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Lancing and Sompting in the Domesday Book
What is the Domesday book?

The Domesday Book is perhaps our earliest public record. It was created as a result of a survey of land holdings and resources in late 11th century England ordered by King William (pictured right)

No other country in Europe produced anything to match the breadth of this undertaking until several hundred years later.

So how did the Domesday Book come about? Well, to find out we need to go back to 1066 and all that..............

In January 1066, King Edward the Confessor died childless. To die childless as a King was a major problem as there could be no "natural succession" from his family.

Edward had been only too aware of this and had made plans about who should succeed him. Although he was only related indirectly to him, Edward made Duke William of Normandy his heir in 1051. At the time, powerful opposition to this move was voiced by leading Saxon nobles Earl Godwin and his heir Earl Harold Godwin.

Earl Harold Godwin acted as an emissary from Edward the Confessor to the court of William of Normandy in 1064, during which time he allegedly swore an oath of "fealty to William, relinquishing any personal claim to the throne". This oath, which may have been given lightly, or possibly under duress, would figure directly in William's own claim, two years later. He would claim that the promise Harold made to him had been broken, giving William the right to challenge Harold in a battle for the crown.

On Edwards' death, the Witan (an Anglo-Saxon name for a council or meeting of nobles) approved Earl Harold Godwin as the new King. He became, as every school child knows, King Harold.

Well, Duke William did not let it end there, he fully expected to be made King of England as per the agreement with Edward. He set about creating an invasion force and sought Papal approval (which he got) for his taking the crown by force.

William invaded and on October 14 1066 his army defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. William became King William the First of England.

Why the Domesday survey was made

The Domesday survey is essentially the product of the will and curiosity of King William. Nevertheless it could not have been made without the comparatively advanced administration system that William had inherited from his Anglo-Saxon predecessors.

By the year 1000, most of England was already divided up into the shires that continued with little change until 1974. Government was far from possessing the centralised powers of the modern state but the Kings exercised considerable authority over local magnates. This was true both in Danelaw, those areas in East Anglia and Northern parts where Danish laws and customs prevailed since the time of Alfred the Great, and the other Anglo-Saxon regions.

English Kings had been able to mint a coinage controlled from the centre. They were also powerful enough to gather substantial amounts of silver from the tax known as Danegeld, a name originally used for money raised to buy off marauding Danish armies.

The silver was a sign of England's wealth, probably founded on its wool trade. With such resources and the means for a ruler to tap them, England was one of the great prizes of North West Europe.

One of the most important near contemporary accounts of the making of the Domesday Survey is contained in the Anglo-Saxon chronicles. It tells us that his 1085 Christmas Court in Gloucester, William

"had much thought and very deep discussion about this country - how it was occupied and or with what sorts of people. Then he sent his men all over 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. Also he had a record made of how much land his archbishops and his abbots and his Earls and ... what or how much everybody had who was occupying land in England, in land or cattle and how much money it was worth. So very narrowly did he have it investigated that there was no single hide nor a yard of land, nor indeed (it is a shame to relate but it seemed no shame to him to do) one ox nor one cow nor one pig which there was left out and not put in his record; and all these records were brought to him afterwards"

This passage hints at the dismay and apprehension later expressed in the naming of the survey as Domesday because of the association with The Day of Judgement, that terrible verdict against which there was no appeal.

Another description of the survey was written a few years after its completion by Robert, Bishop of Hereford. The King's men, he wrote,

"made a survey of all England, of the lands in each of the counties, of the possessions of each of the magnates, their lands, their habitations, their men both bond and free, living in huts or with their own houses and lands, of ploughs, horses and other animals, of the services and payments due from each and every estate. After these investigations came others who were sent to unfamiliar counties to check the first description and to denounce any wrongdoers to the king. And the land that was troubled with many calamities arising from the gathering of royal taxes"

King William proceeded quickly with the survey. Notes in one of the volumes indicate that the initial stages were completed in 1086. The mass of evidence was written in Latin. The material was sorted and resorted  until the final format was produced under county, landholders, hundreds and manors  - a phenomenal achievement given the task.

Sompting and the Domesday book

Seizing the country in 1066, King William reorganised Sussex into geographical regions called rapes. Sussex had six rapes, each with a river, castle and forest.

The Rape of Bramber, in which Sompting, was given to William de Braose. In Domesday, the listing for Sompting is

In 1066 Sompting was held by Lewin of King Edward. By 1086 11 hides there were held of William de Braose by Ralph, from whom an unnamed knight held 1 hide. Another Ralph held a further 2 hides there of William ...

