Wallingford in Domesday Book

Wallingford Historical and Archaeological Society, Wallingford, 31 May 2008


I was tempted to start this paper by saying that Domesday Book needs no introduction. However, having found enough to fill two tomes on the subject and numerous articles over the years, I suspect that some preliminary explanatory remarks would be useful. William the Conqueror ordered the Domesday survey at Christmas 1085 at a time of crisis. King Cnut of Denmark was threatening to invade and it would seem that William wished to raise money to hire mercenaries for the defence of his realm and, equally importantly, to review the services owed to him by his men. All the records were brought to William at Salisbury in August 1086 and ‘all those who held land in England’ agreed on an extension of taxation and a redefinition of knight service.

It is now thought that Domesday Book was compiled from this mass of documentation some years later. I have argued for 1090 or so; it could be as late as the reign of Henry I. This may seem an academic point, but it is of some importance for our examination of the account of the borough of Wallingford. The compiler had a different aim in mind: he wished to produce a record for administrative purposes. One of the results of this programme was that boroughs were, exceptionally, accorded a special place at the beginning of each county. The result was not always happy. Look at the account of Bedford: hardly anything at all. But that is prolix compared with Winchester: at the beginning of the Hampshire folios there is just a complete blank. The scribe was dependent on the sources and they were not always up to his purpose. 

We are luckier with Wallingford. It is one of the longer accounts in Domesday Book. Unfortunately, it is still a bit of a dog’s dinner. Now, I don’t want to bore you with all the gory details of the tension between programme and material in the account. There’ll be enough space for that in the publication and you can skip it at your leisure. However, it is necessary to note in what ways the account is not coherent. To start with, it was written in at least three goes. There’s no reason to doubt that the first stint was an integral part of the account of Berkshire. The second too was a current component of the text, that is it was part of the initial drafting. The valuation clause is postscriptal but only because the scribe had to consult another source that was close at hand. The last stint, by contrast, must have been months after since it postdates rubrication, that is the picking out of important detail in red ink.

Two main sessions of writing, then. Content further distinguishes five distinct sections which emanate from four different sources. First, there is what I shall call the customary lands. Burgesses regularly owed rents, services, jurisdictional dues such as licences to brew and bake, and the like in return for their lands. These consuetudines, ‘customs’, were usually, by default if you like, the right of the king. This section records the number of such tenements. It also describes lands from which such dues had been withdrawn for one reason to another between 1066 and 1086. Together the customary lands constituted the borough proper.

Second, there were, from the royal point of view, the non-customary lands. These tenements paid their dues to the lords of rural manors. The list here is incomplete; further tributary tenements are added at the end of the account of the borough, to which we shall come, and yet more are to be found in the body of the Berkshire text. These properties were physically in Wallingford but, as integral parts of the estates to which they belonged, ‘outside’ the borough as a legal entity.

            So far, so good. The accounts of most Domesday boroughs outline customary and non-customary lands. In Wallingford the third section is more anomalous. It is a schedule of lands that owed landgable, ground rent, to the king. This either pre-dates the Domesday inquest or, more likely, comes from its earliest stages. It is what used to be called a Domesday satellite document. What is of most interest here, however, is that it is divided into four apparently geographical subsections. You can see that they are marked by paragraphoi, paragraph marks. This section appears to describe the four wards of the borough which are first explicitly recorded in the early thirteenth century.

Fourth, there are two value clauses referring back to sections one and two, the customary and non-customary lands. The second is fragmentary, noticing only five fees. Finally, there is a further list of non-customary lands that belonged to manors in Oxfordshire. These tenements seem to have come to light in the latter stages of the compilation of Domesday Book: Oxfordshire was one of the last counties to be written up.

A sixth section has been identified by many people as ‘borough customs’.  In fact, it is a miscellaneous collection of county laws and customs. Although of great interest, it is unrelated to the account of Wallingford itself. The make-up of the Wallingford Domesday and its sources can be summarized as in Table 1. I shall skip the detail here, but I think you can see that the description of the borough is anything but a coherent account.


Table 1: the sources of the Domesday account of Wallingford






Customary land

Audit of regalia, 1st stage of inquest, summary


Non-customary lands

Survey of seigneurial land, 3rd stage of inquest



Audit of regalia, 1st stage of inquest, initial survey



Geld survey?, 2nd stage of inquest


Oxfordshire thegns

OE schedule, survey of seigneurial lands


On its own this collection of fag ends is uncommunicative. However, taken together with contemporary and later evidence, it provides the framework for a fairly detailed picture of Wallingford in 1086. It also provides some insights into the origins of the borough.

Clearly, Wallingford was an important place. The castle was a major royal centre. Katharine will be exploring its wider political significance. Here I simply note its existence. I shall concentrate on the borough itself, its extent, topography, and social structure. In size Wallingford was relatively modest. I calculate the number of recorded tenements as 390. This sum is somewhat less than previous calculations since I think that  the 95 properties of Section 3, the schedule, must be duplicates. This total is evidently a minimum. Domesday does not detail the holdings of nine townsmen and one woman in section three who did not pay custom. Moreover, twelfth- and thirteenth-century evidence suggests that there were other non-customary tenements that escaped notice. Nevertheless, it is evident that Wallingford was in the first division of English boroughs rather than the premiership of the likes of Lincoln, Norwich, and York.

