Domesday Penkhull and the surrounding area

Domesday Penkhull – and the origins of Newcastle-under-Lyme.

William the Conqueror landed unopposed at Pevensey Bay on the 28th September 1066 A.D. and later won the Battle of Hastings against King Harold at nearby Senlacc (later renamed Battle) on the 14th October   1066. William   the Conqueror was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066 a date that is embedded in the mind of almost every British citizen.

England in 1066 was probably the wealthiest and most well governed kingdom in Western Europe. On inheriting the kingdom, William confiscated most of the land from the Saxon nobility and divided it up between his Norman barons and the church. At Christmas 1085, intent on knowing more about the land he had reigned over for nearly twenty years and stamping his authority over it, William commissioned the survey that became known as the Domesday Book. The survey was much more than a means to satisfy William’s fascination with his new kingdom. It recorded the value of land he held personally and that held by his barons and the church. Where there were disputes over land it helped settle disagreements.

William’s reasons for compiling the Domesday Book will never be known for certain. However, Domesday was probably the result of a geld (land tax) inquest to raise funds for the realm’s defence. In 1085, William’s kingdom had come under threat from King Canute of Denmark and King Olaf of Norway. Additionally, unrest in France, Normandy and Scotland contributed to an uneasy winter. Geld was collected in the year of Domesday

Other authorities suggest William wanted an account of the lands held by his tenants-in-chief (land holders) so that he could exercise his rights as feudal overlord. There is also the school of thought that William wanted to assess the burden of mercenaries upon his vassals and redistribute the burden fairly. A new theory is that several years lapsed between the inquest and the making of Domesday and it was written after the death of William and was commissioned by his son, William II, as a result of a revolt in 1088. Some have also put forward the theory that William simply wished to learn more about the country he had conquered 20 years earlier and to bring order from the chaos of the Norman Conquest. ‘To bring the conquered people under the rule of written law’ wrote one chronicler.

Some indication of the extent of clearance, occupation and relative prosperity established in the first phase of settlements can be gleaned from the Domesday survey. There is no mention of Stoke as such, but the valuation of the church is recorded under the entry for Caverswall, as the Lord of Caverswall held half of the advowson of Stoke Church. Many manors were recorded as ‘waste’, and for those listed locally it is unlikely that the description presented an accurate picture or physically equated with reality. In all probability it could have simply meant uninhabited or uncultivated or just lying in common.

Even if there had been extensive destruction in 1066, it would be expected that by 1086 that all the damage caused over twenty years earlier would have been made good. The word ‘waste’ is more likely to be interpreted as meaning that the taxable value was not worthy of either assessment or collection. Of those manors confirmed as agricultural units, Penkhull stands alongside Wolstanton as of the highest value, with Trentham a close third. All three have at their disposal the fertile loams of the Keele and Newcastle beds. Penkhull was valued at £6 0 0d as was Wolstanton; Trentham’s valuation was at £5 15 0d, three times as valuable as the next richest manor of the area, and over twelve times higher than the majority of the North Staffordshire manors. In comparison, Madeley, the richest of the drift manors, possessing only four plough lands and three ploughs was valued at thirty shillings. Other drift manors were valued at ten shillings or less, but in contrast many had large areas of appurtenant woodland, suggesting that land clearance, except that of Madeley, had not progressed very far towards a more general agricultural landscape.

Domesday details life in eleventh century England. The wealth of information that Domesday provides helps create a snap shot of the rich landscape that William inherited. The survey reveals what areas of the countryside were worked as plough land, pasture, meadow or woodland, and suggests regional variations. It tells us something about the people who held or worked the land and the social relationships between them. As an Anglo-Saxon chronicler wrote, not one ox nor one cow nor one pig which was there left out and not put down in his record. In spanning twenty years, Domesday also tells of how the landscape changed as a result of activities aimed at protecting Norman England.

