Midland Caldwells by David A. Caldwell

Departing from a wind-swept abbey at Whitby at the mouth of the River Esk on the coast of Northumbria in the early seventh century AD, Abbess St. Hilda must have enjoyed the trip to the inland hamlet of Caldwell, a half day’s ride north of what is now known as the Swale River, North Riding, Yorkshire. She likely was fond of the undulating hills and valleys gazed upon by a sun with its elbows resting on the horizon, the sight of meadows filled with wildflowers amidst April rainbows, and deer, sheep, and cattle grazing on dewy grasses. In spring she could listen to the birds among the blossoming fruit trees. Everywhere were artesian springs, symbols of fertility. The Swale River Valley was among the most beautiful valleys in Northumbria, in contrast to the gloomy moors prevalent along the Northumbrian coast. The abbess came to Caldwell chiefly not for its beauty, but to convert a community of pagan Anglo-Saxons devastated by recent war with Britronic tribes that had invaded from the west, and Mercian warriors from the south, each tribe bent on wiping out the men and women, the aged, infirm, and children. The widows’ sorrow was placated by reassurance of a promised better life. The survivors would again be with their lost loved ones.

The Northumbrian King Edwin, had been the first of the Northumbrian Kings to convert to Christianity. He had slain the Britonic warlord, Caedwella, and his little dog, Calval, near Scotch Corners, not far from Caldwell. King Edwin in turn had been slain by the pagan Mercian King, Penda, in AD 633. His successor was his former rival, Oswald, who reigned between AD 633 to 642. King Oswald had converted to Christianity after winning a battle he feared he would lose, but surprisingly won. He attributed his unexpected win to his having prayed to the Christian God for a victory.

The original Anglo-Saxon dwellings at Caldwell Northumbria were of timber. The Anglo-Saxons commonly erected dwellings close to one another on small tracts of privately owned land where crops were grown. The outlying woods and meadows were held in common for hunting and grazing. Almost 300 years elapsed after their peak arrival in the late fifth century before Anglo-Saxons began erecting stone buildings.

King Oswald had the first stone structure erected at Caldwell — what became known as St. Hilda’s chapel — by Irish monks from Iona.

King Oswald had become acquainted with the Irish monks during the time he lived in refuge at Iona, “lying low” during the reign of his rival, King Edwin. The fact that the Irish Church had encouraged the Christian Britonics to attack the heathen Anglo-Saxons did not bother him, once he saw the advantage of forging an alliance with the Church.

King Oswald invited one of St Cumbria’s pupils, St. Aidan, from Iona to establish an Archbishophoric in Northumberland, close to Berwick. At the Whitby Abbey of St. Hilda, King Oswald also resolved a bitter conflict between the Irish Church and the Benedictine monks subservient to the Pope, over the day on which Easter would be celebrated, and other ceremonial disputes, including the style of tonsure and robes that would be worn by the clergy. King Oswald’s diplomacy helped establish a national organization of the Catholic Church essential to its success in converting Britain.

(Rebecca Fraser. The History of Britain From the Romans to the Present A Narrative History. W. W. Norton & Co., 2003.)

Northumberland extended into lowland Scotland, During King Oswald’s reign he visited a village in Carrick (southern Ayrshire), which changed its name in his honor to Kirkoswald. Nearby a nucleated Anglo-Saxon farm village acquired the name Caldwellstoun. Possibly King Oswald had something to do with the place name of another settlement in the Levern Valley, 10-15 miles SW of Glasgow, that acquired the name, Terra de Caldwell.

The Abbess would have been pleased with the success the Irish monks were having in converting the Anglo-Saxons. The Irish monks were the best read and most promising of the clergy in Great Britain devoted to studying the classics and teaching. They copied and preserved the Greek and Roman literature while their fellow monks in Europe saw their own copies of books destroyed by Teutonic Germans. The Irish monks were determined to improve the literacy of the Anglo-Saxons. The monks at Jarrow monastery, Yorkshire, included the Northumbrian monk, Venerable Bede, who completed his masterpiece venerating the Anglo-Saxons, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, in AD 731. Perhaps she Abbess St. Hilda anticipated the outcome. Within 70 years all of Britain was converted to Christianity.

As King Oswald’s successor, his brother, King Oswy, carried on the evangelistic conversion, and encouraged Northumbrian monks to convert the pagan Mercians to the south. Among the first converted was Penda’s son, who succeeded to the Mercian Kingship.

Apart from St. Hilda’s chapel, the hamlet at Caldwell, North Riding, has no other recognized Medieval historic significance, except for its presence near Scotch Corner, now a milestone at the junction of highways A1 and A66 near Richmond, by which travelers on the former Roman Road, called Dere Street (occasionally designated as Empire Street), can head west to Cumbria, Galloway, and Ayrshire or continue north to Edinburgh. Dere Street served as a drove road by which sheep from Scotland were driven to Scotch Corners, shorned of their wool, or occasionally driven to York.

The inhabitants of Northumbria were among the earliest Anglo-Saxons to convert to Christianity.

The Abbey at Whitby served as a mother church and home base for itinerant monks that endeavored to Christianize their neighbors to the south, in the adjoining Kingdom of Mercia. The Romano-Britons of this region had already been Christianized, but the Saxons and Anglians had arrived after the Roman departure, and remained largely pagans until, the seventh and eighth centuries.

The prominent families of Mercia were among the last in England to convert to Christianity.


As virtually the only ones able to read and write, the clergy migrating to the capital of Kingdom of Mercia at Repton likely began the process of naming and recording the place names in the Kingdom of Mercia. This would have been essential to record keeping of the tithes owed.

The oldest known stone edifice in Caldwell, Derbyshire, of which there are still remains preserved today, is an arch of a doorway that was part of a one room Anglo-Saxon stone church erected in the 8th century AD. and reused in the Norman rebuilding of the church. The Normans named the church St. Giles, in honor of a hermit in southern France who dedicated his life to helping the poor and belittled the importance of material wealth.

Caldwell, of Derbyshire, lies within the original boundaries and at the heart of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia, in the watershed of the upper Trent River. You can easily download a map of that heartland:


Caldwell of Derbyshire, lies midway between Burton (aka Burton-on-Trent) and Repton, both straddling the River Trent, with Repton further downstream. Repton was the original capital of the Kingdom of Mercia.

The Kingdom of Mercia expanded such that by AD 790 it reached south to the adjacent county of Warwickshire and as almost far south as London, west to Wales, and east to East Saxony and Middle Anglia. During this period of expansion, St Chad (St. Ceadda) persuaded King Offa of Mercia to change the capital from Repton to Lichfield and for Lichfield to become an Archbishoporic. This meant that Caldwell, Derbyshire, was no longer subordinated to the Archbishophoric in Northumbria (Yorkshire).

This change in Diocese did not bring any luck to Caldwell, Derbyshire, or to the Mease River Valley in which the Penda dynasty had reigned. The Kingdom of Mercia sustained heavy losses from the invasion of the Danish and Scandinavian Vikings, beginning about AD 790.

The Swale River lies out of sight of the inhabitants at Caldwell, North Riding, but easily reached by traversing the undulating hills and dales. What St. Hilda saw as the main attraction of Caldwell was to the Normans an unacceptable military disadvantage.

William the Conqueror’s son, Rufus, recognized the relative defenselessness of the region, and erected the first Norman stone castle in Great Britain, at Richmond, a market town overlooking the cliffs abutting the Swale River. Because the foundation of the castle was solid rock rather than compacted dirt, Richmond Castle remains one of the best preserved medieval Norman castles in Great Britain..

Further losses were sustained when two years after the Norman Conquest of AD 1066, both Caldwell, North Riding, Yorkshire, and Caldwell, Derbyshire, were depopulated on the orders of William the Conqueror He preferred William the Bastard as his signature. The region declined into relative poverty until the mid 13th century, when the discovery of vast coal beds up to 4000 feet underground revived the economy of the Mease River Valley. Caldwell, Derbyshire lies about 4 miles to the south of Burton Abbey. The coakl beds lie just to the south of Caldwell.

The War of the Roses between the Houses of York and Lancaster provide another explanation for population decline and the relative paucity of Caldwells in the English midlands, compared to their far more numerous numbers in Ayrshire and Renfrewshire.

An 1811 map showing Caldwell is available online of South Derbyshire from D. P. Davis, History & Descriptive View of Derby.


I zoomed in and located the four buildings of Caldwell alongside what seems to be one-wagon wide dirt road passing through Caldwell in a curvilinear path, connected at each T intersection with main roads that connect much larger settlements.

Travelers likely would have bypassed Caldwell, Derbyshire, and remained on the main road linking Lichfield (in the direction pointed by the 8 o’clock hand from Caldwell) to Burton straddling the Trent River (Burton-on-Trent) (1 o’clock hand relative to Caldwell), and Repton (2 o’clock), another village.

A list is provided of freeholders who lived in and near Burton on Trent in 1757. There is none within Burton on Trent. The list reveals one freeholder with the surname Caldwell at Stapenhill: William Caldwell (of that spelling).


Burton of the 1760s is described as a village with one main street running north and south, paved just a few years before 1760. Burton then had two taverns and one grammar school. There were two poorhouses occupied by a half dozen women. An open market was held every Thursday. Id.

The National Archives of England are accessible online.

I did a word search under the words “Caldwell” from 1000 to 1600, and found 77 documents listed. A copy can be ordered and purchased.

The earliest document was a petition seeking recovery of a common pasture at Caldwell, Derbyshire, c. 1290-1307.:

Petitioners: The Town of Castleton of the Peak.
Addressees: King and Council
Places mentioned: Castleton, [Derbyshire]; High Peak, [Derbyshire]; Caldwell, [Derbyshire].
Other people mentioned: Brian de Lisle; William Peveril; John, King of England; Edward [I], King of England.
Nature of request: The petitioners seek recovery of their common pasture of Caldwell, which their ancestors had of the fee of William Peveril. They state that Brian de Lisle came in the time of King John and disseized them of the pasture, of which they had right of entry and exit from their common, on which they pastured their beasts without any gift and were seized from the time of William Peveril.


