Visit to Flegg

Taken from the Yarmouth Archaeology

Volume 3

Centenary Edition

1988

Visit to Flegg in 1088 by Barbaras Cornford

Visit to Flegg 1088
 

I am going to take you on an imaginary journey round Flegg nine hundred years ago in the summer of 1088. two years after the excitement of the Domesday Inquiry. In 1086 ordinary people all over England were asked questions about themselves, their farms, their landlords, and such everyday things as the livestock, water mills, fisheries and salt works in their villages. All this information was analysed and written down in the Domesday Book. I am going to try to build up a picture of everyday life in Flegg from this evidence supplemented by other information from medieval sources.

We leave Yarmouth on a fine day in the summer of 1088 thankful that the climate is noticeably warmer and less unsettled than it is in the late twentieth century. We have to cross the river Bure which trickles to the sea at Cockle Haven through the northern arm of the great estuary of Breydon. Cockle Haven is slowly silting up. and although at high tide the estuary is filled with sea water, at low tide it is not difficult to pick our way among the mud flats and sand banks. We see activity on the salt workings in the estuary. for salt making is summer work. Men are carrying water in leather buckets from the sea-water pools to the hearths on the edge of the estuary where the brine is heated in enormous earthenware pans until the salt crystallises. Other men are staggering along with sacks of salt crystals on their backs, destined either for their own use or for sale to Yarmouth fishermen. Caister has forty-five saltpans. more than any other village in Norfolk. but every community on the southern edge of Flegg has its own salt works: Mautby nineteen. Runham sixteen. Herringby five and Stokesby three, the number decreasing with the distance from the sea. Flegg is the centre of salt production in East Norfolk and the sale of this essential commodity brings additional income not only to the manorial lords but also to the many freemen who own salt pans.

Let us now continue our journey to Caister through the marsh pastures where the manor flock of 360 ewes and their lambs are feeding. along with many of the village cows and oxen. Indeed we should see bullocks and heifers everywhere, some at work pulling carts, but most out to graze on the marshes, on the meadows after haymaking. or on any piece of waste ground, hedge bank or green lane. It is the duty of the youngest and the oldest members of the community to see that cattle and other livestock get up to no mischief The bullocks have to be kept in good condition for the winter and spring ploughing. Eight oxen make up a plough team and since the two manors in Caister have 27 ploughs between them, there must be over 200 oxen to maintain if every plough has its full team.

At Caister we call in at the manor farm to hire their three riding horses for the twenty-five mile trip round Flegg. too far to walk over the rough tracks and field paths. Horses are not used for farm work, but most manors keep one or two for the bailiff or his servants. Caister manor had been the property of Earl Ralph. a great land owner until he rebelled against William in 1075 and forfeited his land to the Crown. In his heyday Earl Ralph built up his manors and maximised their potential, to use a modern phrase. When he took over the estate at Caister it was held by eighty freemen who no doubt paid their rent, and then got on with the business of cultivating the land. Domesday Book tells us that the Earl ‘made a manor of all this'. apparently by taking perhaps as much as a quarter of the freemen's land for his manor demesne or home farm. I suspect that one of his main objects was to get the freemen's twenty-two ploughs at work on his new manor. Certainly the value of the estate rose from £8 in 1066 to £14 in 1086. As we shall see it was not only at Caister that Earl Ralph increased the value of his possessions.

Turning west on our journey through Flegg we come to the second Caister manor which is held by St Benet's Abbey. This is about half the size of the Earl's manor and is much less valuable. The four smallholders and fourteen freemen have only five ploughs between them. and if there is a flock of sheep it is too small to be recorded. The whole manor is valued at £3.5s. As we ride along the rough tracks through the continuous fields of ripening rye, wheat and barley it is quite clear that then, as now, Flegg was an important corn growing area. Surprisingly we do not see great fallow fields, but just patches of about twenty acres left uncultivated here and there. Suddenly a grunting huddle of pigs rushes down the track pursued by a young swineherd intent on rounding them up and herding them back to the fallow where. he hopes, their more docile companions are rooting among the weeds.