The Domesday entry for Penkhull reads:

The King holds Pinchetel, which was aforetime held by Earl Alfgar. There are two hides of land and their appurtenances. The arable land consists of eleven carucates, two ploughs are in the demesne and seventeen villeins and six bordars have eight ploughs. There are two acres of meadow, also a wood one mile long and two furlongs broad, the value of the whole being six pounds.

The first impression is of Penkhull as an extensive farming community embracing arable, meadow and woodland well supplied with farm machinery. The implications of the organised presentation of the entry, suggests a community, which had been established for some time. At its highest point, Penkhull village, no farming was possible because of the visible outcrop of red sandstone. It is this area that would have been chosen for early huts and a community settlement. The western and northern slopes provided ample opportunity for good farming. These later became the principal sites of the mediaeval ‘open field’ farming community.

The exact measurement of a ‘hide’ (the basis upon which tax assessments were made) varied depending on the state of cultivation. It was the amount of land that could be ploughed in a day using one plough with an eight oxen team. The measurement differed from around sixty acres to around one hundred and eighty acres according to the degree in which the terrain restricted farming techniques. An average of one hundred and twenty acres is generally accepted as an approximate measurement equal to one hide.

Where the Danes settled in England, the word ‘carucate’ replaced that of ‘hide’. Domesday records for Penkhull eleven carucates indicating a manor of approximately one thousand three hundred acres; in addition, there are a further two acres of meadow. Thus, from a simple calculation, the size of Penkhull in 1086 may be assumed to reach far beyond the boundaries of the village of today.

The number of ploughs employed in the Demesne was two. This was the land set aside for the Lord of the Manor (absentee) who, with the assistance of compulsory labour from his villeins and bordars had the benefit of its crop or at least the value of it. A further eight ploughs; the villagers used each consisting of a team of eight oxen. This amounted to a total of eighty oxen employed within Penkhull. The six bordars each had a cottage, with a small plot of land attached for their own domestic needs. They would work in the Lord’s demesne, farming a number of strips of land in the open fields in lieu of rent, and probably hired themselves out to other farmers with large holdings of land during harvest time.

From the Domesday Book entry, a picture can be gleaned of what Penkhull was like in 1086. First of all to place Penkhull in the context of its importance and value, a comparison should be made with other villages of the area. Yates’ Domesday settlements and relief map shows those in North Staffordshire and the immediate locality of Penkhull. It is significant that nearly all are four to six hundred feet above sea level.

List of Domesday Manors in North Staffordshire and value:

Penkhull, £6 0 0d; Wolstanton £6 0 0d; Trentham* £5 15 0d; Bucknall waste; Norton £2 0 0d; Madeley £1 10 0d; Burslem 10 0d; Clayton £1 0 0d; Fenton – waste; Hanford;2 0d * Trentham may well have included the immediate area of the castle site at Newcastle-under-Lyme.

This list clearly emphasizes the value of the Royal Manor of Penkhull at the time of Domesday, but it also lists two manors, Fenton and Bucknall as waste. Why this is so remains a question not easily answered and in the end any conclusion can only be subjective. First, it is known that after 1066, the army of William continued their conquest to the west, the midlands and to the north. The term waste or wasted appears several times; most often describing settlements the army had passed through, bringing death and destruction.

It could mean, however, that because parts of the district of Fenton and Bucknall are high and the soil thin they would be considered as moorland areas and as such the word ‘waste’ would describe them.

The seventeen bordars of Penkhull’s Domesday and their appurtenances appear to have continued their status as later they would become known as yeoman farmers of the mediaeval period. The manorial records for the manor of Newcastle contain numerous references to ‘ancient messuages’, numbering seventeen in Penkhull until the early part of the nineteenth century.

So where did these original homesteads lie? The majority of the manorial records for Newcastle-under-Lyme have survived in the National Archives. With research it has been possible with the use of these records combined with others, to accurately identify the exact spot of the homestead for nearly all of the seventeen villains. This has been illustrated fully in the book The Royal Manor of Penkhull.