A description of a Caldwell Manor is available, spelled Cawdwell.

SC 2/183/94 : Description of Courts: Manorial Courts.
Places: Rothley, with: Gaddesby; Baresbie; South Croson; Keyham; Somerby; Wartnaby; Grunston; Marefield; Tilton; Caldwell (Cawdwell); Wickham; Saxelby. 1, 2, 4 Edw VI. http://www.catalogue.nationalarchives.gov.uk/displaycataloguedetails.asp?CATID=6996950&CATLN=6&Highlight=%2CCALDWELL&accessmethod=0&Summary=True

SC 6/1107/14 : Burton-on-Trent (Lands of Burton-on-Trent Abbey): Stafford Branstone: Stafford Horninglowe: Stafford Stretton: Stafford Bromley [Abbots]: Stafford Ilam: Stafford Allestre: Warwick Mikleover (Magna Overa): Derby Winshill (Wynsull): Derby Stapenhill: Derby Caldwell: Derby Appleby: Derby London: [London] Description of Officer: Wardens. 33 Hen VI

I learned that at the time of the reformation, a Caldwell monastery, convent, and priory were dissolved. I am confused whether they are all at the same location or distinct locations.

SC 6/HENVIII/8 : Bedford: Monastic Possessions Possessions of the dissolved monasteries of:– Caldwell, Harrold, Bushmead, Markyate. 27-28 Hen VIII.

SC 11/41L Caldwell, Markyate, Bushmead: Rentals of the Priory of Caldwell, the Monastery of the Holy Trinity in the Wood, and the Priory of Bushmead. [Hen. VIII?] http://www.catalogue.nationalarchives.gov.uk/displaycataloguedetails.asp?CATID=6702294&CATLN=6&Highlight=%2CCALDWELL%2CCALDWELL&accessmethod=0&Summary=True

E 25/26/2 : Caldwell, Beds; prior and convent of the Priory. 8 Oct 1534

E 134/41Eliz/East7 : William Paget v. Edward Rolleston, clerk, Gilbert Rolleston, Wm. Watson, John Sheppard, John Townsend, Thos. Caldwell: “Horninglow Outwoods,” in Rolleston, parcel of the manor of Burton-on-Trent, the manor and town of Rolleston (Stafford), parcel of the duchy of Lancaster, Seney Park, and the rectory and parish church of Rolleston.

[Beds]: views of account of the property of Harrold, Caldwell and Markyate priories. 31-32 Hen. VIII.

Copy of lease by the prior and convent of Caldwell to Anthony Darcey of the rectory of Tolshunte manor, Essex. 20 Hen VIII

I found only one reference to Caldwell, Yorkshire.

Sir Richard Hawkesworth, Knt., Wm. Staveley, Thos. Ingilby, John Barney, Fras. Carlile, Roger Palmer, Geo. Burnett, Edmd. Mawde, Richd. Smith, Wm. Batty, Wm. Caldwell. v. Michael Askwith, James Moore.: Manors of Ripon, Otley, Cawood, and Wistow, in possession of Toby Archbishop of York, in right of his archbishoprick. Privileges and jurisdiction within the liberties of said archbishopric. Whether the freeholders”in regard of suit and services within sd liberties shall be freed from their attendance at the assizes, quarter sessions, and gaol deliveries for the coy of York, and have hitherto been discharged from same by orders of the Cort of Exchequer”? &c., &c.: York. 22 Jas 1 1623-24

Release by William Grey of Merton, esquire, Thomas Irby, William Crosse, Thomas Knyghton of Thetford, and Thomas Lesse of Watton, who are enfeoffed, to the use of Henry Clerk, of a messuage and land in Asshill, to Humphrey Adam, John Adam, and Nicholas Markaunt, at the special request of the said Henry, of all their right in that portion of the said land with which the said Henry has enfeoffed the said Humphrey, John, and Nicholas, part lying on Brakysmeduefurlong, by land of the manor of Uphall, part abutting on Burywey, part at Genel mere by land [ called ] ‘Collardes,’ and abutting on land of the manors of Saham and Uphall, part in Caldwell felde by land of the manors of Panneworth and Uphall, part in the same field by lands of the rectors of Asshill and Houghton,and abutting on Caldewell medewe, and part at Calkepytte : [ Norf. ] 24 February, 5 Henry VII.

An aerial photograph of Cauldwell Hall in southern Derbyshire, England, can be seen at


Other images show the medieval church at Cauldwell

In checking the records of the Stapenhill Parish for Cauldwell back to 1660 I was surprised to see no listing of any Caldwells residing at this hamlet.

The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868) describes the hamlet: “CAULDWELL, a hamlet in the parish of Stapenhill, hundred of Repton and Gresley, in the county of Derby, 4 miles to the S. of Burton-on-Trent.”

The following map shows the location of Cauldwell: http:// www. multimap. com/ map/ browse.


The existence of Cauldwell preceded the Norman invasion.

There are historical documents showing references to the place name Caldwaellen, 942 AD, in present day Derbyshire, according to Kenneth Cameron, The Place Names of Derbyshire, Cambridge, Eng., Cambridge University Press, 1959, p. 625.

The Domesday Book of 1086 constitutes the first census of England. Written in Latin, it describes a hamlet of Caldewelle in the southwest region of Derbyshire, within the Repton and Gresly Hundred (an Anglo-Saxon administrative unit that, along with the “shire,” survived the Norman Conquest). Domesday Book, English & Latin, text and translation edited by John Morris. Chichester: Phillimore, 1975-1986, vol. 27. The Domesday Book states:

“In Caldewelle, Aelferic had 2 c. [caraucates] of and taxable. Land for 2 ploughs. Now in Lordship 1 plough; 6 villagers with 1 plough. Value before 1066 and now, 20 s. King William gave this manor to the monks for his well being.”

This unchanged evalaution is some evidence that William the Conqueror did not subject Caldewelle to waste. This does not rule out the possibility, however, that all of the men in Caldewelle were slain or fled north into Scotland.

I doubt that the Aelferic to whom reference is made was the famous Anglo-Saxon abbot who died about AD 1010 or 1020. See http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01171b.htm.

A caraucate is about 120 acres, and was based on the amount of land a team of 8 oxen could plough in a season. The monks to which reference is made were those of Burton Abbey. Burton Abbey was founded as a Benedictine monastery by Wulfuric Spot during the reign of King Æthelred the Unready (978-1016 A.D.). Burton Abbey was the only abbey that was not destroyed during the reformation.

In 1650, parliamentary commissioners proposed making Cauldwell into a separate parish, but Cauldwell remained part of Stapenhill Parish. Rep. Com. Eccl. Revenues, 500-1.

St Giles Church in the present day hamlet of Cauldwell is of the parish of Stapenhill, in the Diocese of Lichfield, and one of the earliest chapels in present day Derbyshire.

The exterior of St Giles Church at Cauldwell is displayed at http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~blanchec/StapOPC2.htm.

The interior of the church can be seen at http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~blanchec/cauldindex.htm

A plaque on the exterior of the present structure of St. Giles Church states that it was erected in 1280. A portion of the nave of a previous Anglo-Saxon chapel erected during the 8th century have been incorporated. All marriages, and most other ceremonies, were performed in the parish church of St Peter, and Cauldwell families are listed under Stapenhill. Genealogical data can be found at http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/DBY/Cauldwell/index.html.

Stapenhill was originally a parish belonging to Derbyshire, but “transferred to Staffordshire in 1894 and now included within the borough of Burton on Trent.” (Ref: The Place-Names of Derbyshire, K. Cameron, Cambridge University Press, 1959.)
A brief history of Lichfield iset forth at http://www.lichfield-cathedral.org/history.htm

“Just seventeen miles north of Birmingham, Lichfield lies at the heart of England. 1300 years ago it stood at the centre of the Kingdom of Mercia. When Chad was made Bishop of Mercia in 669 he moved his See from Repton to Lichfield, which may already have been a holy site since there is a legend that Christians were martyred there under the Roman Emperor Diocletian! When Chad died in 672 pilgrims began to come to his shrine, and in 700, Bishop Hedda built a new church to house his bones. Starting in 1085 and continuing through the twelfth century this Saxon church was replaced by a Norman Cathedral, and this in turn by the Gothic Cathedral begun in 1195.

“Pilgrimage to the shrine of Chad continued throughout this period, the Cathedral was expanded by the addition of a Lady Chapel, and there were perhaps as many as twenty altars around the Cathedral by 1500. All this changed at the reformation, and the Cathedral was severely damaged during the Civil War being under seige three times. “

Additional information is provided by the UK at http://www. lichfield.gov.uk/cathedral-early.html

“Although only Bishop for three years, Chad converted many to Christianity and after his death he remained a popular figure inspiring many miracles.

“From 700 his body was interred in a Saxon cathedral which lies beneath the present building. In the latter years of the 11th century a Norman building began to replace the Saxon one and a few pieces of the Norman stonework are still visible in Consistory Court.

“At about the same time Bishop de Clinton fortified the Close and laid out the City to cater for the pilgrims visiting the shrine of St Chad. Within a century, however, work began on the Gothic cathedral, which we see today. The Choir dates from 1200, the Transepts from 1220 to 1240 and the Nave was started in 1260.

“Through the next hundred years, additions were made, including the Vestibule which leads from the north Choir Aisle to the Chapter House and contains a unique medieval pedilavium where, following the example of Jesus at the Last Supper, feet were washed on Maundy Thursday.

“The octagonal Chapter House, which was completed in 1249 and is one of the most beautiful parts of the Cathedral with some charming stone carvings, houses an exhibition of the Cathedral’s greatest treasure, the Lichfield Gospels, an 8th century illuminated manuscript.

“In 1285 the nave was rebuilt and then the Lady Chapel, completed in 1330, was built to contain the shrine of St Chad. Today it contains the 16th century Herckenrode glass.

“During the English Civil War in the 1640’s the destruction was intense as the Cathedral was at the centre of some of the fiercest fighting of the war.

“At the end of three bitter sieges the church had been devastated by war damage, troop garrisons, and vandalism. After the Restoration of Charles II, Bishop Hacket and his prebendaries began a long process of restoring the Cathedral to its former glory.