Something seems to be missing in this land of corn, the wind mills of course, but we remind ourselves they will not be seen in East Anglia for about another hundred years. On the Pickerill Holme, the stream which separates Caister from Mautby. we come to the only water mill in Flegg. Most streams are too short or too sluggish to turn a water wheel. Not surprisingly the mill belongs to Earl Ralph. and serves his two manors of Caister and Mautby; his tenants are expected to grind their corn at his mill, which they regard as an unwelcome duty. In other places families grind their rye and barley at home on hand querns, just as the inhabitants of Flegg have done for the past three thousand years; the remains of these querns are sometimes to be found in fields and farmyards in the twentieth century.

At Mautby manor, we see the work of Earl Ralph again, for Domesday Book tells us that he added fourteen freemen with nine ploughs to his manor, and the value of this estate rose from £4 I Os to £6. It is clear that the more plough teams a manor can call upon, the greater is its value. Sheep farming also seems to be very profitable. We have already met a flock of 360 at Caister, and the manors of Mautby. Runham and Stokesby all have flocks of over a hundred sheep. The surplus corn, sheep skins and fleeces are no doubt sold in Yarmouth market, and possibly as far afield as Norwich. At Runham. another of Earl Ralph's manors, we meet the villeins who have to work regularly on the manor farm and may not move from the village. Their farms of about ten or twelve acres do not seem very different from those of the freemen, except that they never support so many oxen. At Runham ten villeins can contribute only one plough team to work on the demesne while the twenty-three freemen have six ploughs between them. It is hardly surprising that Earl Ralph and other lords want to get a firmer control over their freemen and so be able to call on their services for ploughing.

We ride to Stokesby through the good grazing marshes by the river Bure among sheep from Mautby. Runham and Stokesby. William the Conqueror granted the manor of Stokesby to William of Ecouis, one of his French nobles, who has lands in Suffolk. Essex. Dorset and Hereford as well as extensive estates in Norfolk. Fifteen villeins. six smallholders and four slaves make up the work force on the manor. Only six of the larger manors in Flegg have slaves and we can find very little out about their work and status, but they seem to be living-in farm servants. William of Ecouis is also the lord of twenty-four freemen with eight ploughs. whose service he can no doubt call upon in the ploughing season. Stokesby is a profitable manor for we are told that although it is valued at £10. for the last two years it has been let for £15. Of course it is most unlikely that William of Ecouis, or any of the other feudal lords with lands in Flegg, ever set foot on their estates. The manors are let and the rent collected by the steward and handed over to the lord. Even the Abbot of St Benet's has not made the two mile journey down the Bure to visit the monastery estates, for he has been in Denmark for the past twenty years.

Now we turn north through Thrigby, a small village consisting of about fourteen freemen's farms, but with no manor. We are riding along the valley of the Muck Fleet which divides the two Flegg Hundreds. Most of the inhabitants of Thrigby and Filby are out hay making, but in the valley bottom some are busy cutting and stacking blocks of peat, while others set up fish nets in the dykes and fleets. We may even see one or two freemen visiting their salt works, for Domesday Book records a few salt pans for the villages on either side of the Muck Fleet. However. I wonder whether these salt workings are actually in production, for with the silting up of Cockle Haven really salt water can hardly come so far up river. Of course it is possible that the freemen from the Muck Fleet villages may have saltpans in other villages nearer the sea. only an hour's walk away.

At Filby we cross the Muck Fleet into West Flegg. This south-west corner of Flegg is rather different from the land of prosperous manors and sheep farming we have seen along the Bure. The communities are smaller, so are the manors, and we see very few sheep. We meet more cottagers and smallholders. men with holdings of five acres or less, who provide the bulk of the labour on the manorial demesnes. In this Hundred the chief land owner is the Abbot of St Benet's who has manors at Burgh. Oby. Ashby, Thurne. Rollesby and Winterton. They are all small manors, with few tenants, few ploughs, no mention of sheep. and none is valued at more than £1 l0s. We hear that the Abbot has just returned from exile, an old and broken man, near to death. He organised the coastal defence of Fast Anglia for Harold in 1066. and after the battle of Hastings he fled to Denmark. In his absence the Abbey has lacked leadership and has lost a number of freemen and their land to the new Norman lords, especially to Roger Bigod and the Bishop. The Abbot's steward runs the monastery estates in the traditional way, much as his predecessors have done before him, quite a contrast to Earl Ralph's style of management. At Billockby we turn north past the little church and climb up to the heath, the only wild part of Flegg. where, according to Domesday Book. Ashby has wood for six pigs and Rollesby for three. However it is unlikely that we shall meet any pigs. for the swineherd in the forest is an out-dated figure in the eleventh century. Instead we see the inhabitants of the surrounding villages collecting wood and gorse for their kindling and bracken for litter. The heath is called Stefne which means ‘meeting place'. It was here, at a meeting of the Hundred Court for West Flegg. that the Domesday Commissioners heard the evidence of jurors from every village in the Hundred. Even the twentieth century traveller feels something of the wildness of Stefne on this road across the top of Flegg. The only habitations he passes between Clippesby and Repps are two isolated farms, Heath Farm and Heath Barn Farm.

