get some idea of the completeness of the Domesday Book, as it appeared was the case to the defeated English living at the time. They were probably thinking, as is often the case in similar circumstances, of what they thought the better days now behind them.

However, historians, especially those working in the last 50 or 60 years, have come to the conclusion the writer of the Chronicle was exaggerating. It might have looked, at the time, as if William was aiming for as full an account of his realm’s wealth as was possible. Those who witnessed what was happening suspected all the king was doing was drawing up the required information so more tax could be collected.

All that said, the compilation of the Domesday Book was a magnificent achievement. No other western country has anything like it and, for much of England, it is the starting point for much of our national, local and even family history.

If we look at the Domesday Book entry for our part of the world we find it would not have been as useful to the king, if indeed he had it compiled for the purposes of taxation, as the writer of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle supposed. The Latin entry is of only 17 lines of text and the modern English translation comes to only 15 lines. The entry itself covers the whole of the Hundred of Blackburn as it was in 1086, a territory which stretched from Walton-le-Dale, on the banks of the River Ribble, in the west, to Briercliffe, east of Burnley.

In that huge varied area only Blackburn, Whalley, Huncoat, Walton and Pendleton are mentioned as settlements. Similarly, only two churches, one at Blackburn, the other at Whalley, are recorded. There must have been at least one priest, more likely two (given the distance between Blackburn and Whalley) but none is mentioned. Again, most Domesday entries refer to the existence of corn mills but not one is recorded for the whole Hundred of Blackburn.

On the positive side, the Domesday entry does tell us that, in 1066, King Edward the Confessor held the Hundred. We can infer he had held land personally at Blackburn, Walton, Pendleton and Huncoat and these estates, by the time William I was king, had the status of manors. William is not mentioned by name but it is clear, from the entry, it was he who granted the Hundred of Blackburn to Roger of Poitou and the latter made further grants to two lesser barons, Roger of Bully and Albert Grelley.

We also know there were 28 freemen who held land as 28 manors. These were the first Lords of the Manors which made up, with the king’s manors, the Hundred but none of these latter manors is named and their Lords are, similarly, not mentioned by name.

This was not the case in most other manors, especially those in the south and south east of England as well as the Midlands, east and west. If we look at Odiham in Hampshire (I mention this place only because I know the area) we find not only is Odiham named and described in some detail but also its neighbouring villages – Shaldon, Dogmersfield, Elvetham and Bartley (together with two others) - are similarly mentioned and described and in much more detail than is the case here in north west England.

Getting back to Blackburn Hundred, the Domesday Book does give us some information about extensive woodland in the area. Blackburn itself contained a wood one league (two and a quarter miles) square. It is thought this refers to Ramsgreave, between Blackburn and Ribchester. In another part of the Hundred there is an even bigger area of woodland, said to be six leagues long by four leagues wide. I estimate this to be 121.5 square miles and it could only refer to the combined Forests of Pendle, Trawden and Rossendale.

There are other references in the Domesday Book to our part of the world, but these largely refer to measurements of farmed land or the number of ploughs in use. For a number of reasons these details tell us very little. The latter, the number of ploughs, is mentioned only once when 11.5 ploughs are referred to. However, this does not refer to actual ploughs but the land which was ploughed. You can imagine what difficulties obscure information like this this might produce.

It is best not to get to involved but there is a point to be made about three of King Edward’s former manors. At Huncoat (spelled Hunnicot) there were two carucates of land; at Walton (Waltune), also two carucates, and at Pendleton (Peniltune), half a hide. Notice two measurements are used, both of them English rather than Norman. This indicates there was input from English assessors and the different parts of the Hundred did not share the same farming tradition.

At the beginning I pointed out there is no mention of Burnley in the Domesday Book. But that does not mean it did not exist in 1086. The nearest place to Burnley that is mentioned is Huncoat and, given their respective locations, I would have thought Burnley would have been settled before Huncoat. In addition to that, we know there was a church at Burnley in 1120, only 34 years after the compilation of the Domesday Book.

Was it that Burnley was too small to mention? Or, is there another reason why Domesday does not mention Burnley? It is safe to say Burnley, if it existed at all, was small in 1086, but I cannot see it being much smaller than Huncoat.

Historians have given some thought as to why the Domesday Book is not as revealing about the north of England, particularly its north west, as one would like. This comparative lack of information, something I will address, may have been the consequence of the historical event known as the “Harrying of the North”.

There had been rebellions, in the 1070s, which had foreign support, against William’s rule in the north. Observers, at the time, make the point that a large part of northern England, but particularly Yorkshire, was devastated by the king as a means of showing the rest of the country what would happen if they chose the same path.

And where was Burnley, in the 11th Century, but in Yorkshire? There was no Lancashire at the time of Domesday. Our part of the world was included in Yorkshire and it is known William gave some considerable attention to our Pennine region, some historians speculating that, after putting down the rebellion in York, on the way to crush another rebellion in Cheshire, William passed through our Pennine region.

What excesses he, or his followers, allowed themselves is not recorded, in detail, but it just could be that, c1070, Burnley may well have been all but destroyed by the Normans. Sixteen years later, when the Domesday officials were at work, they may have known little Burnley was just not worth a visit.