Further detailed information can be gained from The Royal Manor of Penkhull – still available.

The material here is © Richard Talbot


Pre-historic Penkhull – the evidence

Some two thousand years B.C., farmers of the Neolithic period entered North Staffordshire from the south via the only access, the river valley. Invading Britain from Europe via the Humber Estuary they would follow the River Trent to the point known as Hanford. It is from here that the land rises up sharply almost in a triangular shape to provide a natural defensive location. Penkhull, with its extensive views surrounded by dense forests would provide ideal hunting grounds for food while grassland on its western slopes was a perfect location for the early tribes to settle.

Penkhull was probably the first inhabited settlement within the city and three prehistoric finds in the area confirm its early occupation. The first is an early Bronze Age cup dating c2000-1500 B.C. found by Mr R. Scrivener, a local architect, during the excavations for Penkhull Garden Village in 1911. This type of cup is known as a Pygmy Cup. The discovery of this cup strongly suggests a burial mound as other pygmy cups found in the county were all discovered in burial mounds, but extensive developments of the surrounding area over the following fifty years have probably destroyed all other physical evidence.

The significance of this important find should not be under estimated. From around 2,500 BC, we see a new type of monument on the landscape. This is an individual burial under a round barrow and it signals a departure from the common older Neolithic custom of deposing the remains of the ancestors in repositories like earthen and megalithic barrows. A round barrow is essentially a single grave albeit a rather grand one that could only have been afforded by the better-off. This fact can either suggest that wealth was being accumulated in individual hands, or even more likely in the case for Penkhull, that it was built for the use of a local chieftain.

The cup is handmade from clay, pinched and decorated with regular impressions, probably done by a stick end. The top rim decorated with a criss-cross pattern has a similarity to other pygmy cups found elsewhere in the country. Around the rim of the base there is a thin line around the circumference probably made by the pressure of a thread of hemp being pressed into the clay. The cup measures 32mm high, 75mm in diameter at its rim and 59mm at its base. There are no signs inside of any heated material which rules out the burning of incense. Nor could it have been made to contain any liquid because there are two small neat holes found half way down the vessel on one side. Although the exact purpose of these holes has not been confirmed, they could suggest that they were placed in that position to enable the vessel to be hung in some way on an upright support and not hung from a roof support otherwise the holes would have been spaced out equally for balance.

The cup was presented by the son of Mr Scrivener to Hanley Museum in 1931. Based upon the evidence available, archaeologist Dr. Barker suggests that it may have been used to contain something such as pot-pours, giving off a sweet-scented smell within the burial mound.

Technically, this cannot be called a ‘cup’ since two deliberate holes in the body would have precluded its holding liquid; holes are common, but by no means universal in these vessels. The term ‘incense cup’ has been used in the past, assuming that such vessels were used to burn incense, or to hold pot-pours. No explanation is really satisfactory. Whether this vessel found at Penkhull was primarily domestic, adopted for a funerary use, or primarily funerary, is not known, but certainly their presence in graves is well-known and frequently they accompany cinerary urns. The discovery of this cup at Penkhull strongly suggests that an Early Bronze Age burial was disturbed during the ground works for the Garden Village.

It should be remembered that a British Barrow was found in 1858 at Northwood, Trentham in which were found male and female human remains, probably those of a chieftain. Here would be placed alive his wife and his dog to provide for the chief’s future life.

The second pre-historic find is a fine flint leaf-shaped arrow head of Neolithic period 2500-2000 B.C. This fine example of workmanship was found in the garden of a house in Chamberlain Avenue near to its junction with Hunters Way. Its length measures 30mm and its width 25mm. Although now over 4,000 years old the workmanship is still clearly visible. It was chipped into its leaf shape, the point of which remains sharp enough to penetrate if used as a head to an arrow. Also associated with the same period, is a stone axe head, fashioned from a basic ingenious rock. Although found in Penkhull, probably by a pupil of Penkhull Senior School, no exact location is recorded.