Like Thrigby. Repps is a village with no manor, and the thirty or so freemen are under the patronage of five different lords. To us this makes the pattern of land holding a complicated patchwork of different interests, but no doubt each freeman knows his own lord and his own rights and duties. The village has no obvious centre and the freemen's farms are strung out along roads and field tracks. We are halfway round Flegg here, and so perhaps we will stop and consider the freemen and their way of life. for over two thirds of the tenants of Flegg are of free status. Then as now the Norfolk countryman is reluctant to talk about his business and personal affairs, but most freemen admit that it is useful on occasions to have the patronage of a powerful local man such as Roger Bigot or the Bishop. In any case most men have little choice in the matter for their fathers and grandfathers before them have held their farms from Saxon lords and paid the appropriate rents and services. Some freemen claim that they can change their lord if they wish; all say that they can sell their land freely, although some admit that the land must remain in its original lordship. The freemen certainly feel that they are different from the villeins in some way. but in East Flegg. as we have seen. more and more freemen are being drawn under manorial administration.

In Flegg. freemen's holdings vary from a few acres to eighty or a hundred. but many are somewhere between ten and twenty acres, quite large enough to support a family on the fertile Flegg soil. In many instances a group of freemen hold land together, such as the six freemen of St Benet's who hold 36 acres in Repps. How is the land shared out? Does each freeman have six acres. or is it a family farm worked communally? No amount of questioning or searching in Domesday Book will give us a positive answer, but it seems very likely that with the steady rise in population holdings are being constantly sub-divided to provide some land fbr every member of the family. What is most striking about the freemen's farms is the large number of plough beasts they maintain. Whatever the size of their holdings most freemen try to keep a pair of oxen even when their farms are really too small to support the beasts. We see one or two ploughs at work on the fallows turning the soil to control the weeds; for summer work perhaps just two bullocks or heifers are enough to pull the plough. In the autumn and spring most of the heavy ploughs with their full teams would be out preparing the soil for autumn sown rye and wheat, and the all important spring sown barley. Most freemen hold a few acres of meadow. very necessary to provide hay to feed the plough beasts and the family cow in the winter. Cocks and hens strut and scratch in the yards and tofts near the homestead. On some farms a hen at Christmas and a dozen eggs at Easter are due to the lord as rent in kind. We see many pigs. but few sheep; sheep farming is for the owners of large estates with access to wide markets. The first aim of the countryman, free or villein, is to grow enough corn to feed his family and to provide next year's seed corn. Whatever small surplus he has of grain, pig meat, dairy products, salt or peat is disposed of locally to gain money to pay his rent. His lord is interested in payment in silver pennies, the only coins of early medieval England.

At Bastwick we meet the only women mentioned in the Domesday record for Flegg. Two women. (surely they are sisters) hold a thirteen acre farm from the powerful Norman lord. Roger Bigot, who seem to be the patron of one or two freemen in almost every village in Flegg. We are told that ‘they plough with two oxen' which many mean exactly what it says, for on the well-drained soil of Flegg two oxen may often manage to pull a plough. On our way to Martham. near the twentieth century Grange Farm, we pass through a small hamlet on the southern fringes of Stefne heath with the very appropriate name of Sco. a Danish word meaning a wood. Here a freeman has a fifteen acre farm, and two small-holders have six acres between them, all held from the Bishop of Thetford.

