The History of King’s Tamerton is a series about the history of a hamlet in St. Budeaux, Plymouth, Devon. Earlier parts in the series focused on specific points in the hamlet’s pre-history, including:


1066 is one of British history’s most defining years. The Battle of Hastings saw the last Anglo-Saxon king – Harold – defeated; in his place came a new order of the Normans under William the Conqueror. The victory is a watershed event, with a shift occurring in Britain in which it transformed from a Scandinavian centred world (the era of Cnut’s North Sea Empire) to become focused on continental Europe, particularly northern France. 1066 was a true revolution, in which the administration, governance, language, culture, and social order of the English kingdom changed.

The impact of the Norman Conquest has long been a topic of debate for academics, with successive generations proposing different ideas regarding its significance. Were the Normans ‘ruthless militarists’ or ‘synthesisers of genius’, as suggested by Allen Brown.[1] The historian Elizabeth van Houts paints a picture of a ‘catastrophic impact’ on the English population from which the old Anglo-Saxon order never recovered.[2] It is clear that the Conquest initiated a revolution in land redistribution, with around half of the newly conquered territory going to William’s supporters. The old Anglo-Saxon lords were removed, and in their place came – in the words of Bryant – ‘a new ruling caste; a warrior aristocracy’.[3]

The Normans brought with them great reforms on administrating the English kingdom, and the most significant of which was the Domesday Book. It was commissioned at the end of 1085 by William, with the intention of obtaining information on all of the settlements within the English kingdom. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes how:

the king had great thought, and very deep conversation with his council about this land; how it was occupied, or with which men. Then sent he his men over all England into each shire; commissioning them to find out “How many hundreds of hides were in the shire, what land the king himself had, and what livestock upon the land; or, what dues he ought to have by the year from the shire.”[4]

The survey was to find out:

What or how much, each man had, who was an occupier of land in England, either in land or in livestock, and how much money it were worth…. Not one single hide, nor a yard of land, not even an ox, not one cow, not one pig was there left, that was not set down in his record.[5]

The task was a huge undertaking. The website The Domesday Book Online notes how the first draft was completed by August 1086, within which it ‘contained records for 13,418 settlements’.[6] And amongst all of these pages and pages of records is the first historical record of our little, humble manor of King’s Tamerton.

The website Open Domesday lists the manor of King’s Tamerton – then called Tanbretone – as containing the following:

Households: 6 villagers. 2 smallholders. 1 slave.

Land and resources: Ploughland: 6 ploughlands. 4.5 men’s plough teams.

Other resources: 0.12 lord’s lands. Woodland 3 * 1 furlongs

Valuation: Annual value to lord: 1 pound

Owners: Tenant-in-chief in 1086: King William[7]

This small entry is the first written evidence of King’s Tamerton’s existence, and although it is a small entry the information contained within provides lots of information to unpick. Firstly, what do we actually mean by manors? Manors were, in the words the National Archives website, ‘the basic unit of the Domesday survey’, which became ‘an economic, political judicial unit’, but they varied in size from small (as found in the Plymouth area) to vast estates.[8] Manors were controlled by lords, which could range from a variety of persons: barons, bishops, religious houses, and even – as was the case of King’s Tamerton – the king himself. These administrative units provide the key to understanding the feudalist political system of medieval England: manors were granted by a monarch (with William the Conqueror providing his allies with vast holdings across the kingdom), and in return these lords owed allegiance and military service to the king.

Peasants living and working on the land were involved in a similar arrangement with the local lord. The National Archives website notes how ‘the peasant tenantry was land rented out to peasants who were either free or unfree. Rent would have been paid in cash, labour or produce.’[9] Peasants – which formed the majority of the population in the kingdom – can be broken into key groups. The freemen peasants apparently formed 12% of the population (these were peasants who had freedom to leave the manor), but the majority can be considered ‘unfree peasants’, which meant that ‘the lord exercised…controls over unfree peasants. He could move them between estates and had the power to approve or prevent a marriage’.[10]