“Although the 18th century was a Golden Age for the city of Lichfield, it was a period of decay for the Cathedral. The 15th century library, on the north side of the nave, was pulled down and the books moved to their present location above the Chapter House.

“Most of the statues on the West Front were removed and the stonework covered with Roman cement. At the end of the century James Wyatt organised some major structural work, removing the High Alter to make one worship area of Chior and Lady Chapel and adding a massive stone screen at the entrance to the Choir.

“In the early years of the 19th century the Cathedral acquired two of its most famous treasures. In 1803 Sir Brooke Boothby bought the magnificent Flemish stained glass from Herckenrode Abbey which was placed in the windows of the Lady Chapel. Then in 1820 at the request of Ellen Jane Robinson, Francis Chantry sculpted his monument to her dead daughters known as ‘The Sleeping Children’.

“It was only 60 years after Wyatt’s work that Sir Gilbert Scott was commissioned to undertake his own programme of restoration. This was carried out with great sensitivity, working with original materials where possible and creating fine new imitations and additions when the originals were not available. Wyatt’s choir-screen had utilised medieval stone-work which Scott in turn used to create the clergy’s seats in the sanctuary. The new metal screen by Francis Skidmore and John Birnie Philip to designs by Scott himself is a triumph of High Victorian art, as are the fine Minton tiles in the choir, inspired by the medieval ones found in the Choir foundations and still seen in the Library.

“Fresh restoration work continued throughout the 20th century. In 1957 extensive work was carried out on the roofing and spires, a process which began again in 1987 with a ten year programme of repair and cleaning. Facilities for visitors in the Close have been improved by a Visitors’ Study Centre, a tea room and a bookshop. Today concerts and major artistic events are often held in the Cathedral, especially in July when the annual International Lichfield Festival is held. Visitors for twelve hundred years have been coming to the Cathedral and visitors will continue to be attracted.”

“In the 1150s the priest at Stapenhill was assigned some tithes by the abbey. When Bishop William Cornhill (1214-23) confirmed the abbey’s ownership of the church there, he stipulated the institution of a perpetual vicar. The order was repeated by Bishop Alexander Stavensby in 1230, and following the resignation of the church by John de Caen, presumably the rector, in the same year a vicarage was evidently ordained; the abbey was inducted as rector in 1231. There appear to have been later disputes about the endowment of the vicarage, and in 1268 the bishop confirmed that the abbey as rector was entitled to the tithe of corn throughout the parish, including its chapelries (Cauldwell, Drakelow, and Newhall), and also the tithe of hay and the small tithes from its demesne land. The vicar was to have the tithe of hay and the small tithes from other land, together with a house in Stapenhill and parcels of glebe land in various parts of the parish.

“The church was valued at £15 13s. 4d. a year in 1291. In 1535 the abbey received £10 a year, probably representing the great tithes, and the vicar received only £2 10s. (13s. from glebe, 16s. from small tithes, and 21s. from offerings); the vicar, however, also received an annual payment of £3 6s. 8d. from the lords of Newhall (presumably in lieu of tithes). In 1650 the church was worth £43 6s. In 1665 the vicar still claimed all the small tithes, but by 1668 Cauldwell paid a modus of £6, as did Stanton and Newhall by 1693. The Cauldwell modus was evidently disputed, but was confirmed in 1676 by an agreement which required the vicar to preach once a month at Cauldwell. In 1707 the vicar received £31 from glebe and tithes and £12 3s. from moduses, together with Easter offerings, fees, and small rents. Owen Lloyd (vicar 1768-1813) disputed the Cauldwell modus in 1773, and by decision of the House of Lords in 1777 he was restored the small tithes there, worth c. £40 a year. The Stanton and Newhall payment was disputed by his successor in 1815, but the defendants argued that it was not in fact a modus but rather a pension derived from there once having been a chapel at Newhall. (Footnote 9) The vicar’s claim was evidently dismissed, and he still received the payment in 1841.

“At inclosure in 1773 the vicar was assigned 24 a. on Stapenhill heath in lieu of small tithes from ancient inclosures, and in 1841 the total glebe was 86 a. (Footnote 11) It was probably as a result of the renting of glebe to brickmakers that the vicar’s net income had risen by 1831 to £373, out of which he paid £93 to the curate of Cauldwell. “ http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=12383#n9

In my quest to learn more about the Caldwell settlement in Derbyshire, I came upon this useful site: ‘Houses of Benedictine monks: The abbey of Burton’, A History of the County of Staffordshire: Volume III (1970), pp. 199-213. URL:

http://www.britishhistory.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=37840. Date accessed: 03 July 2005.

This site reveals the following information:

William the Conqueror transferred Caldwell of Derbyshire to the Abbey of Burton, sited in Staffordshire, in the 11th century AD. The abbey possessed lands located in both Staffordshire and Derbyshire. (Footnote 45) The Abbey had no military obligation. (Footnote 52)

The earliest religious foundation at Burton is associated with St. Modwen, an Irish abbess who is said to have come to England in the 7th century.

St. Modwen came to the Burton area with two companions and built two churches there, one on an island in the Trent that became known as Andressey, evidently because the church was dedicated to St. Andrew, and later another on the east bank of the river. After some years, most of them spent at Burton, St. Modwen returned to Ireland, leaving one of her companions at Andressey as abbess. The saint is supposed to have died in Scotland and to have been buried at Andressey; her bones were later translated to a shrine in Burton Abbey.

It is likely that any surviving religious house would have been destroyed during the Danish incursion into the area in the 870s. (Footnote 2)

At any rate it was a Benedictine monastery on a new site on the west bank of the Trent at Burton that was built at the beginning of the 11th century. The founder was Wulfric Spot, a king’s thegn possibly descended from King Alfred, who owned extensive property in the Midlands and the area to the north-west. (Footnote 3) Unlike the Irish abbess, the Benedictine monastery had an abbot, and was more subservient to the Pope.

The Annals of the abbey give 1004 as the date of foundation [the year of St. Wulfuric’s death and bequest of land to found the abbey], and King Ethelred’s charter of freedom and confirmation granted to the abbey in that year show it as already in existence; Matthew Paris, however, gives 1003 and John Brompton 1002. (Footnote 4)

On his death (which according to one source took place in 1010 as a result of a wound received at the battle of Ringmere) Wulfric was buried in the abbey cloister where his wife already lay. (Footnote 5)

In his will Wulfric appointed the king as lord of the abbey and Archbishop Alfric and Alfhelm, brother to Wulfric, as ‘guardians and friends and advocates’. The will can be examined to see whether it lists Cauldwell.

He gave Dumbleton (Glos.) to the archbishop and ‘Northtune’ to Ufegeat, possibly his nephew, in the hope that each might ‘the better be a friend and support to the monastery’. (Footnote 6)

The first abbot and monks came from Winchester — a connection that was maintained for over a century and a half, seven of the first eight abbots being monks of Winchester. (Footnote 7)

The house was described as the monastery of St. Benedict and All Saints in royal charters of 1008 and 1012 (Footnote 8) but as the abbey of St. Mary in Domesday Book. (Footnote 9)

Its dedication to St. Mary and St. Modwen occurs fairly frequently in the later 12th century, (Footnote 10) and although there are occasional references to St. Mary alone in the 13th century, (Footnote 11) the double dedication continued for the rest of the abbey’s existence.

The community was never large; in fact the monks stated in 1310 that theirs was the smallest and poorest Benedictine abbey in England. (Footnote 12)

The earliest available figure is that given in the History of the Abbots which states that under Abbot Laurence (1229-60) there were 30 monks. (Footnote 13)

In 1295 there were 31 professed monks. (Footnote 14) The numbers in the earlier 14th century were evidently between 15 and 30. (Footnote 15)

In 1377 there were 15 monks (including the abbot) and three novices (Footnote 16) and in 1381 17 monks (including the abbot). (Footnote 17)

Burton was by far the most important of the Staffordshire religious houses. Its estates, lying in the main on either side of the Staffordshire-Derbyshire border in the Burton area but also extending further afield, produced a gross revenue in 1535 more than double that of the next richest houses in the county, Tutbury Priory and Dieulacres Abbey. (Footnote 22)

The abbot of Burton was not only a secular lord but also exercised an independent spiritual jurisdiction. He was a figure of some standing, regularly serving on papal and royal commissions and acting as a collector of clerical taxes within the diocese. (Footnote 23)

In 1257 he was summoned to the Great Council held at Westminster on the eve of the departure of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, newly elected King of the Romans. (Footnote 24)

He was regularly summoned to Parliament between 1295 and 1322; after that, however, he was not summoned again until 1532. (Footnote 25)

William I came on a visit to the shrine of St. Modwen; (Footnote 28)

Henry II was at Burton in 1155, (Footnote 29)

John in 1200, 1204, and 1208, (Footnote 30)

Henry III in 1235 and 1251, (Footnote 31) Edward I in 1275 and 1284, (Footnote 32) and Edward II in 1322 during the campaign against Thomas, Earl of Lancaster. (Footnote 33)

The royal treasure was lodged at Burton in 1186 en route for Chester in connexion with John’s proposed mission to Ireland, (Footnote 34) and in 1232 and 1235 the proceeds of taxes collected in Staffordshire were ordered to be sent to Burton. (Footnote 35)

The Annals of Burton state that Wulfric gave the abbey all his paternal inheritance, worth £700. (Footnote 36)

Most of these lands were mentioned in the royal charter of 1004 confirming Wulfric’s endowment. (Footnote 38)

Either Wulfric’s intentions were never fully carried out, or else the abbey soon lost much of its original property, perhaps during the Danish Conquest in the early 11th century. At any rate many of the estates given by Wulfric were not in the abbey’s possession at the end of the Confessor’s reign, and what remained was confined to Staffordshire and Derbyshire. (Footnote 39)

A feature of the 12th century is the abbey’s tendency to make more and more grants of its estates in perpetuity at fixed rents instead of the leases, often for two lives, common in the earlier part of the century. (Footnote 61)

