Magazine article History Today

Domesday Book at the Tower of London

Magazine article History Today

Domesday Book at the Tower of London

Article excerpt

There is no mention in Domesday of the Tower of London, which this month becomes home to one of the volumes of Great Domesday as part of a new exhibition exploring the castle's role as a repository for state papers.

The value of the survey lies in the vivid snapshot it provides of a country in the throes of traumatic change. William's agents recorded not only who owned the land in 1086, but who had owned it before the Norman Conquest: we get an idea of the wholesale displacement of Anglo-Saxon landowners by Normans, of the King and his most powerful barons, and of institutions like the Church. More than 25,000 slaves are mentioned. The woodland and mills are listed, together with the acreage of pasture and arable land. There are occasional references to other forms of industry, such as stone quarrying (as at Taynton in Oxfordshire, the source of some of the stone for the building of the Tower of London). Most crucially, several of the commissions looked into the possibility of extracting more profit from the manor than had hitherto been taken.

The document could have been even more detailed: what survives today is only a digest of the returns from the survey, much condensed and re-ordered. Some idea of the earlier stages of Domesday can be obtained from two other surviving documents, for the South-West and East Anglia. The latter document was never revised but was entered into the final survey in its long and unedited form. It is now known as Little Domesday, and the main document as Great Domesday. …

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