Domesday And The WI

In 1066 King William conquered England and eventually made the first detailed records of our country (or indeed of any country in Europe) in the 1086 Domesday Book. William’s survey was probably undertaken in order to discover the value of the properties which he could tax; to provide a basis for settling land disputes and to establish feudal laws; and finally (which is most historical interest to us 900 years later) to find out exactly what he had conquered.

Every estate in the land was asked similar questions – how much land and of what type was owned and by whom; how many slaves and villeins were there; numbers of farm animals, buildings, mills and so on. The survey, incredibly, only took 10 months to complete and then the results were carefully checked and copied by hand on to parchment – all 1605 pages and two million or more words.

The picture of England recorded by William is very different from that of today. Our local woods probably sheltered wolves and wild boar, whereas now we contend with nothing more dangerous than badgers and deer! No mention is made in Domesday of rabbits or warrens for there were none in Britain until they were introduced from Europe at the end of the eleventh century. The food of the thegns, villeins and cottars was plain and monotonous – no sugar, potatoes, carrots – not even hops for ale, for those were all later introductions.

Now 900 years later there has been produced a second Domesday ‘book’. King William would be astounded by the modern technology involved – and perhaps incredulous at the time taken to produce it, compared with his ten months! No parchment for the 1980s – the 1986 Domesday survey was recorded on two interactive video discs, copies of which are available for use in all the main libraries and universities – even Monmouth comprehensive School has a copy of Domesday ’86. The discs contain maps, photographs and written descriptions covering the whole of the British Isles and any of which can be called up on to a screen at the touch of a computer button.

The information on the discs was collected by the BBC and school children all over Britain, together with other interested groups. Penallt and Wyesham Schools shared the surveying of the area to the north and east of the village and Penallt WI surveyed the Lydart area. Much lively discussion was needed to decide exactly how to record land use for the maps, which photographs to include and how to cut people’s written contributions diplomatically in order to fit them on to a computer ‘page’.

The Penallt ‘pages’ included descriptions of local natural history, the farms and farm life, Ty Mawr Convent, the Trellech Hill quarry, Pelham Hall, a Lydart garden, the WI, some interesting local characters and the changing population of this area.

What would King William think of Britain today? Gone are all the oak forests, slaves and petty battles – replaced by pine woods, punks and party politics! Still, as a firm autocratic ruler of the 1080s, William would no doubt approve of the Iron Lady of the 1980s!

[from: Penallt – A Village Miscellany]