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The Domesday Book

The Domesday Book - Thomas Hinde When you hear something called "The Doomsday Book" you expect the mother of all of dystopia novels. However, when you see the actual title and learn that the book is essentially a summary list of the towns and villages in 1086 England, well The Domesday Book maybe doesn't seem quite so kick-ass.


Okay, maybe some of you are right. But those of you that dig history, oh man, you're going to get giddy in your pants!

Twenty years after conquering England, the aptly named Norman bastard William the Conqueror wanted a survey made of his newly acquired country, mainly for tax purposes, and the result is this book. It's a shire by shire, town by town reckoning of assets. Each entry included the town name, who its local lord was, and any important structures it had or industry or agriculture it could provide. This edition, as edited by Thomas Hinde, also includes the town's current name as well as anything of post-1086 historical importance or interest. Here's an example (the part that's in italics is the original text):

Bedford Bedeford: Bishop of Lincoln. Church. Prosperous county town. John Bunyan was imprisoned here for 12 years. Bedford Museum is on the site of the Norman castle. Cecil Higgins Art Gallery.

The original data for many of the other towns often mentions a mill or two. Cattle, pigs and eels are noted frequently. Occasionally how many "man-at-arms" (essentially meaning knights) a place can produce is listed. However, the key seemed to be to make sure the surveyors recorded the rank and/or the names of land owners, which would be the person responsible for forking over the taxes.

Hinde's edition also includes plenty of photographs showing the places and things of interest mentioned in the original text. There are some simple maps and valuable background information that really helps to clarify and illuminate the account. Though the book may have had finite intentions of practical use for the day, its overall value in understanding a place from a time that is near on 1000 years old is almost infinite.