The 1086 total of probably 400 or more properties can be compared with the 160 recorded in the 1548 survey of the borough. Wallingford was clearly larger in the eleventh century. Indeed, it is clear that its physical extent at this time was much as it was before late nineteenth-century expansion. The customary tenements were apparently scattered throughout the borough. They cannot be located from the Domesday evidence but are represented by the 190 or so individuals who paid landgable in a series of thirteenth-century rent rolls. They were distributed, if unevenly, between the four wards of the town.

Where they can be located, the properties that belonged to rural manors tell the same story. At least some of the bishop of Winchester’s 27 hagae, ‘closes’, that belonged to Brightwell were located on the north side of High Street. A series of medieval sources and the Wallingford surveys of 1548 and 1606 indicate that three are represented today by St Michael’s House, no 89, and the George Hotel. Similar sources identify the bishop of Lincoln’s property that belonged to Dorchester as 7 Market Place, now represented by Boots. Hugh de Bolebec’s tenements belonging to the manor of Crowmarsh were close by at and around no 14 St Mary’s Street.

Others can, as yet, be assigned no more precisely than to a parish. The property belonging to William fitzCorbucion’s manor of North Moreton was probably in Holy Trinity parish. Nigel Daubigny’s manor of West Henred or Willington held land in St Mary the Great’s and the monks of Winchester’s manor of Sotwell in St Lucian’s outside the south gate.

Already, it would seem, the parochial structure of medieval Wallingford had been established. Only one church is recorded in the Domesday text. Roger the priest held it although it rightly belonged to the bishop of Salisbury as of his manor of Sonning in the account of which it is duly noted. As will become clear, this church can be identified as St Martin’s or, just possibly, St John’s on the Water. However, five other priests are noted, two of whom, Bishop Peter and Regenbald, were important royal clerics. To paraphrase Bruce Forsyth, ‘What do priests mean? Priests mean churches!’ It cannot be doubted that they held important foundations. None can be assigned to any particular one, but seven further churches can be identified as existing in 1086.

We’ll start with the southern end of town. St Leonard’s, originally known as Holy Trinity the lesser, St Lucian’s, and St Rumbold’s are attested in a probably pre-Conquest source. Appended to a spurious charter supposedly of 953 relating to the estate of Brightwell, Mackney, and Sotwell is a boundary clause in, I quote Margaret Gelling here, ‘good Old English’. It describes the bounds of the estate, essentially the modern parishes of Brightwell and Sotwell, and then adds that there were 36 acres and a mill north of the borough of Wallingford, ‘property inside the port from the east gate to the brook, on the north side of the street, and…seven houses (heorthas) and three churches outside it’. The property in the borough was clearly Winchester’s tenements on High Street. The seven houses outside can be identified with the 8 closes that belonged to Sotwell in 1086. There seems no doubt, then, that the churches were St Leonard, St Lucian and St Rumbold. Indeed, Sotwell was in the parish of St Lucian in the twelfth century and the three churches remained closely associated throughout the Middle Ages.

The status of these three churches is difficult to assess. It is possible that we are looking at a minster with two or more daughter churches. On balance, though, it is perhaps more likely that they were estate churches. Brightwell and its associated settlements is first noticed in the mid ninth century. So, the Wallingford complex may have been an early settlement nucleus, possibly pre-borough. Topographical evidence supports the contention: all three churches are peripheral and the line of the southern defences looks as if it has been diverted to the south to include the church of St Leonard’s. Before the borough, this part of Wallingford was probably a division of an early episcopal estate. The area is of prime archaeological interest.

Holy Trinity within the north-west quadrant of the borough, by contrast, was undeniably an early urban foundation. Holy Trinity Priory was a cell of St Albans Abbey and it has always been considered a post-Conquest monastic foundation. However, it is clear from the St Albans’ benefactors list, and the parochial altar that was maintained in the priory throughout the Middle Ages, that it was founded in a pre-existing parish church. Identified as Christ Church, this church was granted by Nigel Daubigny probably sometime before 1086. Foundations of this kind are very often regularizations of pre-Conquest ecclesiastical institutions and that certainly seems to have been the understanding of the origins of the priory of Wallingford in the thirteenth century. Writing at St Albans, Matthew Paris records that Abbot Paul ‘sent monks there, constructed buildings, and with the advice of Archbishop Lanfranc determined (constituit) that the rule of the church of St Albans be observed there inviolate’. Nigel’s grant of the church included half of St Mary the Great’s and it seems likely that St Martin’s was also already associated with it. It is first noticed in a confirmation of the lands of the Priory by the bishop of Salisbury in the mid twelfth century in what looks very like a quitclaim. Holy Trinity, I would suggest, was a pre-Conquest college of secular priests.

