What the Domesday Book doesn’t say about Burnley

Manchester Cathedral
Manchester Cathedral

I wrote about what could be learned about Burnley from the Domesday Book of 1086.

The conclusion was that, though Burnley was not mentioned, it is possible to say a few things about Burnley at the time.

These were little more than hints about what Burnley would have been like at this time and included references to the nearby hunting forests at Pendle, Trawden and Rossendale, a little about the area’s agriculture and something about land ownership.

I mentioned Burnley may not have been visited as it was just too small. The references that do exist for the places mentioned in our area, which was known as the Hundred of Blackburn, at that time, lack any sort of detail, even for Blackburn. All that said, Burnley, and the places around it, do have their own “Domesday Book” but it is for 1311 rather than 1086, some 225 years later. I will look at this, the Inquisition Post Mortem of Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, but, today, I want to consider a few other entries made in the Domesday Book to tell you what we are missing for the Burnley area.

I am going to look at two Domesday Book entries, one for Manchester and the other for Odiham in Hampshire. Just to remind you, I have chosen Odiham merely because I know it. In recent years a former Town Hall colleague has moved to that part of the world and reminded me that, 40 or more years ago, when I was a student, I became quite familiar with Odiham.

The entry for Manchester is included in that for the Salford Hundred. This appears in the Cheshire section of the Domesday Book, the same part of the book in which the Blackburn Hundred appears. However, the entry for Salford, even though there are only four places mentioned, is a lot more detailed than it is for Blackburn.

The places are Salford itself, a manor within the Hundred of the same name, Radcliffe, Manchester and Rochdale. This gives you some idea of the size of the territory being covered. Another way of looking at this is to say the whole Hundred was about 25 miles east to west and 23 north to south.

Like the Hundred of Blackburn, there were barren uplands which contained few residents, some of whom may have been employed preparing the land for hunting by the landowners. These uplands are described variously as waste or woodland, the latter nine and a half leagues (about 22 miles) in length and five leagues (about 11.5 miles) wide. It is not surprising, therefore, there were few places of any size.

Six knights, possibly Lords of the Manors of the area, received grants of land, but not one of them is named as holding Manchester. However, a Nigellus (or Nigel) is mentioned and it is thought, from later documents, he was Lord of the Manor of Manchester. The others are Gamel, who, the Domesday Book tells us, held land in Rochdale; Warin who held two carucates; another Warin, one-and-a-half carucates; Geoffrey, the holder of one carucate and another Gamel who had two carucates. Incidentally, carucates are measures of land, as were hides, which are also mentioned in the document.

Though the Domesday Book does not do this, others, in more recent times, have tried to estimate the population of the Hundred. Writing a hundred years ago, Farrer said there may have been as many as 3,000 people living in the whole Hundred. A little earlier, Harland indicated he thought there were as few as 90 families in the Hundred but chiefly around the four townships.

It is impossible to speculate about the population of the Hundred with any accuracy. Similarly, there is not enough information to estimate the numbers of residents of the named townships. We do know most of the inhabitants were engaged in agriculture as there are a number of ploughs mentioned.

We can get down to a little more detail about the people who lived in the Hundred. Altogether, three thanes (freemen, possibly included in the Lords of the Manors), 32 villagers, nine small-holders, 18 slaves and a priest are mentioned, but none by name, if the Lords are not included. I suspect there must have been more than one priest as two churches are recorded in the Domesday Book for the Hundred.

That is almost the full extent of the entry for the huge area of the Hundred of Salford. It is a little more detailed than for the Hundred of Blackburn but this is only to be expected as this Hundred was not quite as remote as was the one in which we now live.

If we now travel to Odiham, you will see the difference I have been referring to. Odiham was the name of a Hundred and that of a Manor and is introduced to us as such. Odiham itself had 248 households. In other words a sizeable village for the times. Of the households 138 were villagers, 60 were small-holders and another 50 were slaves.

We know the name of the Lord of the Manor in 1086; William the Conqueror who had replaced Earl Harold, who, as Harold II, had been defeated at Hastings in 1086. What is also known is that Odiham was a Royal Manor and much of it had been converted into a hunting park for the private use of the King and his friends. King Edward the Confessor had hunted at Odiham when he was king, 1042-66, and it is likely Earl Harold intended to do the same had William not got in the way.

We know a little about the agriculture of the manor as it was in 1086. There was enough land under the plough for 56 ploughs to be at work but, of these, the Lord (the king) had 16.5 ploughs. Incidentally, this does not literally mean the Lord had 16.5 ploughs; it means he had land enough for 16.5 ploughs to operate as the traditions and regulations of the manor dictated.

There is much more information here but things get quite interesting at Odiham when we look at other entries. One refers to woodland enough for 160 swine. Another declares there were eight mills, a figure I regard as a little excessive unless Odiham provided milling for other nearby places. There were also two churches, one for the villagers and the other, possibly, at the manor house.

As I have said, Odiham is in Hampshire which was much more heavily populated than the North-West of England. It was in reasonable travelling distance of London whereas Ightenhill and Manchester were anything but. However, you can see just how much more detailed was the Domesday entry for Odiham.

There is still need for speculation. Even the entry for Odiham is not as complete as it might have been, but we should remember the king was not interested too much in individual people – he was much more interested in what they were worth.

In the Burnley area we have to rely on other, later sources of information to find out what our part of the world was like in the Middle Ages. I will tell you what the “inquisition post mortem” of Henry de Lacy, the earl of Lincoln, tells us about our town and the area around it in 1311 when the document was drawn up.

An inquisition post mortem was usually drawn up on the death of an individual who had not made a will. In this case the earl had made arrangements for his heiress (Henry’s two sons died before him) to succeed to his titles and estates. He had also arranged his only surviving daughter should marry into the Royal Family.

However, the earl’s wealth was so vast an inquisition (an inquiry into his wealth) was made for his Lancashire estates. It is this we will consider.