King’s Tamerton’s population comprised nine households which can be broken into three groups: villagers (6), smallholders (2), and 1 slave. Villagers (also noted as ‘villans’) formed 40% of the population within the kingdom and ‘were the wealthiest and most numerous of the unfree peasants’, with some holding ‘substantial areas of farmland, often between 30 and 40 acres’.[11] However, their unfree status meant that they were obliged to work on the lord’s land during the week (perhaps two or three days). The next group – smallholders (also noted as ‘bordars’ and ‘cottars’, a ‘middle class of peasant’[12]) made up a third of the population and ‘owed a greater burden of service to the lord’, and their holding of land was contained to a handful of acres. It is estimated that this group possessed, on average, 5 acres of land, but this land may have been ‘little more than a garden’.[13] The bottom of the pile were slaves, who amounted to around 10% of the population in the kingdom; they ‘had no property rights and could be bought and sold by the lord’.[14] The Domesday Book Online describes a slave as ‘a man or woman who owed personal service to another, and who was un-free, and unable to move from or work or change allegiance, to buy or to sell, without permission’.[15] Local historian R.R. Sellman highlights how the percentage of slaves in Devon was 20% – double the national average; he suggests that this ‘may in part represent the conquered Celtic population’.[16] This refers to the displaced Celts, such as the Cornish, who had been subjugated and pushed westward in the preceding centuries (refer to previous posts in this series for more information).

The manor of King’s Tamerton comprised nine households, with local historian Crispin Gill suggesting that a plough equated to a farm. As such, this may mean that the population was higher than the nine listed, particularly because only heads of households were noted (and no women or children are listed). It could be probable that the entire population of King’s Tamerton was around 50 people. However, the population of the manor was smaller than others within the area, such as Bucheside. When compared to all manors across the kingdom, King’s Tamerton is within the smallest 40% of settlements. However, some local historians have listed different sizes for the manor as it stood during this period; H. Montagu Evans (in his 1913 paper ‘St. Budeaux: It’s Manors and First Church’) noted it comprising 384 acres (and being to the value of 20 shillings, rather than the 12 shillings/1 pound listed in the Domesday entry),[17] and the Brian Mosely website listed the manor as comprised 510 acres.[18]

The size of the manor relates to its overall value and economic strengths, with ‘other resources’ listing ‘Woodland 3’ and ‘1 furlongs’. Woodland is one of the geographic features noted throughout the survey, with the National Archives outlining how it could denote an economic source, particularly in terms of other manorial entries recording statements such as ‘wood for fuel’ and ‘wood for fences’.[19] Furlong denotes an ‘area or length of land for tax assessment’, with it being measured as a ‘length about 220 yards’.[20] The entry notes ‘6 ploughlands’ and ‘4.5 men’s plough teams’. It is believed that plough teams, along with mills, ‘were the two major sources of power in the early medieval economy’.[21] A plough team ‘was a large one, drawn by eight oxen’, which in total across the kingdom ‘represents about 650,000 oxen’. All of this provides evidence to the statement that during this time period ‘the plough was king’.[22]

Overall, the value of the manor in 1086 is listed as being 1 pound. When compared to manors nationwide it is clear that King’s Tamerton is relatively small, both in terms of households and the tax that was collected. Within the administrative hundred of Roborough there were areas of 46 households (Buckland Monachorum to the north), whilst within the modern day boundary of Plymouth there was Tamerton Foliot (29 households), Eggbuckland (28 households), as well as Stoke (25 households). However, all of these pales in comparison to the then small town of London with its 205 households.

Although the economic significance of the manor may have paled in comparison to others in the area, what is distinctive is its name: King’s Tamerton denotes how it was held by the monarch himself. The other manors in the Plymouth region to also be held by the king included Wachetona (Walkhampton) and Sutona (Sutton). In some ways, this may suggest that the land was particularly important due to its royal connection, rather than being associated with a mere lord. However, the manor was never one that William himself visited or even ever considered; the Domesday Book links more than two thousand locations to King William, all of which are spread across the kingdom.

The lives of those in King’s Tamerton manor appears to have been an insular one, being mostly confined to the manor itself. A peasant’s life was a hard work, particularly due to the commitments of working their own land as well as that of their lord. Furthermore, they were confined with their manor; free peasants had the possibility of moving to different lands, but all of the King’s Tamerton residents – regardless of their rank within the peasantry – were all unfree, and as such, were chained to the soil. The same would be true for their descendants, with land passing from father to son (if there was no son, the lord could obtain full control of their land).

