The Domesday survey of 1086, experimental in form though it might be, had very specific objectives. While designed to untangle at least some of the tenurial complexities which characterized post-Conquest England, an essential purpose was to lay down the terms of a new rating system that would protect and enlarge the king's revenues. 1 This it could achieve only by counting, for it was on the totalling of rateable units that liability to tax must be assessed, and it is the statistics of Domesday that give it its importance, to the archaeologist no less than to the historian. In itself, of course, the year 1086 had little significance, for much was still subject to change. Yet here, at one point in time, the historical landscape of late-eleventh-century England stands frozen uniquely, and the picture has many surprises.
Chief among these, at any rate to the newcomer to Domesday, is the extent to which the land of England had already been settled and tilled. A conservative estimate of England's arable acreage in 1086 has placed it as high as 93 per cent of the total area still under the plough as recently as 1914, 2 and this was before the considerable expansion of cultivation into waste and marginal lands that occurred in succeeding centuries. Servicing these fields, there were some 13,000 vills individually named in Domesday, a number not significantly increased, at least by permanent settlements, until very recent times. 3 Of course, village-type settlements were not the norm everywhere in England. In the Domesday survey, many of the vills are very small, and there were areas such as Devonshire where the isolated homestead was as much the usual farming unit some nine centuries ago as it continues to be to this day. 4 Nevertheless, there had been powerful social pressures, starting long before the Conquest, to make England the land of communities which the Normans preserved largely unchanged. For purposes of taxation and for policing, for geld and tithing, all men belonged to a vill. 5 Since the tenth-century edicts of Edmund and Edgar, formally requiring the regular payment of tithes, they had belonged to a parish as well. 6
In rural settlement, it has often been remarked, the elements of continuity