According to the History of the Abbots the churches at Stapenhill and Willington, stated by the papal confirmation to have been given respectively by Wulfric and William I, were given by Edward the Confessor. If so, Stapenhill was subsequently lost for early in the 12th century Geoffrey de Clinton, treasurer and chamberlain of the king, gave to Abbot Niel the church of Stapenhill and tithes in nearby Stanton in return for enfeoffment with the part of Stanton owned by Burton. (Footnote 75)

Tithes from Linton in Cauldwell were held by the time of Abbot Roger (1177-82) who granted them to the nearby church of Gresley (Derb.) in return for a pension of 2s. (Footnote 88)

By 1280 there was a chapel at Cauldwell, the fourth dependency of Stapenhill. (Footnote 102)

The abbey property as listed in 1542, after the transfer of most of it to the new college at Burton, (Footnote 123) consisted of the manors of Burton and of Abbots Bromley with Bromley Hurst; Hunsdon Grange; rents from Pillaton, Whiston, Darlaston, Field, Leigh, Branston, Stretton, Wetmore, Anslow, Ilam, Okeover, Stapenhill, Newhall, Stanton, Drakelow, Cauldwell, Mickleover, Littleover, Findern, Willington, Potlocks, Ticknall, Derby, Austrey, Appleby, and property in St. Sepulchre’s parish, London; the appropriated churches of Abbots Bromley and Ilam, tithes in Newton (in Blithfield), and pensions from Hamstall Ridware, Grindon, and Blore. (Footnote 124)

The officers of the abbey were those usual in larger houses — abbot, prior, subprior, precentor, sacrist, cellarer, kitchener, chamberlain, infirmarer, hospitaller, almoner, pittancer, and martyrologer. (Footnote 129)

By the mid 15th century there was a ‘third prior’, and the precentor, sacrist, and cellarer each had a deputy.

At some time between 1114 and 1126 Robert de Ferrers, after a dispute with the monks over a grove, came to an agreement with them, ‘pricked by the fear of God and admonished by the prayer and order of the king’; he promised to pay 20s. a year, and the monks gave him the grove and received him into their ‘fraternity and society … as friend and guardian of the church so that they should love him perfectly’ and pray for him, his family, and his ancestors. (Footnote 147)

Since the Crown regarded Burton as a royal foundation, from at least 1316 the abbey on the election of a new abbot had to provide a pension for a royal clerk of the king’s nomination until the abbot appointed the clerk to a benefice; the amount of the pension in 1535 was 40s. (Footnote 154)

Financial troubles are a constant feature of the abbey’s history. As already seen two abbots were expelled early on for dissipating the property of the house, in 1094 and 1159. (Footnote 155)

The large-scale granting of property in fee instead of for lives during the 12th century has also been noted. (Footnote 156)

By 1225 the community sought to relieve the burden of debt by granting one of its manors in fee for 100 marks, binding itself under pain of excommunication not to cancel the grant; since the manor was worth 20 marks a year in rents, it subsequently regretted the transaction, and the Pope had to intervene in 1225 to put the matter right. (Footnote 157)

In 1400 the king pardoned the abbey all money due to the Crown as a result of the voidance following Abbot Southam’s resignation ‘because the abbey has been impoverished by the improvident governance of Thomas, late abbot’. (Footnote 166)

In 1414 the king once more took the house into his hands, blaming ‘the bad governance of its abbots’ and ‘its notable dilapidation’ for the fact that it ‘is oppressed with annuities, pensions, and corrodies and debt, and its goods and jewels have been wasted and many of its manors, lands, and possessions improvidently demised at farm and otherwise alienated, and the abbot and convent are so troubled that divine worship and other works of piety are withdrawn’.

The running of the house and its lands was committed to the prior and cellarer under the supervision of a commission of four outsiders. (Footnote 167) The bishop’s visitation of 1422 revealed no improvement. Debts amounted to £100.

No accounts were kept by abbot, chamberlain, or pittancer, and Abbot Sudbury stated that he had found no inventory of goods when he was elected in 1400 and had made none himself. Complaints were made that the abbot, besides being negligent in his administration, was selling the goods of the house and supporting his own relatives.

Among the charges leading to Abbot Henley’s suspension in 1454 (see below) were alienation of property and general extravagance. (Footnote 172)

The dissolution of Burton was foreshadowed at the election of 1533 following the promotion of Abbot Bronston to be Abbot of Westminster, the highest office known to have been attained by any monk of Burton.

Bishop Lee, under instructions from Cromwell, went to Burton in June with Richard Strete, Archdeacon of Derby, and David Pole, the vicar general, and so ‘sped the election’ that the community agreed to leave the choice of a new abbot to the bishop and the archdeacon, stipulating only that one of themselves should be chosen before 1 August.

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The Land of Burton Abbey at Appleby Magna

No. 8 in a series of articles

Part IX – Medieval Open Fields (1)


At the time of its endowment in AD 1004, Burton Abbey had acquired land at Appleby Magna from the will of its founder Wulfric Spot (see In Focus 4).
Domesday Book (AD 1086) recorded five carucates held by the Abbot of Burton at Appleby Magna (in Derbyshire), although one of these was leased to the Countess Godiva, widow of Leofric Earl of Mercia. The Countess had also held three carucates of lands at Appleby Magna (in Leicestershire) on her own account. So Burton Abbey was effectively farming half of Appleby Magna’s land at that time. Although the two estates at Appleby were physically interlocked in the village (see In Focus 5) the bulk of the farmland was clearly separated with Burton Abbey’s ‘half’ lying to the north and west of the settlement in Derbyshire.


Click picture for a larger view

The Abbot’s five carucate holding at the time of Doomsday, was for geld. This is clearly a tax assessment, rather like a rateable value. There was ‘land for 5 ploughs’ indicating that the workable land area was also 5 ploughlands or ‘carucates’ in the Latinised language employed. This amounts to roughly 600 acres (one carucate was nominally 120 acres). The darker blue area on the map represents the approximate size of the Abbey’s estate, but the precise boundaries are not known. We are also told that there were two ploughs in the demesne, contrasting with the single plough the men had.

The demesne of a normal manor was the land reserved for the lord of the manor’s own use. The produce would be his for consumption or sale and the land would be worked according to customary service by the villains and other feudal serfs under his control. They had much smaller plots to work for their own produce, when they were not working for the lord. The Doomsday entry records that there were 8 villains and one border (lesser serf) with one plough for their own use.

Burton Abbey’s land differed from a normal manor in that there was no resident ‘lord’, although there is likely to have been a central group of farm buildings, or grange, with a cottage for a bailiff or manager. The notional demesne land would be taxed because the Abbey was effectively an absentee landlord working the estate for profit.


We are doubly fortunate that the monks of Burton Abbey were meticulous in keeping records of their affairs and that John Nichols reproduced information from the Abbey Registers in his History and Antiquities of Leicestershire. There are two medieval Latin surveys printed consecutively by Nichols (under a single heading) and which must be close to each other in date. The heading (in translation) is; ‘Survey(s) of the Lands of Burton Abbey at the Time of Henry I and Abbot Nigel’, which narrows the date to the years AD 1100 – 1114, ie within 14 to 28 years of the Domesday survey. Following so closely after Domesday (1086), these Abbey surveys enlarge on and help us to interpret the Domesday information.

The Surveys
Here is my translation (with the relevant footnotes) of the two surveys headed “Extent’ terrarum monasterii de Burton super Trent, tempore regis Henrici Primi, & Nigelli abbatis”. The bold emphasis and the layout are mine, and my comments follow below.


In Appleby nothing is held ‘as demesne’ [see definition in the second survey below]. The land itself is assessed for four carucates. In this there are in total 40 and 9 virgates. Of these there are 24 in the demesne land, and sufficient for three ploughlands [carucates]. The remainder, ie 25, the men hold by these means.
12 virgates are for customary service (ad opus) and 13 are for rent (ad malam).

Of those which are FOR CUSTOMARY SERVICE
11 villeins hold fully 11 virgates, ie every single one 1 virgate.
Of the twelfth virgate which remains, two villains hold halves, each one of course [holding] half a virgate. Besides these there are three coscets (corseti); each one holds 1 acre, and works one day service.

Moreover, of those which are FOR RENT,
Godwin, who is a villein, holds 11@f02 virgates for 4 shillings
Algar, who is himself a villein, half a virgate for 16 pence
Francis 1 virgate for 32 pence
Richard 4 virgates for 6 shillings
Another Richard 2 virgates for 3 shillings
Roger the priest 2 virgates for 3 shillings
Herbert 2 virgates for 3 shillings 14

[The Second Survey follows on without a separate heading:]

In Appleby nothing is held ‘as demesne’; ie which is not subject to the king’s geld. Land in the demesne is 24 virgates, where there could be 3 ploughlands. There are 24 bullocks; mares and foals; 300 farm sheep. The land of the men is assessed for 20 virgates.

THE ORDINARY VILLEINS (villani) are these:
Alwinus, Almirus, Lewinus, Almarus, Daura, Godricus, Hadaldus, Ordricus, Toki, Dan’[Daniel?].

Each one of these holds one virgate; and works two days in the week, and makes all customary services which are performed by the villeins of Austrey, except that they fallow, set aside and store one acre, whereas here it is half an acre 15.

Also Aluricus and Sewinus hold one virgate, and each of them works one day, and performs the aforesaid customary service.

ORDINARY RENT-PAYERS (censarii) are these.
Ranulfus holds one virgate for 22 pence, and makes the payment for his land twice a year, and increasingly with all his affairs he divides into three by turns: in low value coins, with food provided by himself, or thirdly with food provided by the abbot; and he owes 2 perches [of land] to Burton, and 2 in interest; and he is obliged to go to the court of pleas, and to the hundred court, and to the chase [?], and to carry weaponry [?] when ordered; he owes just so much rent, and is obliged to do just so much.

The sons of Aluricus, [ie] Godricus, Ailwinus [and] Edricus, have 8 virgates, which their father held for them for 12 shillings, and for their bodily [military] service.

