ABSTRACT

T he Anglo-Saxon chronicler’s account o f the proceedings o f the Domesday commissioners in 1086 makes clear the bias o f their investigations. They were sent ‘all over England into every shire . . . to ascertain . . . how m uch land and livestock the king him self owned in the country’, and ‘how m uch each m an who was a land­ ho lder here in England had in land and livestock’, so that the sham eful fact was that no t an ox o r a cow or a pig escaped notice in their record .1 T heir prim e concern, in o ther words, was with a pro­ foundly rural world, a bias which reflected the realities of eleventh-century England. This was not, however, the whole tru th about England at tha t time, and indeed Domesday Book tells us som ething about com m unities which had urban features and, occa­ sionally, about m en engaged in o ther than agricultural occupations. These notices, unfortunately, are fleeting, inconsistent and often enigmatic; and the record o f urban groups is seriously incom plete, if only because the towns may n o t have been part o f the original scope o f the enquiry. In consequence, the Domesday entries for towns represen t a ‘haphazard and incom plete’ transfer o f old m ate­ rials relating to the dues which boroughs owed to the king or sheriff. A fu rther result is th a t the Domesday inform ation about towns principally relates to things as they had been in or before 1066 and provides no th ing like the systematic description o f urban com m unities which the commissioners assem bled for rural m anors in 1086. For some places, m oreover, including L ondon, W inchester

and probably Coventry, there are no entries at all; and the inform a­ tion given about others, including Bristol, is o f the slightest.2