Martham is quite a contrast to Repps, Bastwick and tiny Sco, for, with eighty-seven households it is one of the largest villages in Flegg. In mid-summer most of the inhabitants are hay-making, including a blind tenant of St Benet's. Although the King. Count Alan and the Abbot of St Benet's each have a few freemen here, It is the Bishop who is the main landowner in Martham. He is the lord of a group of thirty-six freemen who farm over six hundred acres. They have sixteen plough teams and fifty acres of meadow, all together valued at £8. Their church with its glebe is worth 4s 2d to the Bishop. He also is lord of a small manor on the Hemsby side of the village which has fifty acres of meadow including the aptly named Prickle meadow down by the head waters of the Muck Fleet. With so much meadow there can not be a shortage of winter feed in Martham, and it seems possible that the Bishop is able to provide hay, at a price no doubt, for the coastal villages such as Caister where only a few acres of meadow are recorded.

Somerton is one of the busiest places we have visited; with ninety-three households it is a more populous community than its extensive neighbour. Martham. Haymaking on the sixty-Five acres of meadow land down by the Hundred Stream is in full swing. King William granted this estate to Count Alan. a Norman lord of national importance. whose chief Norfolk manor is at Costessey. Count Alan gave his manors at Somerton and Hickling to his steward Wymare. Wymarc seems to specialise in pig rearing for he keeps a herd of thirty-four pigs at Somerton and twenty-four at Hickling. These are mostly breeding sows so he has over a hundred piglets each year from each manor to dispose of Are they destined for the Yarmouth market? Wymare also goes in for sheep farming. for since taking over the manor he has doubled the size of his flock to two hundred sheep. and raised the value of the manor from £5 to £9. The smaller manor at East Somerton also has a flock of sheep and two beehives, the only mention of apiaries in Flegg.

We will pass by Winterton in case it has the same reputation for aloofness and distrust of strangers that it enjoyed many years later. and continue on to Hemsby. This village is different from most others in Flegg. The Bishop is the only landlord in the place. and his manor is run on text book lines. Thirty-three villeins and thirteen smallholders are busy working on his demesne land, weeding, manuring the fallows. making hay on his forty acres of meadow land, minding his flock of 160 sheep and repairing the harvest carts ready to fetch in his corn as well as their own. As we stand on Hemsby Green — yes. Hemsby has a large green to the west of the Church — we can see that the lay out of Hemsby village is different from most of the other villages we have seen. The farmsteads lie evenly along the roads leading to the Green, an unusually neat arrangement for Flegg. Hemsby manor is the centre of the Bishop's estates in Flegg for his bailiff farms both the manors of Hemsby and Martham and collects freemen's rents for land in Sco. Scratby and Winterton. This large enterprise is valued at £29, making it the most valuable estate in the two Hundreds.

Ormesby has the distinction of being the King's own manor. Before 1066 it was held by King Harold's brother Gyrth who fell at Hastings and whose death is depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. It is another large manor with a group of eighty freemen attached to it and a flock of 380 sheep. There are ninety-five households in Ormesby making it one of the largest communities in Flegg. It is very noticeable that the largest and richest villages we have seen in the two hundreds lie near the sea coast, as indeed they do in the twentieth century. Indeed all over Flegg we have been surprised at the number of people we have seen working in the Fields and farmyards the meadows and the marshes. We take away the impression of a very busy area and a tamed landscape. However if we leave Flegg by riding down the coast, our last glimpse will be of a solitary freeman gathering his hay and tending his two oxen on his fifteen acre farm at Ness which now, in the twentieth century, lies beneath the waves of the North Sea.