Likewise, each of those who are both VILLEINS and RENT-PAYERS are these.
Godwinus the priest holds 21@f12 virgates for customary service, and the other holding for rent with a half virgate for 4 shillings.
Algarus holds 2 virgates for customary service, and 1 virgate for rent for 16 pence. Those who hold land just as villeins and just as rent-payers, are obliged to make all customary service both of villeins and of rent-payers.

These are the COSCETS (corseti).
Walter holds 3 acres, and does 1 day’s service in the week. Gerard similarly. Aluricus similarly.

There are two OXMEN (bovarii) each of which has 5 acres, of these 4 having been sown, and 5 sheep for his calling; and their wives perform one day service. However they hand over geese and sheep whenever they pay service. 1

[Nichols’ footnotes:]
14: Burton Register, fol. viii. b.
15.‘THESE ARE THE CUSTOMS OF AUSTREY in Warwickshire: “ He [the villein] works two days in the week. He is obliged to go for salt and for fish, or to give 11 pence for each; he sows seed; and again, he owes either a horse or 3 pence on account of the journey of the abbot to the court; & he fallows 1 acre in summer on account of the fold and sets aside and stores seed for the time of sowing; & besides this he ploughs half an acre in Lent; and he pays pannage [right of pasturing especially pigs]; and he gives 2 hens at Christmas, and 1 penny or 1 wagon-load of wood and 20 eggs at Easter.
1. Burton Register, fol. xvi. a. b.

The Two Surveys
There is a subtle difference in emphasis between the two surveys which may reflect changes between the dates of the two documents and/or the attitude of those compiling them. The first one stresses the type of tenancy: ad opus [for customary service] and ad malam [for rent] and names only those who paid rent. This in itself is an improvement in detail on the Domesday survey, which does not name anyone. The second survey identifies the type of tenancy by detailing the rank of the occupants; these were the rent payers [censarii] and the serfs who did customary service: villeins [villani], lesser serfs [coscets, corseti, probable equivalent of the Domesday bordar] and oxmen [or ploughmen, bovarii]; and names them all except the oxmen. The surveys would have been carried out by monks or priests from the Abbey and the inclusion of a greater number of names shows an increased personal knowledge of the workforce.

Customary Service
All villeins and lesser serfs were bound to perform work and other services for the lord of the manor. This was known as customary service, and was determined by local custom as the name implies and regulated by the manor court. The second survey says that the customary services performed by the Appleby villeins are modelled on those in operation at the manor at the neighbouring village of Austrey. This manor was also held by Burton Abbey from the time of the Domesday survey and Nichols gives us the details in the footnote 15 (given at the end of the surveys, above).

Land Occupation
The land occupied by the tenants and serfs was measured in virgates. Both surveys state that the 24 virgates of the demesne land is sufficient for three ploughlands. The ploughland is another word for carucate, 120 acres (see above), so here at Appleby a virgate was 15 acres.

In the first survey, 25 virgates of land were cultivated by the workforce, 12 in return for customary service and 13 for rent. We can see that the serfs doing customary service have generally 15 acres each (1 virgate) whereas the average holding of a rent-payer is about 30 acres (2 virgates) although one, Richard, has 60 acres (4 virgates). The rent-payers are relatively ‘free’ men – ie free of obligation to the lord. The reference to the total land area as ‘40 and 9 virgates’ (XL & IX) may indicate two physically separate blocks of land.

The second survey shows that there were 26 virgates cultivated by the men, although they were assessed for tax as 20 virgates. There were 11 virgates of land cultivated by the villeins for customary service alone (although one of them was shared), 6 for a mix of service and rental (Godwinus and Algarus), and nine virgates were just rented. The Abbey, like any other landlord, had to provide men for military service and the three rent-paying sons of Aluricus were detailed for this.

There is clearly a time gap between the two surveys, perhaps no more than one generation, as the are only two names which can be identified with any certainty as being in both lists. These were Algar(us) and Godwin(us), the only two villeins holding land for customary service as well as renting other land. Although their total land holdings have increased in the second survey, each continued to pay the same rent as before. By the date of the second survey Godwin has become a priest, replacing Roger the priest of the first survey (see below).

Value of the Estate

At the time of the Domesday survey, the value of the estate at the time of King Edward (ie before 1066) was put at 20 shillings whereas in 1086 it was put at 80 shillings. The meaning of the term ‘value’ is open to debate, but a reasonable hypothesis would be the rental which the holding could command.

Thirty or so years later, in the first survey, the area of land worked and the magnitude of the workforce had expanded. The Abbey now had just over six carucates although it was assessed for four for taxation (perhaps indicating poor quality of land newly won from the waste).

The total rent due from the 13 virgates of rented land in the first survey was 23 shillings although the rental per virgate was surprisingly variable from plot to plot. Scaled up to 49 virgates, this gives a valuation for the estate of about 87 shillings. By the time of the second survey, slightly more land was cultivated (50 virgates). The rental again varied considerably between tenants but taking an average value, the estate was probably valued at about 91 shillings.

A Debtor
In the second survey, the difficulty one tenant, Ranulfus, had in paying his rent is graphically described. He had resorted to paying in small amounts with petty cash, or in kind with food grown by himself or by the Abbey, to which he also owed land and interest. He was also required to do extra menial tasks: ‘He owes just so much rent and is obliged to do just so much’. The problems faced by Ranulfus may also have been experienced by others who had struggled and failed to make an adequate living in the fluctuating economic conditions of the time. The listing of livestock (bullocks, mares and foals and sheep) on the demesne land in the second survey possibly indicates a change towards pastoral farming and away from arable as the Abbey adapted to changes in the rural economy. The struggling rent-payers may have not been able to adapt so easily.

The Lesser Serfs
The lowly coscets had only an acre each in the first survey, although this had increased to three acres in the second. Their land was not included in the land assessed for tax and may have been marginal land recently won from the waste. The increase in their holdings between the two surveys may show this process continuing. The oxmen, or ploughmen, although not named individually were clearly key workmen, looking after the plough-teams and carrying out the ploughing. They had five acres of land each (second survey).

The Priests
In each of the two Burton surveys, a priest is listed working land along with the other tenants. These are exactly the worker-priests as described by David Parsons for the time of Domesday (see In Focus 6). It could be that these two priests, Roger in the first survey, and Godwin(us) in the second, were the Abbey’s bailiffs on the Appleby estate. Godwin seems to have been a local man who was priested between the two surveys. He in particular would have known the other men well and been able to list their names.

During the 12th century the establishment of local churches supported by tithes was under development and at this date the rectory with its patronage system may not have been set up. Being priests, Roger and Godwinus may therefore have exercised parochial duties at the parish church. The developing parish system gradually replaced one in which minster churches with itinerant priests served a larger area, perhaps the Saxon ‘multiple estate’ (see In Focus 3).

‘The Grange’
I have suggested above that Burton Abbey’s land at Appleby must have had farm buildings for storage of grain etc. and possibly a dwelling for the supervising bailiff. Where could these buildings have been@f2 Obviously they would have been on Abbey land to the west and north of the village. I think that the most obvious site would be that occupied by Dormer’s Hall in the 17th and 18th century. This lay a short distance west of the church and mirrored the manor (Moat House) building to the east.

Click on image for a larger view
The existence of Dormer’s Hall itself is obscure and I shall write about it in a later article, but pottery fragments from the 12th and13th century (with others from the time of the Dormers) which I found on the site strongly suggest occupation of the site in the medieval period, long before the Dormers arrived. The Dormers had right of burial in the de Appleby Chapel of Appleby Church, a right which they must have acquired through the occupation of a site which had at one time been linked with the manor. Burton Abbey’s land had been sold from the original manor land and it is arguable that this link passed through the various owners following the dissolution of the monasteries to the Dormers when they acquired it.
`Dissolution of the Abbey
At the dissolution of Burton Abbey in 1539, Nichols says that the lands ‘came to one Brereton of Cheshire, from whom the tenants not many years since (this was written in 1622) became purchasers’. William Brereton also acquired Appleby Magna manor itself. Subsequently, the reunited manor land was purchased by the Dixies of Market Bosworth as endowment for their Grammar School. How the Dormers later came to acquire part of it is another story!

Pottery from the Site of Dormer’s Hall

Click on picture for larger image

Notes & References

J. Nichols, History & Antiquities of Leicestershire, Vol. IV, part 2, 1811, p 427-8 prints two surveys consecutively under the title: ‘Extent’ terrarum monasterii de Burton super Trent, tempore regis Henrici Primi, & Nigelli abbatis.’ Henry I [1100-1135] and Abbot Nigel [1094-1114] overlap for the years 1100 to 1114. The first survey (Burton Register folio viii.b) must lie within that short period of time. Although different in emphasis, the second survey (folio xvi.a b.) must be only a little later than the first. Abbot Nigel’s dates are given by Denis Stuart in An Illustrated History of Burton upon Trent, Burton upon Trent Civic Society, post 1993, p 13.

Domesday Book, Warwickshire, folio 239a, [ed. J Morris, Phillimore, 1976] ‘Land of Burton Church … Burton Abbey holds 21?2 hides in Austrey …. Earl Leofric gave this land to the church.’ Clearly Burton Abbey had a more or less standard form of customary service which it imposed upon the serfs of the manors which it held and Appleby’s, with minor alterations, is modelled on that at Austrey.

John Hunt, in ‘Piety, Prestige or Politics’ in Coventry’s First Cathedral, ed. G Demidowicz, Stamford, 1994, pp 105-108, discusses the irregular acquisitions of states by the House of Mercia (Leofwine / Leofric). The lands of Burton Abbey, particularly at Austrey, are mentioned in this context (p 107, n 75). Hunt says that Austrey manor must have been seized by Earl Leofric since it had been already bequeathed to Burton Abbey in Wulfric Spot’s will. Leofric’s ‘gift’ to the Abbey mentioned in Domesday book was therefore no more than the restoration of legal possession.

