Domesday Book and Cambridgeshire

One shouldn’t be surprised to find that most of the towns and villages of Cambridgeshire were written about in Domesday Book (middle english for “doomsday book”, the original title was the Liber de Wintonia, latin for “Book from Winchester”), the great survey of England and Wales commissioned by William I in 1086.  An effort to record the wealth and value of the Kingdom, Domesday Book was a colloquial term used later since doomsday would come before one could escape the taxes of the King.  Amazingly, it was the most comprehensive and exhaustive survey of England until 1873.  Although the original manuscript amazingly still survives in the National Archives at Kew, London, one can access the entire work via the Open Domesday project.

Open Domesday, http://domesdaymap.co.uk, allows you to search for your local town or village and see how it was mentioned in Domesday Book.  We all owe a special thanks to Anna Powell-Smith who built the Open Domesday site using data created by J.J.N. Palmer and his team at the University of Hull.  It is wonderful to discover, as I did, that in 1086 my village had 31 households (26 villagers, 4 small holders and one priest) was worth £10 to the Abbey of St. Benedict in Ramsey, who was the feudal lord, and that it consisted of 60 acres of meadow, the lord’s lands and a church.

Domesday Book is a fascinating snapshot of England and Wales as it was shortly after the Norman Conquest.  Organized not geographically, as a modern survey would undoubtedly be, but by feudal fiefdoms, the book contains 13,418 entries and records a remarkable level of detail.

The entry from Domesday Book for the town of Cambridge is below:

Domesday Book Entry for Cambridge

Domesday Book Entry for Cambridge, from http://domesdaymap.co.uk

Advertisements

Oxburgh Hall: the Wars of Religion in the East of England

Ancient seat of the Bedingfeld family, whose history stretches to the War of the Roses, Oxburgh Hall rises from the fens of southwest Norfolk.  An ancient fortified manor, which has been reworked and crafted for centuries, it was first conceived of and built in 1482 at the height of the Wars of the Roses.  However, at least back to 1086 Domesday Book records a settlement here named Oxenburch and a description: “a fortified place where oxen are kept”. Through the Wars of Religion, the catholic Bedingfeld family threaded a dangerous line at the Tudor Court and found themselves increasingly persecuted for their faith.  Staunchly royalist, Charles II rewarded the Bedingfelds with a baronetcy in 1661 though failed to repay the sizable loans made to the crown by the family.  As the 17th Century flowed into the 18th, the Bedingfelds found more acceptance of their Catholicism on the continent, and spent much time away from England and persecution.  Amazingly, almost 600 years after construction began, Oxburgh Hall retains its ability to awe and overwhelm, just as Sir Edmund Bedingfeld intended in 1482, and the family still resides in the eastern front of this ancient manor.

Aug-Sept 2014 048

Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk, seat of the Bedingfeld Family, the West Front. © cambridgemilitaryhistory.com, 2014

The violence of the War of the Roses, which demanded a strong defense along with the need to build an impressive manor for a rising family of influence in turbulent times, led to the interesting layout of Oxburgh Hall.  A large gatehouse covers the entrance to the manor, which is surrounded by a moat, and outer walls.  Arrow slits, moderate fields of fire over the approaches, and fortified gates enhance the security of the manor; however, Oxburgh would not have been able to withstand an assault or a siege – it was not a fortress.  Later, during the repression of Catholics during the English Reformation, a Priest Hole was added off the grand bedrooms located high in the gatehouse, to secretly hide a priest from the King or Queen’s soldiers.

Aug-Sept 2014 006

The gatehouse and moat of Oxburgh Hall. The curious blend of late-medieval defensive works are blended with windows and decorative brickwork to add comfort to this fortified manor. © cambridgemilitaryhistory.com, 2014

Oxburgh Hall is maintained by the National Trust and you can tour the inside of the manor, the gardens and the 1836 Catholic Chapel of the Immaculate Conception and St. Margaret on the grounds.  Directions to Oxburgh Hall, just north of Cambridgeshire, signposted 3 miles from the A134, near the village of Swaffham, SATNAV  postcode: PE33 9PS. The National Trust has a website on Oxburgh Hall: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/oxburgh-hall