Table 1 Number of Households and Econonic Assets in Flegg in 1086

East Flegg

               

Village

Free

Unfree

Total

Slaves

Plough Teams

Salt pans

Sheep

Meadows acres

Caister

108

5

113

 

27

45

360

9.5

Ormesby

84

11

95

 

27

 

381

39

Stokesby

24

30

54

4

12

3

180

32

Mautby

34

19.5

53.5

2

16

19

122

17.5

Filby

25

17

42

 

13

10.5

 

35

Runham

32

10

42

 

10

16

101

27

Herrinby

8

14

22

 

4

5.5

 

7

Scratby

18

3

21

 

8

   

4

Thrigby

18.5

2.5

21

 

5

5.5

 

19

Ness

1

 

1

       

1

Total

325.5

112

464.5

6

124

104.5

1124

191

West Flegg

               

Somerton

44

46

90

2

17

3

345

65.5

Martham

76.5

10

86.5

1

21

   

114

Winterton

34

24

58

 

9

.5

 

11

Hemsby

4

46

50

3

15

2

160

43

Rollesby

36.5

11

47.5

 

8

.5

 

22

Burgh

33

13

46

 

8.5

2

 

51

Oby

20

9

29

 

7.5

   

37

Repps

27.5

 

27.5

 

4.5

   

19.5

Ashby

18.5

7

25.5

 

4

   

17

Clippesby

17

7

24

 

5

   

30

Billockby

16

3

19

 

4

   

25

Bastwick

9

 

9

 

1

   

7

Sco

 

3

3

       

.5

Total

348

185

533

6

104.5

8

505

442.5

 

Table 2 Comparison between 1086 and the first Census, 1801

Number of Households

Total Population

 

1086

465

534

(estimate)

2119

2499

1801

400

541

 

1999

2821

 

(Estimates of population in 1086 is arrived at by multiplying number of housholds by 4½ and then adding the slaves)

It is clear from these figures that we must think of Flegg in the 11th century as well populated and as extensively farmed as the Norfolk of Nelson, Parson Woodeford. Faden's Map and the Agricultural Improvers.

BIBLIOGRAPHY AND NOTES

 

Books in Print

 

Domesday Book.' Norfolk ed. Phillipa Brown. 2 vols in History from the Sources series.

Phillimore. 1984. This edition has an index, which the Victoria County History lacks, and it is easy to look up the entries for any village. My description of Flegg in 1088 is based on the Domesday entries; it is a bit imaginative and speculative in parts. but if readers care to check they will see there is some basis for my interpretation.

H.C. Darhy Domesday Geography of Eastern England. Cambridge. 1959. The section on Norfolk has distribution maps of population, plough teams, meadows, sheep. saltpans etc.

H.C. Darhy Domesday England. Cambridge. 1977. paperback edition 1986, correlates information collected from all English regions. Two points he makes are specially relevant to Flegg. He suggests that in Flegg. as in a very few other areas in south-east England and the Midlands. more than 75% of the total area suitable for arable farming was under cultivation in 1086. He also comments on the veiy large number of' plough teams in East Norfolk and suggests that perhaps the freemen were maintaining more oxen than was economically justified. He emphasises the population rise which was occurring in the early Middle Ages.

H.H. Lamb Climate. History and the Modern World. 1982. He suggests that the temperature was perhaps 1 degree C higher in the 11th cent. than today. and the weather more settled.

Bruce Campbell The Regional Uniqueness of English Field Systems? Evidence from East Norfolk

in The Agricultural Historical Review vol 29. Pt 1. 1981. Bruce Campbell Common Fields in East Norfolk in Norfolk Archaeology 1981. These articles give details of the size of holdings and the very small proportion of fallow land on Flegg manors in the 13th & 14th cents. I see no reason to think that these social and economic patterns were not present to some degree in the 11th cent.

J. Macdonald and G. Snooks Domesday Economy. Oxford 1986 stress the Financial importance of plough teams in the manorial economy.

J.R. West The Register of the Abbey of St Benet at Holme Norfolk Record Society vols 2 & 3. This book supplements the Domesday evidence. Domesday Book does not mention fisheries or turbaries in Flegg. but twelfth century charters show that the Abbey probably had a Fishery in Filby in 1108 and certainly had a turbary at Thurne in 1153. I suggest that in the 11th cent. Fishing and peat digging were perhaps free for all the village community and the lords owned no private Fisheries or turbaries so none were recorded as financial assets in Domesday Book.

J.M. Lamhert et al. The Making of the Broads. 1960. assembles botanical. historical and archaeological evidence to demonstrate that peat was dug in the 11th cent. It is inconceivable that the inhabitants of Flegg did not catch Fish in the many dykes. streams and rivers.