By 1086 Ralph had 11 hides there, enough for 5 plough-teams. There were 2 demesne plough-teams and 5 servi, and the 19 villani and 16 bordars had 9 teams. There was 30 a. of demesne meadow. One and a half hide of Ralph's land was held by a knight and worked by 2 villani and 4 bordars with one team, and there were 2 a. of meadow there. A further 2 hides, held by another Ralph, were worked by 4 villani and one bordar with plough-team, although there was land enough for a whole team. That estate had 2 a. of meadow. Of the two estates at Cokeham in 1086, one had one demesne plough-team, 8 a. of meadow, and 5 bordars, the second half a demesne ploughteam and half a villein team, 1 villanus, 3 bordars, and 2 a. of meadow. Woodland for one pig was also recorded. The Cokeham lands had maintained their 1066 value but that of the others had fallen slightly


hide  A unit of measurement for assessment of tax, theoretically 120 acres, although it could vary between 60 and 240 acres. By custom it was the land that could be cultivated by one eight ox plough in one year.    
rod The perch or rod, as it was also known, was a traditional Saxon land measure and survives in twentieth century. It had originally been defined as the total length of the left feet of the first sixteen men to leave church on Sunday morning.  
geld The main tax owed to the King. Normally due as a number of pence per hide.  
plough The area of arable land capable of being tilled by one plough team. Equivalent to one Hide.    
demesne The part of the lord's manorial lands reserved for his own use and not allocated to his serfs or freeholder tenants. Serfs worked in the demesne for a specified number of days per week. The demesne could either be scattered among the serfs' land, or be a separate area, the latter being more common for meadow and orchard lands.  (Pronounced "de-main.")     
villein Wealthiest class of peasant. They usually cultivated 20-40 acres of land, often in isolate strips.
bordars Middle ranking peasant, farming less than a villein
shilling Measure of money used for accounting purposes and equal to 12 old pennies. Until modern times, there was no actual coin. (Now replaced by 5 new pence.)    
salterns A building or place where salt is made by boiling or by evaporation; salt works
vill Administrative unit containing about 5 to 10 Hides and inhabitants. Equivalent to the secular parish. The vill usually contained several manors  

Small holding, typically 1200-1800 acres, with its own court and probably its own hall, but not necessarily having a manor house. The manor as a unit of land was generally held by a knight (knight's fee) or managed by a bailiff for some other holder. In later years, the power of the manor declined progressively in favour of the vill.


The William mentioned in the extract is William de Braose and the Robert was Robert le Sauvage, Lord of Broadwater.

There were some anomalies within the Domesday survey. For example neither Winchester or London, both important places in the 11th century are featured. However 13,418 places were visited and reported on.

Sussex features quite extensively. Historians delight in the information as it gives details of the immediate effect of the Norman Invasion and Battle of Hastings on the area. The Bayeux Tapestry also shows Sussex buildings and homes being put to the torch by the triumphant Norman army. This is reflected in the values before and after 1066 of places within Sussex. See the table to the right for the comparisons.

King William's place in English History

Everyone seems to know a little about King William, especially about the Battle of Hastings. However, William is often named as being "French" when he was in reality a Norman, descended from the Viking warriors. Indeed, he spent a lot of his life fighting against the French. He died on September 9, 1087 from complications to a wound he received in a siege on the town of Mantes.

William certainly did change our history, not all of it for the worse.

The writers of the Anglo-Saxon chronicles summed it all up very well

"His anxiety for money is the only thing on which he can deservedly be blamed; . . .he would say and do some things and indeed almost anything . . .where the hope of money allured him."

links to related websites

The Domesday Book on-line

Scene of the Battle of Hastings

 The Bayeux Tapestry

sources for this article

1066 The Year of the Three Battles by Frank McLynn Pimlico Books 1998.  A History of Lancing by R G P Kerridge Phillimore Books 1979.  The Domesday Book, England's Heritage Then and Now, Tiger Books 1995

King William 1st





image of Norman knights charging Saxon housecarls at the Battle of Hastings

The Battle of Hastings as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry





Below. Instructions given to those collecting details for the survey
Here is subscribed the inquisition of lands as the barons of the king have made inquiry into them; that is to say by the oath of the sheriff of the shire, and of all the barons and their Frenchmen, and the whole hundred, the priests, reeves, and six villains of each manor; then, what the manor is called, who held it in the time of king Edward, who holds now; how many hides, how many plows in demesne, how many belonging to the men, how many villains, how many cottars, how many serfs, how many free-men, how many socmen, how much woods, how much meadow, how many pastures, how many mills, how many fish-ponds, how much has been added or taken away, how much it was worth altogether at that time, and how much now, how much each free man or soeman had or has. All this threefold, that i8 to say in the time of king Edward, and when king William gave it, and as it is now; and whether more can be had than is had.






Domesday chest
The Domesday volumes have been stored in this chest, to be carefully removed every few centuries or so when they need re-binding





Bramber Castle - A solitary fragment of the Gatehouse Tower survives

Little remains today of William de Braose's castle at Bramber









Farming in 11th century England




Domesday Book

Detail from the Domesday Book

page created 09/12/11