It is difficult to ascertain as to where these farms were actually located. It is highly probable that there was not a central focus on one particular, dominant manor (which was the case of many other manors), with the five likely farms being scattered across the area. In Plymouth: A New History, Crispin Gill goes as far as to suggest possible locations for the farms in the manor: ‘manor possibly at Barne Barton, small with one slave. Six farms and two smallholdings, likely farms East and West Barne, Gubb, Weston Mill, Kinterbury… and Moor Farm’.[23] Gill’s guesstimate is, likely, based on the eventual development of these farms into the medieval and early modern age. Gill’s assumption of placing greater significance on Barne Barton makes sense, particularly when considering the name of the manor itself; Tanbretone was the word for Tamerton, which was so-called due to its proximity to the Tamar River. This connects to the definitions I suggested in the very first post in the series, in which ‘Greater King’s Tamerton’ – if it existed – stretched from its present modern-day estate location all the way to Barne Barton and the river.

The King’s Tamerton entry in the Domesday Book helps us appreciate its history, as well as tease us with a series of unanswered questions. It remains crucial for the understanding the development of the hamlet, and it is from this small entry in which the rest of its history can be followed.

Bibliography:

Allen Brown, R. (1986) ‘The Norman Impact’. History Today, Vol 36, Issue 2, February 1986. Available at: https://www.historytoday.com/archive/norman-impact

Bryant, A. (1953) ‘The Story of England: The Founding of the Norman Kingdom’. History Today, Vol 3, Issue 9, September 1953. Available at: https://www.historytoday.com/archive/story-england-founding-norman-kingdom

Evans, H. Montagu (1913) ‘St. Budeaux: Its Manors and First Church’. Transactions of the Plymouth Institute, Vol. 12 (pp.290-306).

Gill, C. (1993) Plymouth: A New History. Devon Books.

Hull Domesday Project (2021) ‘bordar, or smallholder’. Available at: https://www.domesdaybook.net/domesday-book/data-terminology/peasantry/bordar-or-smallholder (Accessed: 29 January 2023).

Medievalists.net (n/d) ‘A Guide to the Domesday Book’. Available at: https://www.medievalists.net/2010/08/domesday-book/ (Accessed: 27 January 2023).

Moseley, B. (2011) ‘Saint Budeaux’. Available at:https://web.archive.org/web/20140328103619/http://www.plymouthdata.info/Saint%20Budeaux.htm (Accessed: 27 January 2023).

National Archives (n/d) ‘Landscape’. Available at: https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/domesday/world-of-domesday/landscape.htm  (Accessed: 29 January 2023).

National Archives (n/d) ‘The Social Order’. Available at: https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/domesday/world-of-domesday/order.htm (Accessed: 29 January 2023)

Open Domesday (n/d) ‘King’s Tamerton’. Available at: https://opendomesday.org/place/SX4558/kings-tamerton/ (Accessed: 21 January 2023).

Sellman, R.R. (1985) Aspects of Devon History. Available at: https://www.wilcuma.org.uk/the-history-of-devon-after-1066/

The Domesday Book Online (2019) ‘Home’. Available at: http://www.domesdaybook.co.uk/index.html (Accessed: 27 January 2023).

The Domesday Book Online (2019) ‘Glossary’. Available at: http://www.domesdaybook.co.uk/glossary.html#w (Accessed: 27 January 2023).

Van Houts, E. (1996) ‘The Trauma of 1066’. History Today, Vol. 46, Issue 10, October 1996. Available at: https://www.historytoday.com/archive/trauma-1066


[1] Allen Brown, 1986.

[2] Van Houts, 1996.

[3] Bryant, 1953.

[4] Medievalists.net, n/d.

[5] Medievalists.net, n/d.

[6] The Domesday Book Online, 2019.

[7] Open Domesday, n/d.

[8] National Archives, n/d.

[9] National Archives, n/d.

[10] National Archives, n/d.

[11] National Archives, n/d.

[12] The Domesday Book Online, 2019.

[13] Hull Domesday Project, 2021.

[14] National Archives, n/d.

[15] The Domesday Book Online, 2019.

[16] Sellman, 1985.

[17] Evans, 1913.

[18] Moseley, 2011.

[19] National Archives, 2023.

[20] The Domesday Book Online, 2019.

[21] Hull Domesday Project, 2021.

[22] Hull Domesday Project, 2021.

[23] Gill, 1993, p.221.