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Following the Norman victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, King William sent his knights to every part of the land to take charge of the estates and manors.  The invasion marked the end of the internal struggles and the beginning of a more ordered way of life.  Norman customs spread rapidly, as demonstrated by the fine stone churches at Whitwell and Steetley, but apart from this type of improvement, William adapted the existing social system to his own use.  With the institution of the Norman lords, the Saxons were downgraded; sokemen, villeins and borders becoming more subservient to their new masters.  The way of life became harder and taxation more severe - not only were the king's taxes to be paid in support of a massive army but taxes were also due to the lord of the manor.

Thus the Domesday Survey was implemented, not merely as a land survey but as an assessment of the total wealth of the country on which taxes might be levied.


In the spring of 1086, William the Conqueror's commissioners were instructed to visit the whole of England south of the Tees, dividing the country into seven main circuits, seven groups of shires.  In every shire, his representatives went to the shire court, where local juries were ordered to testify to the possessions of the king, the church and all his tenants-in-chief; to quantify the land they held and its nature; to state the number of taxable heads of household, for each class in society, and to enumerate the livestock.  This information was to be provided for three dates - during Edward the Confessor's time (i.e. early 1066), when the present tenant took over, and at the time of the compilation of the Survey.  The purpose of the survey was to assess the taxation potential of the country and discover how far its potential was being met, and to set down in writing the tenure of each manorial holding throughout his domain.  The Survey was thus a last judgement statement, a ‘domesday’ inquest, the findings of which were written down officially for posterity to refer to.  And so, county by county, area by area, manor by manor and tenant by tenant the facts were assembled during 1086, written up and bound into large volumes, the Exchequer copy of which survives in the Public Record Office.  The Survey contains a good deal of fact.  It contains much which is open to debate, and scholars have devoted a considerable amount of time and energy over the years in trying to interpret many statements which are contained within the Survey.  In short the Survey, whilst being rich in detail, is at times inconsistent and imprecise and difficult to use.


In the Domesday Survey, Barlborough (Barleburg) and Whitwell (Witewell) are recorded in a single entry as manor and berewick (subsidiary manor), held by Ralph Fitzhubert as tenant-in-chief and Robert (Robert de Meignell) as sub-tenant.  A later hand has annotated the entry with the fact that a small amount of land in Clowne (Clune) was attached to this manorial holding.  In the entry, Barlborough occurs first, and is underlined in red, signifying that it was the principal manor, while Whitwell was the berewick.  By the time of the Survey, the dispersed settlements of the earliest period had given way to nucleated settlements with open fields, within which Barlborough, Whitwell and Clowne were the nuclei.  The remaining vills had declined and only Belph and Steetley were to re-emerge in medieval times, as small yet recognisable centres on or close to the site of original settlement.  The manor of Barlborough/Whitwell possessed six carucates of taxable arable land in 1086 - a carucate being a variable land measure, used in the Danelaw (Anglo-Scandinavian settled area of Britain), which represented the amount of land which could be ploughed by an eight-ox team and which could amount to as much as 120 acres.  The land at Clowne amounted to two bovates, a bovate being one eighth of a carucate of perhaps around 15 acres.  So, within the manorial holding, there may have been a total area of 700-800 acres under the plough.  There was accounted to be arable land potential for eight plough teams or eight carucates.  In the lord's demesne, there were three plough teams, which would have been worked by the villagers as a feudal duty.  Fifty-seven persons of various status are recorded.  Taking these to be heads of households and with families, the population on the manor probably exceeded 250 - a large population for a rural manor.  Household heads came within the classes of sokeman [10] (a freeman of peasant status in the Danelaw area who was free to leave, and sometimes to sell his land, holding tenure by services or rent, and obliged to attend his lord's court), villeins [10] (unfree peasants who paid a labour service to their lord, but had a share of the common fields), bordars [36] (unfree smallholders or cottagers of lesser standing than villeins) and serf [1] (slave who was the property of his lord).

In addition to the arable land, there was meadow amounting to three acres and an extensive tract of woodland for pannage (grazing for swine), two leagues in length and one in breadth, and underwood (general woodland, some of which could be coppiced and harvested), one league in length and the same in breadth.  Two mills are recorded, both of which could have been watermills, as windmills were as yet unknown in Britain.  These yielded the sum of three shillings per annum and would have processed the manorial cereal produce. It is uncertain where the mills were located, but one may have been at Belph Moor, where a watermill existed until living memory.  The manor possessed a church and priest, and unlike most of its neighbours had retained its taxable value at £6 during the twenty years between the Norman Conquest and the time of the Survey.

The Barlborough/Whitwell manorial unit represented the largest holding of Ralph Fitzhubert in the county, had the highest taxation value and, moreover, had retained that value since the Conquest.  The considerable free element in the population, established long before the Norman Conquest, endowed the manor with a character of free tenure which long continued, and can be detected in documentary sources, through the medieval period and beyond.  The record of a church and priest in the Survey prompts the question as to which of the settlements possessed the Domesday, and thus the pre-Conquest church.  Neither Barlborough nor Whitwell church has any surviving evidence of pre-Conquest work, and extensive archaeological excavation would be necessary to establish each church's origins.  Whitwell, however, must be the favoured candidate for the Domesday church, not only on the evidence of several pieces of obviously re-used stone incorporated in the fabric of the Norman west tower, but also from the fact that the settlement was deemed important enough, a century after the Conquest, to warrant a large new church, comprising west tower, nave, chancel and semi-circular apse. Lt is difficult to interpret this in any other way than as a splendid new church, on the site of the old, adjacent to the manor house, the precursor of the Old Hall.

One of the harshest innovations of Norman rule was the introduction of the Forest Law, which replaced the ordinary law in wooded areas and would obviously apply to the land around Whitwell.  Penalties for disturbing the king's game included: mutilation, blinding, death by hanging and confiscation of all chattels.  Villagers were forbidden to cut down trees or undergrowth and foresters had the right to seize those who were guilty of even minor offences.

Even though life was harsh for the villagers, the English sense of humour was never totally suppressed and the overlords had to accept that an angry and hostile serf was of less value than a willing one.  Thus on the village green travelling ministrels, jugglers, tumblers and dancers would appear; instruments included cymbals, the tambourine, lute and a primitive form of violin.  From the minstrels, the old legends were handed down, rich in poetry and music.  One can imagine the dancing which would start spontaneously at such gatherings.

The quality of life for the villagers changed repeatedly according to the strength of the ruler: when a weak king such as Stephen was in power they suffered greatly under his excesses, whereas life was much improved under the more settled rule of Henry I and II.  Probably the greatest gift that Henry II left to the people was the jury system, which, though not unchanged, has survived to the present day.  It was a country, unified for the first time, with the mass of the people enjoying freedom from feudal oppression that moved into the Middle Ages.


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