R Welldon Finn, Domesday Book: A Guide, Phillimore, 1973, p 36 (lesser serfs: oxmen, coscets, cottars, and bordars); p 77 (valuation of manors)

David Parsons, ‘Churches and Churchgoing in 1086’ in The Norman Conquest of Leicestershire and Rutland, op. cit. p 38-39 (establishment of ecclesiastical parishes)

P. Liddle, Archaeological Report to Author, 1989 (pottery finds from Dormers Hall field)

J Nichols op. cit., p 436 (tombs of the Dormers)

J Nichols op. cit., p 430 (dissolution of Burton Abbey, acquisition of Abbey land and the original manor by William Brerton; and subsequently by the Dixies)

Peter Foss, The History of Market Bosworth, Sycamore Press, 1983, p 50 (Dixie School endowments)

© Richard Dunmore July 2001 http://www.applebymagna.org.uk/appleby_history/in_focus8_land_burton_abbey.htm
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Population Growth

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Appleby Magna
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Richard Dunmore looks at:


No. 17 in a series of articles

At the time of the Domesday Survey of 1086, the population of the parish of Appleby was about 130. In the year 2000 the official population estimate was 1103 (1). This represents an increase in population of more than eight-fold. In this article I shall attempt show something of the progress of this rise over a period of almost a millennium.


Official censuses did not begin in this country until 1801, so at first sight there would appear to be little possibility of finding out what the population was in early times. However, various official enquiries were made into aspects of the parish at particular earlier dates. These enquiries were concerned with factors such as liability for taxation, religious observance, political control or other social investigations. All of these types of enquiry are to be found in Appleby’s past. Of course, they were not intended as a means of measuring the village’s population, but, because they concerned the population as a whole, they can be used to make an estimate for the particular date of each enquiry. The accuracy of the population estimates will vary and depend upon the accuracy of the recorded information and the assumptions made in linking the information to the population count.

A second line of attack is to use the parish registers. From the late 16th century onwards, the parish priest or clerk recorded, more or less faithfully, the baptisms, burials and marriages which took place at the parish church. Most people were baptised, most marriages took place in church, all who died in the parish were buried; and the details were entered into the parish registers. The numbers of these entries over a given period can be used to quantify how the population was changing. This may take the form of the simple equation that the increase in population over the period is given by the difference between numbers of births (baptisms) and numbers of deaths (burials). This is known as the natural growth. This method requires knowledge of the population at a notional ‘starting point’ in order to deduce population progress over the periods before and after this point.

An alternative approach is to use baptism or burial rates, ie numbers of baptisms or burials per thousand population. These are then applied to the actual numbers of baptisms or burials registered over 10 or 20 year periods. The rates have to be assumed constant for the period under consideration. The population is calculated in proportion to the number of register entries: ie the greater the number of register entries the larger the population. (Marriages are not usually used in this way because the numbers involved are relatively few.)

Difficulties arise using parish registers when there are periods of migration into or out of the parish; when there is a significant amount of religious non-conformity; or when civil disturbance leads to under-registration, but these effects are usually easy to recognise.

The Cambridge Group for the History of Population pioneered work in this field in the 1960s (2). My own work on Appleby Registers was written in 1973 (3).


The earliest estimates of population for the village come from the Domesday Book together with some local surveys made shortly afterwards.

Domesday Survey 1086

Appleby has entries in the Domesday returns which refer to three parts of the village (4):

Appleby Parva (Leicestershire) owned by Henry de Ferrers (1 carucate or 120 acres);

Appleby Magna (Leicestershire) which had belonged to Countess Godiva (3 carucates); and Appleby Magna (Derbyshire) which was the land of Burton Abbey (5 carucates).

The workforce recorded in the Survey falls into two distinct groups: free-men and serfs.

In 1086, Henry de Ferrers’ land at Appleby Parva was farmed by four sokemen and these were the only free-men in the parish.

On the land which had been Countess Godiva’s there were in all 14 serfs: 8 villeins and 6 bordars (lesser serfs); Burton Abbey had 9 serfs: 8 villeins and one bordar. The total numbers of serfs in the parish was therefore 23 and the overall manpower of the parish (freemen and serfs) was 27.

Burton Abbey Surveys 1100-1114

Two surveys were made of the land of Burton Abbey at Appleby ‘at the time of King Henry I and Abbot Nigel’, ie between the years 1100 and 1114, the time span during which their periods of rule overlapped (5). These surveys are much more detailed than the Domesday Survey, but in each case the total numbers of serfs is 23.

The Leicestershire Survey 1129-30

In 1129-30 another survey was carried out which was unique to Leicestershire, the so-called Leicestershire Survey (6). For Appleby this lists only the land of Robert de Ferrers (Henry’s son and heir). Although there is little detail and nothing about manpower, it is clear that the small (1 carucate) farm at Appleby Parva was still thriving. There was no mention of Countess Godiva’s old estate, but Robert had a second smaller holding (1?2 carucate or 60 acres) which may be a remnant of her estate which he had acquired.

What appears to have happened after the Norman Conquest is that, after Godiva was dispossessed, her land was abandoned and the workforce of serfs was taken over by Burton Abbey. There are good reasons to believe that this could have taken place. There was already a close relationship between the Countess and Burton Abbey. Leofric, Earl of Mercia and Godiva’s late husband, had appointed his nephew, also Leofric, to be Abbot of Burton in 1051 so the Abbey was in Leofric and Godiva’s patronage (7). Also before the Conquest the Abbey had leased 120 acres (1 carucate) of their holding to the Countess. Although his own land holding was unchanged by the Conquest, the Abbot would not have been slow to make use of the unemployed manpower when Godiva’s land was neglected.

Many of the workforce were named in each of the Burton Abbey Surveys. Although the individuals changed between the two, the numbers of serfs remained constant, at 23, for all three surveys (Domesday and Burton Abbey). The Ferrers’ farm at Appleby Parva, run by the four free-men, remained undisturbed independent of the changes at Appleby Magna.

Population around 1100

The total workforce in the parish from 1086 through into the 12th century therefore was probably 27, made up of 4 free-men and 23 serfs, one of whom was also a priest (although this was not mentioned in the Domesday Survey). Assuming that each man, except the priest who would have been unmarried, had four dependants the population would have been about 130.

The Poll Tax of 1377

The next estimate of the population is made possible by the poll tax collected in 1377, after the death of King Edward III (8). This unpopular tax brought in one groat (4d) per head from everyone aged 14 years and over. The number of people taxed for Appleby parish was 94.

There are problems about estimating the population from these head-counts. How many people managed to evade the tax, especially in the wake of the first outbreaks of the Black Death (1348, 1361, 1369 and 1375); and how many children were there under the age of 14 years anyway? Demographic historians differ in their answers to these questions but, if we assume 15% evasion and 40% under 14 years, the 1377 village population works out at around 180.

The Black Death

The population of England as a whole is thought to have risen from about 2 million at the time of the Domesday Survey up to a maximum of perhaps 6 million around the end of the 13th century. When the first outbreak of the Black Death (bubonic plague) occurred in 1348, a down-turn in population was already under way caused by climatic changes and over-exploitation of the land. There were particularly bad harvests in 1315, 1316, 1320 and 1321.

Between 1348 and 1377 the mortality caused by the plague was catastrophic. It has been estimated that more than half the inhabitants of England died in this period, with the population down to perhaps 2.75 million by 1377. Further outbreaks continued to take their toll and the population fell back to Domesday levels by the mid 15th century. Recovery thereafter was slow (9).

Little evidence exists of the direct effect of the Black Death upon Appleby itself. The plague affected every part of England and the villagers could not have escaped its dreadful toll. Sir Edmund de Appleby (d. 1375) was lord of the manor of Appleby Magna during this period. In the 1340s, before the first outbreak, a new church, a substantial stone building was erected, which is essentially the church we have today. This is an indication that the village had prospered in the period after the Norman Conquest and that its population had steadily grown with that of the country as a whole, until the disaster of the Black Death in the 14th century caused it to fall so drastically.

What then was the height of Appleby’s population at the end of the 13th century, ie before the down-turn began? Using the proportionate change for the country as a whole, the answer comes out at about 400. By 1377, the effects of the plague had reduced it to 180 and a fall back towards the Domesday level of 130 continued into the 15th century.

Episcopal Visitation Books: ‘Liber Cleri’ 1603

To ensure proper observation of the canon laws of the Elizabethan Protestant settlement, the Bishop of each diocese carried out ‘visitations’ of his parishes, at which he required the clergy and churchwardens to answer standard questions about all aspects of the parish. These visitations were usually carried out at three year intervals following an initial visitation following the Bishop’s enthronement. The results of these enquiries were entered into special Call Books or Liber Cleri (10).

The enquiry carried out at Appleby in 1603 revealed 225 communicants in the parish. There is no record here of any recusants or non-conformists (11).

Estimates of the proportion of the population too young to take communion vary between 33.3% and 40%. Taking an intermediate value of 36%, this gives a population estimate of about 350. We may deduce from this that the village population had been recovering from the Black Death and was growing throughout the 16th century. It was once again climbing towards the peak level attained at the beginning of the 14th century.

Oath of Protestation February 1642
(click on title to see full list)

The Parish Registers of Appleby church list the 144 people (143 men and one woman) aged 16 years and over, who signed the Oath of Protestation of February 1641/42, together with the wording of the Oath itself (12). Such lists have not generally survived but the rare Appleby list did so because the local church made this copy in the registers. The wording is given in full in the Appendix.

Those signing the oath pledged to maintain the true reformed protestant religion expressed in the doctrine of the Church of England as well as his Ma[jes]ties Royall p[er]son and also the power and priveledge of Parliament. It was a belated attempt to avoid civil war by uniting the country in opposition to the perceived common enemy of Roman Catholicism.

As there were very few Roman Catholics, if any, in the parish we have an almost complete list of all the men over the age of 16 years at that date. The one woman who signed may have done so on her husband’s behalf. Examination of the actual register entries for the period shows that all the names are authentic and that there were at least two men whose names are absent. Correcting the male adult population by +2% and assuming that 40% of the inhabitants were children under 16, the total population of the parish for February 1642 works out at 490. Because of the authenticity of the name list, the margin of error on this estimate must be quite small. This figure is therefore the most accurate count of the village population before the official censuses began in 1801.

