Great and Little Domesday

At Christmas 1085 William the Conqueror commissioned a detailed survey of lands held by himself and his subjects. Each shireGlossary - opens new window was visited by royal commissioners who asked searching questions about the extent, use, ownership and value of the land - which aroused widespread resentment, and in some areas rioting.

The resulting record, running to 900 pages and 2 million words of Latin, describes more than 13,000 places in England and Wales, the majority of which survive today. Originally it was kept at Winchester and was known as the Winchester Roll or King's Roll, but the native English nicknamed it the Domesday Book, after the biblical Day of Judgement, when every soul would be assessed and against which there could be no appeal.

The first stage was to compile what is now called Little Domesday, covering Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk, which was written up, neatly though hurriedly, by at least six scribes during the course of 1086. Although smaller in format than Great Domesday, it is less concise and includes detail about livestock.

Great Domesday was written up by one scribe, with annotations by a second. It was intended that it should cover the rest of England, excluding northern Lancashire and the far north of England, which were not yet fully under Norman control. Space was left for several important boroughs (towns), such as London, Winchester, Bristol and Tamworth, but work on the project was abandoned in 1090, without entries for them being filled in.

For a typical entry in Great Domesday (with transcript and translation), see Birmingham in the Domesday Book.

Catalogue reference: E 31/2/1 (Great Domesday)
Catalogue reference: E 31/13 (Little Domesday)


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