The evidence for the royal free chapel of St Nicholas is more circumstantial. The chapel of St Nicholas in the castle was, according to the Oseney Cartulary, founded by Miles Crispin. The initial foundation consisted of probably three prebends, the churches of North Stoke, Chalgrove, and All Hallows in Wallingford with a mill outside the south gate, and land in Newnham Murran and Haseley. In 1278 the chapel was re-founded by Edmund, earl of Cornwall, as a college consisting of a dean and five priests, six clerics, and four choristers. Throughout its recorded history, St Nicholas’ was a royal free chapel, that is, it was a peculiar that was exempt from the normal jurisdiction of the local bishop.

            There is no reason to doubt that Miles Crispin had a role in the history of the foundation. Its endowment was closely related to his Wallingford lands in 1086; he must have had a significant benefactor. However, it is not clear that St Nicholas’ was an entirely new foundation. The dedication is post-Conquest but in some sources it is linked with St Mary which may be an earlier dedication. Royal free chapels are regularly associated with pre-Conquest foundations of some antiquity. Only St Nicholas’s in Wallingford, along with St George’s, Windsor, has been held to be post-Conquest on the ground that it was associated with a castle. The castle, of course, was post-Conquest, but it seems likely that there was a royal or aristocratic residence on the site before the Conquest. The fact that only eight customary closes were destroyed in its construction suggests to me that the area was of high status rather than under-developed. There is a pre-Conquest palace there somewhere. It must have had a church of some kind. Whether that was on the site of St Nicholas’ must await archaeological investigation.

            There is some evidence, however, that the prebends had a pre-Conquest identity. Most of the pre-Conquest holders of the lands – Queen Edith, Edwin, Thorkell - are unexceptional or unidentifiable. The only one that is remarkable is the Engelric who held Newnham Murren before the Conquest or shortly after. The name is a rare one. Elsewhere in Domesday Book it refers to a single individual, the priest who founded or re-founded the royal free chapel of St Martin le Grand in London. No positive identification can be made here, but the coincidence is striking. More clearly All Hallows church must have been in existence at the time of the Domesday inquest. Its parish was extensive, encompassing the north-eastern quadrant of the borough, apart from the evidently intrusive area of the extra-parochial castle, and the territory of Clapcot to the north. Like the Sotwell/Brightwell complex, the estate that the parish represents, and the nucleus that the church marks, were clearly primary features of Wallingford.

Wallingford, then, had already assumed its medieval form by 1086. Its character was also set. In the reign of Henry II the burgesses were granted a charter of liberties, but already in 1086 they may have farmed the borough. It was leased at £80 rather than its £40 value. The ten privileged townsmen: may have had positions of authority in the town. The liberties that they enjoyed were essentially sake and soke and thus they are comparable to the lawmen of northern England. At the very least they formed an urban patriciate, the movers and shakers of the town.

There can be no doubt, though, that real power lay with the king. The ministri regis, the king’s servants, were above all prominent. Before the Conquest the priests are most visible. But there were also housecarls whose lands Miles Crispin held in 1086. Tovi the Wend may have been one of them, Ludric and Brictward another two. Above all Wigod of Wallingford must have been a minister, a custodian of the town, since Wallingford quite clearly belonged to King Edward the Confessor.

As a landholder Miles Crispin was the direct heir of Wigod in 1086 and as the constable of the castle, his functional successor. He came into his lands through marriage to Matilda, the daughter of Robert D’Oilly and Alditha, Wigod’s daughter. His interests in Wallingford were considerable, but again he was not its lord: it remained a royal borough. Miles was a minister. So were many other landholders in Wallingford. Ralph son of Siegfried’s status is unclear, but his brother Roger who held Brightwell Baldwin in Oxfordshire is explicitly described as a minister regis. Henry de Ferrers probably held in Wallingford as the successor to Godric the sheriff: he derived much of his Berkshire land from him and may have succeeded to his office. Alfsi of Faringdon and Alwine son of Cypping were closely identified with royal power: both survived the Conquest and were granted lands by William the Conqueror. The service they rendered is unknown. Alfwold was a chamberlain, probably to the queen since he held in succession to Edith in Carswell. Leofled, who held in Sutton Courtenay, may have also been in the service of the queen. Geoffrey the chamberlain, the reputed founder of Holy Trinity, served the king’s daughter. In the vicinity of Wallingford there were numerous sergeancies that owed various other services.

Much of the land that these ministri held was appurtenant to their office. Although it appears to be held in chief in 1086, in the course of time it was lost to their family or became subject to the overlordship of a neighbour. The crown resumed the right to the churches – All Hallows and St Nicholas, St Leonard, St Lucian, and St Rumbold were re-granted by the king in the twelfth century. The land of the housecarls tended to come into the honour of Wallingford, even though in 1086 Miles Crispin apparently held only the land in the borough on which they had lived. Geoffrey the chamberlain lost his land in Moulsford and it was given to another minister, Henry the larderer, before it was granted to Holy Trinity Priory by Henry I. The king maintained a tight control of his agents in Wallingford and the surrounding area. As such Wallingford fitted neatly into a wider landscape of extraordinary royal power. Royal Berkshire was a palpable reality 1086.


©David Roffe 2008