Hearth Tax 1662/1670

By Act of Parliament 1662, a tax was imposed of 2 shillings on every hearth, unless the householder was exempt on grounds of poverty (13). Records exist for the Derbyshire part of Appleby for the year 1662, and for the Leicestershire part for 1670.

The 1662 Derbyshire list gives the hearths that were taxed (and not those that were exempt), but it does give the names of all the householders and the number of hearths each possessed (14). For the Leicestershire tax of 1670, we have 17 hearths exempt as well as 30 that were taxed (15).

Assuming a multiplier of 4.5 people per hearth and making a (downward) correction to allow for distortion of the figures by one large household with 13 hearths, this gives a population figure for the whole village of around 510 (16).

Compton Census 1676

The Compton Census of 1676 is named after its initiator Henry Compton, Bishop of London. This census was intended to discover the number of Anglican conformists, Roman Catholic recusants and Protestant dissenters in England and Wales from enquiries made in the individual parishes. The surviving return for Appleby of 240 communicants provides another measure of the population.

Assuming children below the age of confirmation to be 40% of the population, this gives an estimate of the total population of 400.

Compared with the estimates obtained from the 1642 Protestation Return (490) and the 1662/1670 Hearth Tax (510) this figure is rather low and requires an explanation. There was no dissenters’ meeting house in the parish in 1669 and non-conformity in the parish was apparently insignificant (17). Equally, there is no evidence of migration out of the parish at this time.

My analysis of parish register entries (see below) shows a generally rising trend throughout this period, although there is evidence from recorded baptisms of a drop in survival rates of new born children between the years 1670 and 1690 (and between 1710 and 1730). So a real short-term drop in population may have occurred. An explanation may be found in poor diet and disease. Malnutrition or famine resulting from bad harvests resulted in increased susceptibility to fatal diseases. Such reversals were not uncommon in those times (18).

Pilkington’s ‘View’ of 1789

James Pilkington published his View of the Present State of Derbyshire in 1789. He noted that in Appleby, there were ‘59 houses in Derbyshire’, another indicator of the size of the village. Converting this to a population figure however, requires knowledge of not only the average number of people living in each house, but also the equivalent figures for the Leicestershire part of the village.

John Nichols’ volume covering Appleby and published in 1811, gives a breakdown of the houses between the two counties to coincide with the first official census of 1801 which gave the population as 935. Nichols tells us that of these 935 people, 478 lived in 116 houses in Leicestershire; 3 further houses were uninhabited. In the Derbyshire part, 457 people lived in 98 houses with a further 4 houses uninhabited (19).

It is tempting to work out a population figure from Pilkington’s 1789 observation (59 houses) using proportions from Nichols’ detail. The average occupancy of each house in 1801 was 4.37. Applying this multiplier to 1789, the population estimate for the whole village would be 563. However, the large rise in the numbers of houses recorded in the Derbyshire part of the village, from 59 houses in 1789 to 98 in 1801, must mean that many new houses were built in that 12 year period. Consequently we might expect the houses of 1789 to have been of poor quality and very overcrowded. The occupancy of each house was therefore much higher than in 1801 and the same multiplier does not apply. So the calculation is not valid.

But was an attempt made in the late 18th century to improve the housing of the villagers? The answer must be yes. We have already seen that the absentee Lord of the Manor, Charles Moore, succeeded in getting the open fields enclosed in 1772. The Moores were reaping the benefit of the enclosures at this time and building large houses for themselves: Appleby House and the White House (20). Furthermore, the rectory had acquired a large estate of glebe land (the Rectory Farms) and a new rectory was under construction (21). Improving the housing of the villagers was not entirely an act of philanthropy. It would have been in the best interests of the major landholders, the Moores and the rector, to improve the conditions of their workmen, regarding them as a resource of their estates.


The first official census in this country took place in 1801 and, with the exception of 1941, every 10 years thereafter. The population figures for Appleby from 1801 to 1951 may be found in the Victoria County History of Leicestershire (22).

Census Population Figures for Appleby

Year 1801 1811 1821 1831 1841 1851 1861 1871 1881 1891 1901 1911 1921 1931 1951 2000

Total 935 1123 1185 1150 1075 1181 1070 885 757 657 649 675 752 763 829 1103


From the late 16th century, Appleby Magna parish registers list the baptisms and burials which took place at the parish church. Although there are certain periods when under-registration is suspected, for example around the time of the English Civil War, the difference between the cumulative numbers of baptisms and the numbers of burials gives a numerical measure of the increase of population: the Natural Growth. Of course it presupposes that no-one moved into or out of the village and that all baptisms and burials were recorded. From the beginning of the registers up to about 1720 this would appear to have been the case. At worst, migration into and out of the parish cancelled out. From that date (c.1720), with increasing development of industry, the drift of people from villages to the industrial towns grew at an increasing pace helping to satisfy the manpower requirements of the Industrial Revolution.

I have calculated the Natural Growth line for Appleby’s population, using counts of the parish register entries and using the most reliable spot value mentioned above (the Protestation Return level of 490 at 1642) as a starting point. This growth line is drawn on the graph below for comparison with a (smoothed) line constructed from the spot values which cover the years from Domesday to the years of the official censuses.

The graph shows the village population growing with the country as a whole in the 12th and 13th centuries from the Domesday level of 130 to a peak of about 400 around the year 1300. The catastrophic effect of the Black Death is shown in the rapid decline during the 14th century to the Poll Tax figure of about 180 in 1377. Continuing to fall to the mid 15th century, the population then steadily picked up again through the 16th century. Apart from short-term set-backs (not shown), the level rose at an even greater rate during the 17th and 18th centuries reaching 490 by 1642 and passing 600 by the year 1700.

From the late 16th century up to the early decades of the 18th century, the population closely followed the Natural Growth line (shown in red on the graph). If the population had continued to grow at this rate, the village population would have soared, but clearly this did not happen. The reason is to be found mainly in migration away from rural areas to the growing industrial towns.

The census figures show the population rising through the 1000 mark soon after the year 1800, with levels well above 1000 between 1811 and 1861. Some of the fluctuations in this period may be due to the uneven success of Appleby School in attracting boarders (22).

Economic Vagaries

The population of the village depends upon the local economy, the provision of housing and of employment in particular. I have suggested above that there was a large improvement in housing provision in the late 18th century. Further improvements to the housing stock of the village were carried out in the 1830s (20). Along with this there must have been sustained employment. The Moores as local landowners and employers were responsible for this and the maintenance of the high level of population during the first half of the 19th century derive ultimately from squire George Moore’s improvements and management of his estate.

Conversely, the decline of population in the latter half of the 19th century must be related to not only the competing attractions of prospering local industry, at Ashby Woulds and Measham, but also to the effect of prolonged agricultural depression on the Appleby estate. A clear sign of these difficulties is that the next squire, George J Moore, was in severe financial difficulties by the 1880s (23). The population level reached a low point of 649 in the year 1901. Since then Appleby’s population has risen throughout the 20th century and today stands above 1100 once more.


1. North West Leicestershire Mid Year Population Estimates, Leicestershire County Council 2001; see http://www.leics.gov.uk/p_t/policy_research/population/parish_nwest.htm

2. E.A. Wrigley, An Introduction to English Historical Demography, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1966; see also Alan Rogers, This Was Their World – Approaches To Local History, BBC, 1972: Chap II ‘The Size of the Community’ gives a useful introduction to population study.

3. R Dunmore The Parish Registers of Appleby Magna, Leicestershire, Local History Certificate Research Essay, University of Keele, 1973; I have taken the opportunity here to update my estimates.

4. See In Focus 4 (Domesday Survey)

5. See In Focus 8 (Burton Abbey’s Surveys)

6. Victoria County History (VCH) Leicestershire I, 1907, p 351 (Leicestershire Survey)

7. See In Focus 6 (House of Leofric)

8. Raw population data from the various enquiries may be found in VCH Leicestershire II and III; and VCH Derbyshire II.

9. J L Bolton, The Medieval English Economy 1150-1500, Dent, 1980; in Chapter 2 the author discusses the evidence on which the estimates of the population loss resulting from the Black Death are based. For example, data survives for the privileged echelons of society in the form of Inquisitions Post Mortem which recorded the experience of the tenants-in-chief (barons); and in diocesan records for the mortality of beneficed clergy. Both groups may be regarded as atypical of society as a whole, but the clergy at least were in constant contact with ordinary people so that their exposure to disease was similarly high.

10. Dorothy M Owen, Episcopal Visitation Books, Short Guides to Records No. 8, Historical Association.

11. Although a presbyterian minister was imposed by the Parliamentary Committee in 1655 (until the restoration in 1660), there were no non-conformist meeting houses in Appleby in 1669 (see 17. below). It seems likely therefore that dissent had no great following locally at this period.

12. Appleby Magna Parish Registers: the Protestation list and Oath may be found inserted within the normal entries (baptisms &c) for 1648.

13. Roger Howell, Hearth Tax Returns, Short Guides to Records No. 7, Historical Association. The 1662 tax was a supplementary means of raising more revenue when Parliament’s initial grant to Charles II’s government proved inadequate to meet its ordinary peace-time expenses. In the face of negligence and evasion, a 1663 modification of the Act required all hearths to be listed (not just those taxed) and in 1664 the responsibility for tax collection was given to new officials called chimney men.

14. The names of those Appleby householders who were assessed for Hearth Tax in Derbyshire were transcribed by the Derbyshire Record Society in 1982. The may be found on-line at: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~brett/census/app1662_ht.htm

15. VCH II, p 172 (Hearth Tax, Leicestershire)

16. The number of taxed hearths in the Derbyshire half in 1662 was 52 of which 13 hearths belonged to one household (a Mr Kendall). This large household clearly distorts the numbers used as a population count. Apart from three individuals who had had 2 hearths, all the others only had one. For the purpose of this calculation I have therefore reduced Mr Kendall’s household to 3 hearths, so the corrected total number of taxed hearths becomes 42. If we assume also that proportionately there were just as many exempted hearths in the Derbyshire part as in Leicestershire, the exempted hearths in Derbyshire would have numbered 24. So we arrive at totals of 47 hearths in Leicestershire and 66 (corrected) in Derbyshire, an overall total of 113. Using the multiplier of 4.5 recommended by Roger Howell (see 13.), this gives a population figure approaching 510.