Oliver Rackham History of the Countryside. Dent. 1986. says that ‘by 1086 the wood-swine had become the swine of the imagination; real pigs were counted separately and fed in other ways'.

Charles Green The Lost Vill of Ness in Norfolk Archaeology 1966 discusses the position of Ness on the Flegg coast.

Original Sources

 

British Museum Survey of the Cathedral Priory manor of Martham 1292 in Stowe MS 960 gives Prickle meadow lying near Ormesby Broad.

Norfolk Record Office 14th cent. Account Rolls for the St Benet's manor of Flegg. (Diocesan Est 9) gives name Stefne, and Field Book of Repps, 1466/7 (EVL584 463 x 6) identifies it as  Stevens heath on the highlands between Repps and Clippesby.

Hemsby Field Book, 1422. (Messrs Middleton. Killin & Bruce. R 157 C) suggests the shape of Hemsby village.

Account Rolls and Manor Court Rolls of the Cathedral Priory manor of Martham, 1261 onwards, in both Dean and Chapter and the Norfolk Record Society Collections give general information about the size of peasant holdings, partible inheritance, straying pigs, renders of eggs and hens and much else about every day life in the Middle Ages.

Notes

 

1)The Outfall of the Bure and the state of Breydon in the 11th Century The geography of the marshes and rivers behind Yarmouth in the 11th century is not at all clear. Breydon seems to have been a wider area of mud flat, creek and sand bank, especially on its northern shore. However where grazing marsh had formed in the Halvergate area and on the northern banks of the Bure it was relatively dry. and suitable for sheep. It is usually thought that the Bure ran straight to the sea at Cockle or Grubb's Haven roughly along the line of the Caister/Yarmouth boundary. Henry Swinden in The history and antiquities of the ancient burgh of Great Yarmouth, 1772. suggests that Cockle Haven may already have been closed by the time of the Norman Conquest, in which case the Yarmouth sandbank was al ready joined to Flegg in 1086. Mr Lark. in a talk to our society in November 1986, suggested that the Bure originally flowed into Breydon somewhere between Scare Gap and Ash Tree farms. He also showed a slide of an old salt pool, where water was collected for the salt workings.

2)Domesday Measurements, Values and Population

Measurements The size of freemen's holdings are usually given in acres, and of manors in carucates. A carucate was 120 acres. These measurements are notional rather than exact, and are probably intended for the assessment of taxation, rather like our rateable values. I have used them to give some idea of the size of farms and estates.

Values A value for each land holding is given in £.s.d. These are considered to be an indication of the annual rent which could be obtained from the property if it was let.

Population Each tenant recorded is considered to be the head of the household. Some men may have been counted twice, others may not have been counted at all. For example. at Caister it is not clear whether a group of fourteen freemen have been recorded twice over. We frequently read of'half freemen'. who are usually thought to be men who hold land from two lords. Table I on page 61 is therefore only a rough guide to the number of households in Flegg in 1086. To get some idea of the total Domesday population. it is usual to multiply the number of tenants by 4' 2 and then add the slaves who were probably single men.

3) The Bishop and the See The Bishop moved the See from North Elmham to Thetford in 1071. In 1094 the See was moved to Norwich. So the Domesday survey was taken during the few years that the Bishop was at Thetford.

4) Churches in Flegg Domesday Book only mentions six churches in Flegg, Scratby, Stokesby, Thrigby. Billockby. Martham. Hemsby and Somerton. These churches represented a financial

value to their lords who could let their glebes. St Benet's charters list seven churches which the Abbey claimed in the 11th cent., Caister. Ashby. Bastwick. Somerton again Thurne and Winterton. There is no reason to think that these are the only churches in Flegg; possibly nearly every village had a church. The following churches have round towers, Clippesby. Mautby. Repps. Rollesby and West Somerton. but Harold and Joan Taylor who wrote the standard work, Anglo-Saxon Architecture. do not think that any of them are pre-Conquest. W.J. Goode in East Anglian Round Towers and their Churches suggests that all the round tower churches in Flegg. with the exception of West Somerton. have features which may be Saxon. It would be nice to think that Earl Ralph built Mautby church with its conspicuous iron-bound conglomerate stone in the lower courses.

by Barbara Cornford

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