Bosbury in the ‘Domesday’ Book, 1086.

This amazing document is the record of a survey of land in England, who owned it, who cultivated it, what its tax assessment was and how much it was worth to its owner. The survey was ordered by King William I of Normandy and England in 1085, and substantially completed by the time of his death in September 1087. The data was compiled into two hand-written volumes using an abbreviated Latin text.

In the Herefordshire document, a formal copy of the Herefordshire folios made in the 1160s, it is referred to as liber, the ‘Book’ but it soon came to be nicknamed the ‘Domesday’ Book by his subjects for, like the Last Judgement, no-one was spared.

The Book is arranged by feudal landowners and Bosbury is included among the lands of the canons [bishop] of Hereford.


The original abbreviated Latin expanded.

In BOSEBERGE sunt vi hidae geldantes. In dominio ii carrucae 7 xvii
villani 7 xvi bordarii 7 unum burum cum xxii carrucae. Ibi ii servi 7 molendinum
de xxx denarii 7 viii acrae prati. 7 Silva nihil reddit.
Presbyter tenet i hidam et habet i carrucam.
Tempore Regis Eduardis 7 post 7 modo valuit vi librae.

An early English translation.

In BOSBURY are 6 hides taxable. In demesne, two ploughs and 17
villans, 16 bordars and 1 boor with 22 ploughs. There are two slaves, a mill
of 30 pence and 8 acres of meadow. Woodland pays nothing.
The priest holds 1 hide and has 1 plough.
In the time of King Edward, after and now worth £6.

A modern English translation.

BOSBURY is assessed at 6 hides for taxation. In the lord’s ownership are two ploughs and 17 villeins (villagers), 16 smallholders and 1 freed-man with 22 ploughs. There are two serfs, a mill worth 30 pence and 8 acres of meadow. The woodland pays nothing.
The priest holds 1 hide and has 1 plough.
In the time of King Edward [1066], afterwards and now [1086] worth £6.

Explanatory note.

Measurements of land area in ‘Domesday’ are theoretical for tax purposes. An acre is the area of land that one man might plough with a single ox in a working day. It was the equivalent of a medieval strip field generally reckoned as 40 perches (1 furrow-long or furlong) long by 4 perches wide (220 x 22 yds). The perch from the Roman pertica and Norman-French perche meaning ‘pole’ was the ox-goad which the ploughboy used to control an eight-oxen team while the ploughman handled the plough. To reach the lead pair, it had to be around 16½ feet (5½ yards) long. In Domesday, the term ‘acre’ is also used to measure ‘meadow’ - from an Old English word for grass grown for hay; a virgate or yardland was the area that a two-oxen plough could till in a season; the Latin term caruca meaning ‘plough’ seems to refer to a taxable unit consisting of the wooden plough itself and the plough-team of eight oxen (2 yokes of four beasts) used to operate it. A similar term carucata was used in Herefordshire to describe the area of land which such a team could cultivate in a season where the hidage of the land had not been worked out. All the land, oxen and ploughs were owned by the lord of the manor.

The term hide from the Old English hi(gi)d, is related to the word hiwen, household, and is generally taken as an area of mixed farmland which could support a household whether or not it actually did so. Scholars have suggested somewhere between 90 and 240 acres possibly depending on how fertile the land was. A ‘hide’ equals four virgates or yardlands and, in the Domesday records, appears to refer mainly to animal grazing pasture.

Villans (Villeins), bordars, cottars (not found in Bosbury) and boors were the four classes of peasant in descending order of wealth. In Domesday the terms includes the peasant’s family as well. They were free men in a legal sense but occupied the lord’s land in return for service. Villan and bordar families rented land from the lord to support themselves and worked two or three days a week on the lord’s land. Cottars were farm workers who were provided with up to 5 acres of land for a hut and smallholding. If a family left the manor, their land holding reverted back to the lord. A boor was not the fifteenth century Dutch word for peasant (boer) but comes from the Old English word (ge)bur with its Latin equivalent, ‘burus’, meaning a farm-worker possibly a freed-man whom the lord had provided with oxen or land in return for work. The man we would call a serf was indeed a slave. He was sheltered, fed and clothed by the lord but he and his family were not free to leave the manor.

The 30 pence would be English silver pennies and the mill would have been a water-powered mill for grinding corn as windmills had not been introduced.

Instructions to the Commissioners.

“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 villans 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 villans, 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 socman had or has. All this threefold, that is 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.”

Around Bosbury.

The numbers of families in the village and neighbouring villages in 1086 were recorded as: Bosbury 37, Castle Frome 19, Canon Frome 17, Bishops Frome 37, Ashperton 33, Stretton Grandison 11, Munsley 22, Coddington 8, Cradley 42, Bagberrow (near present-day Mathon) 33 and Ledbury with Hazle 26. The landowner in most cases was the Canons of Hereford but William fitzBaderon owned Stretton Grandison and Roger de Lacey Castle Frome and Canon Frome. The land covered by these settlements was worth just over £70 in terms of its taxable value.


Alecto Historical Editions translation Domesday Book The Folio Society 2003
Susan Morris Domesday Book Herefordshire Phillimore, 1983 Notes 1,7 1,48 2,12
Susan Morris Domesday Book Herefordshire Phillimore, 1983 Notes 1,7 1,48 2,12
Elizabeth Hallam Domesday Book through nine centuries Thames and Hudson, 1986
Goodrick Family History

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