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