General history: The Domesday survey

Pages 332-336

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 1. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1797.

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The Domesday survey

THE most authentic and most antient record in this kingdom, being the fountain from which every local history of it must derive its source, is DOMESDAY Book, which was begun by William the Conqueror, in the fifteenth year of his reign, anno 1080, and finished in six years; for the universal establishment of tenures, in which, and the article of tallage, its authority stands unquestioned.

The antient universal method of trial in our law courts is by jury, except when the evidence is Domesday; when this happens, the barons of the exchequer, on proper writs being directed to them from the court before which the trial is to be, return thither that part of Domesday which concerns the matter in question, attested by the proper officers, which record alone determines the suit without any jury being had.

This manuscript contains a general survey of every part of England, except the three most northern counties, which were so ravaged by war, that no account could be taken of them. It was begun, in imitation of king Alfred's policy, who, when he divided his kingdom into counties, hundreds, and tithings, had an inquisition taken and digested into a register, called Domeboc, which was reposited in the church of Winchester, and thence called Codex Wintoniensis.

This new survey, therefore, was in imitation of king Alfred's, and was for some time kept in the same church. It seems to have been called by the same name, allowing for the corruption of language, which altered Domeboc into Domesday Book. It was often termed by Latin Writers, Liber Judicialis, from its giving final judgment in the tenure of estates. (fn. 1)

This general survey of the kingdom was taken before certain itinerant commissioners, consisting of the great men and bishops, mostly Normans, sent from court for this purpose. These inquisitors, upon the oaths of the shrieves, the lords of each manor, the presbyters of every church, the reves of every hundred, and six villeins of every village, were to enquire into the name of the place, who held it in king Edward the Confessor's time, who was the present possessor, how many hides or sulings there were in the manor, how many carucates in demesne, how many freemen, how many tenants in socage, how many in villenage, how much wood, meadow, and pasture, how many mills and fish-ponds, how much was added or taken away, what was the value, and how much it was taxed for in king Edward's time, and what then, and what was yearly received from it at that time. This inquisition was not finished till the twentieth of the Conqueror's reign, being registered in two books, called Greatand Little Domesday; these are now kept in the old chapter house, in the cloisters, adjoining to Westminster-abbey, under the care of the officers of the exchequer. The former is a large folio, finely written on three hundred and eighty-two double pages of vellum, in a small, but plain character, and double columns. It contains thirtyone counties. The latter is in quarto, written on four hundred and fifty such pages, in single columns, and a fair but large hand, containing Essex, Norfolk, and Suffolk. That part of the greater volume, which relates to Kent, contains fourteen leaves, each having four columns, each column containing fifty lines; the copy of which, for this work, attested by the proper officer, at the usual fee of four-pence a line, amounted to forty-six pounds thirteen shillings and four-pence.

The method of entering this survey in Domesday, so far as relates to this county, need not be particularized here. It may be seen by the several parts of the book, inserted in the account of the parishes to which they relate; in most of which it will be observed how much, in the orthography of names of places, the Norman scribes were mistaken, which is not to be wondered at, as they seldom copied the names from any other writing, but contented themselves with taking it from the mouths of the Saxon informers, whose pronunciation could not be fit to dictate to foreigners, who, besides, might purposely deprave and contract the Saxon words out of pure detestation of that language, which their master had so great a desire to extirpate; nay, the difference of many of the names of places in this ancient record, from those by which they are called at present, is so great, that several of them cannot now, with any degree of certainty, be appealed to as the true and proper names of them without conjecture. (fn. 2)

The part of Domesday, in which this county is described, is entitled CHENTH, and begins with the survey of Dovre; then follow the several customs claimed by the king, the archbishop, and others over different parts and places in the county; the survey of the lands of the Canons of St. Martin's in Dovre; the survey of the city of Canterbury, and the several customs claimed by the archbishop and others therein; the survey of the city of Rochester, and the remaining part of the lands belonging to St. Martin's, Dovre. Then follow the names of the several possessors of the land, described in this survey, being in number thirteen.

1. King William.
2. Archbishop of Canterbury.
3. His monks and his tenants.
4. The bishop of Rochester.
5. The bishop of Baieux.
6. The abbot of Battel.
7. The abbot of St. Austin's.
8. The abbot of Ghent.
9. Hugh de Montfort.
10. Earl Eustace.
11. Richard de Tunbridge.
12. Hamo Vicecomes.
13. Albert Capellanus.

These twelve were the king's principal tenants in capite, who held immediately of him as of his crown. The king's possessions are next described, under the title of terra regis, or antient demesne; under which are comprehended Dartford, Hawley, Aylesford, Milton, by Sittingborne, and Faversham. Then follow the lands of the several tenants above-mentioned, in the order there placed under their several titles, among these the bishop of Baieux's possessions were exceeding great, more than all the others put together. In the above survey it is observed, there are many towns and villages quite unnoticed, the reason of which might be, that it was chiefly intended to give the king a true account of his own lands and demesnes, and what were held by his tenants in capite; and many names omitted in it, were, no doubt, comprehended under the title of some larger manors, or were waste and of no account at the time of the survey.

Having now treated of those matters, which concern the General History of this County, as far as the compass of this work would allow of, I shall begin the description of the several Laths, Hundreds, and Parishes, within it, taking them in geographical order, from the western part of this county at the entrance of it at Deptford, and so proceeding on eastward till I come to the land's end.


  • 1. Kennet's Paroch. Antiq. p. 63. Brady's Hist. Eng. p. 205.
  • 2. Kennet's Par. Antiq. p. 64.