17. RH Evans, Non-conformists in Leicestershire 1669, TLAS 25, 1949, pp124-5 Sparkenhoe Deanery. Certificate of the Clergy concerning Conventicles (non-conformist meeting houses) taken at the visitation of Dr Outram Archdeacon of Leicester 13 Oct 1669: Appleby: The minister being sicke the Churchwardens certifie yt there is noe conventicle within this parish. Samuel Torrell, John Hunt, churchwardens.

18. See for example Eileen A Gooder, ‘The Population Crisis of 1727-30 in Warwickshire’, Midland History Vol. I No. 4, 1972

19. J Nichols, op cit p 431 Nichols gives a breakdown of the 1801 census population figure of 935. As the returns were not kept these details would otherwise have been lost. He wrote:

By another Return to Parliament in 1800 [sic], that part of Appleby which is within the county of Leicester contained 116 inhabited houses, and 3 uninhabited. The families were 167; consisting of 223 males, and 255 females, in all 478; of whom 223 were chiefly employed in agriculture, and 204 in trade, manufactures, &c. In the Derbyshire part, there were 98 inhabited houses, and 4 uninhabited. The families were 99; males 299 [this should be 229], females 228; total 457. Of these, 182 were chiefly employed in agriculture, and 238 in trade, manufactures &c.

20. In Focus 13 (enclosures, grand houses and village housing improvements)

21. J Nichols, op cit p 432 (new rectory)

22. VCH Leicestershire III, 1955, p 180. The 1821 figure was said (in 1831) to have been erroneously high. Comments on the 1841 and 1861 figures refer to changes at the ‘endowed grammar school’. The decrease in 1861 is also partly attributed to migration. My total for 1891 has been deduced from the actual returns, as the VCH gives only the Leicestershire part. No census was held in 1941 during the war.

23. In Focus 14, ‘Decline of the Moores at Appleby Parva’

© Richard Dunmore January 2003

frenetic gallop,
chronologically undertaken


A geographic feature is the most likely explanation for the founding of Appleby as a community. A small stream runs South to North and falls into the River Mease which forms the boundary, with the neighbouring parish of Measham. Near this point, [SK326108] on Sites and Monuments Recorded evidence has been produced of Iron Age settlement. [Professor St Joseph : Peek (1966) see Liddle P (ed) Archaeological Report No 4, 1982, page 12, publisher Leics. Museums, Art Galleries and Records Service] This suggests a date of settlement somewhere between 1,000 BC and the arrival of Romans. Evidence of their presence in Appleby includes the finding of a coin of possibly Roman origin in Appleby Parva [approx SK310087], and other remains recently excavated at the site of the new development in Rectory Lane. It is also established that a Roman road, the Via Devana passed approximately East-West through North Leicestershire.

Place name information offers greater present certainty of the presence of Anglo-Saxons and Vikings. The suffix “by ” is accepted within philology as proof of Viking occupation. The conjunction very nearby of the counties of Leicestershire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Warwickshire also adds to the evidence that the site of Appleby was within “frontier territory” in the early to mid-medieval era [400-800 AD]

The Domesday Book lists Appleby, though placing it in Derbyshire. Parts of the village remained within that county until 1897. It was the Countess Godiva, widow of earl Leofric of Mercia, who in 1087 had her only landholding in Leicestershire, held on the king’s behalf, within Appleby. Another landholder within Appleby was Robert (one of six so named in Domesday) with a smaller landholding.

It would be a prestigious claim for the village that a Saxon mill existed. But the only water mill recorded for the six communities within the then Derbyshire portion of what is modern Leicestershire, was at Stretton (en-le-field).

The church 13/15C. at Appleby is rightly quoted as one of its attractive features but this is true of thousands of English villages. The present state of knowledge of the village’s development has not led to any suggestion of an earlier structure on the site but this does not preclude the existence of one. Many pre-Conquest settlements had wooden churches which were superseded by the successive waves of Norman church building in 13C and 15C.

The church stands within 150 metres of Appleby’s Moat house another feature common to the English medieval landscape. Appleby’s is one of 6,000 moated sites in England. It may pre-date the church and would have attracted development in its near vicinity especially given that its layout included the forming of a dam to provide a head of water for a watermill. This is thought to have been on the site of the present Post Office and stores. [Sites and Monuments Record: File No AA 32256/1] The juxtaposition of two high status buildings, Church and Moat House as early as the 13C, both near the stream, suggests that Appleby had by then formed its first centre.

Top Street Evidence from pottery fragments recovered from a 1997 watching brief [University of Leicester Archaeological Services ref. P49/666.1] carried out as part of a new housing scheme, however, suggests also 13 and 14 C occupation in this area. A map of Leicestershire by John Prior in 1777 is thought to be the first based on reliable cartography. [Leicestershire in 1777: ed. Welding JD : Leicestershire Libraries and Information service, 1984] This bears out that the village had formed in a rough square pattern round those roads now named Church St., Top street, Mawbys Lane and Black Horse Hill. The field patterns showing on the first 1/2500 scale Ordnance Survey sheet [1882 issue no. XXII. 15.] bears this out, rectangular fields with their shorter sides bordering on the stream.

Hearth Tax Returns A few are available for Appleby and shed limited light on ownership, properties and the relative wealth of villagers within both Magna and Parva.

Probate Inventories There are a number of these and offer interesting insights into mainly 18C life. Much more work is required (and for Hearth tax Returns also) to identify the relevant properties and thus to build up a historically accurate picture which might offer pointers to village development.

Enclosure Appleby’s fields were enclosed by a Parliamentary Act of 1772 which also saw the laying out of a formal road system. Though the Enclosure Award is available [Leicestershire Record Office] giving details of all strips of land plus their owners, and their subsequent consolidation into larger fields, the associated map has not been located. This loss greatly hampers research.

The Census of 1841 This is a valuable research aid though it gives only street names and detective work will be required to establish categorically an exact village map.

The 1882 1/2500 Ordnance Survey Map This studied with the 1891 Census provides a firm basis for reliable yoking of households to places identifiable within the village as then delineated. But it needs lots of work.
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Appleby Magna
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Richard Dunmore looks at:
Danes, Domesday and a Bequest

No. 4 in a series of articles
Part V – A Planned Village

The origins of the villages of Appleby Magna and Appleby Parva may appear to be lost in the mists of time, but deductions can be made from the evidence of place-names from the Anglo-Saxon period and the information recorded in the Domesday Book.

The arrival of Scandinavian invaders in the second half of the ninth century caused widespread havoc throughout northern England. By the 870s the Danish army was occupying Mercia and it spent the winter of 873-74 at Repton, the headquarters of the Mercian kings. The events are recorded in detail in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. After the initial period of devastation, in the latter months of 877 the Danes and the puppet King Ceolwulf divided Mercia between them and the invading army settled peaceably in the area. Only forty years later, in 917, the Danes submitted to Aethelflaed, ‘Lady of the Mercians’ and sister of the Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Elder, after she had peacefully obtained possession of the borough of Leicester. However, in that 40 years northern England was subjected to the Danelaw with its punitive tax, the Danegeld, and the administrative structures of the country were indelibly altered. Jurisdiction was centred on military bases at Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham and Stamford, the so-called ‘five boroughs’, which after 917 became the foundation for the subsequent Saxon shires, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, etc. Although the Danes held power for only 40 years, a strong, even subversive, Danish element remained in the population for many years to come. Very little archaeological evidence of them survives locally (the remains at Repton are exceptional) but their influence upon place-names was lasting.

Appleby is a hybrid name, arising from the combination of aeppel meaning apple tree (Old English) and -by, village (Old Danish). We can deduce from this that Appleby as a settlement existed at the time of the Danish presence and probably earlier. There may already have been an Anglo-Saxon settlement, perhaps Appleton, whose name the Danes altered. Jill Bourne has suggested that whether a place remained a tun (village, Old English) or became a by depended on the relative number of Anglo-Saxons and Danes in the area. The implication for Appleby is that Danes were sufficiently numerous for their name to supplant the Anglo-Saxon one.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle relates how the Domesday Book came to be written. In 1085 at Gloucester in midwinter ‘the King had very deep speech with his wise men about the land, how it was held and with what men’. King William sent men of proved discretion and ‘caused them to write down … how much each man settled on the land in England held in land and cattle, and how much it was worth.’ By this means William set about regularising titles to land, many estates having been exchanged unlawfully at the Conquest, but above all establishing a value of all the land for taxation purposes. Because the book became the final authoritative register of rightful possession of property under the king, it became known as Domesday Book, by analogy with the Day of Judgement.

Appleby with its two villages is of course a twin settlement and this is reflected in the Domesday Survey. W G Hoskins in his seminal work The Midland Peasant discussed such ‘double vills’ and compared their populations and their holdings as described in Domesday Book. Typically, one vill was inhabited by villeins and bordars, all of them serfs (ie slaves) with little freedom and bound to work their lord’s land in order to enjoy their own meagre plots. The villeins each had 1 virgate (nominally 30 acres) of land and the bordars 5 acres or less. The other vill was occupied by sokemen, who had more land and were relatively free. Their duty to the lord was limited to paying rent and they had the power to summon offenders to the lord’s court, pass judgement and collect fines. This made the sokemen socially superior but they were economically superior too, having more ploughs and ox-teams (per man) to work their land. Hoskins pointed out that the sokemen were the descendants of the Scandinavian settlers, whereas the villeins and bordars were of old English stock, still bound in the Anglo-Saxon feudal system. Hoskins’ findings are significant for the Applebys.

The Domesday Book (AD 1086) entries for Appleby are as follows

(1 carucate was nominally 120 acres):



The countess herself held 3 carucates of land, in APLEBI. There is land for 3 ploughs. In the demesne [the lord’s land] are 2 ploughs; and 8 villeins and 6 bordars have 2 ploughs. It [the land] was and is worth 20 shillings [ie both before 1066 and in 1086].


The same man [Robert, the tenant] holds of Henry 1 carucate of land in APLEBERIE. There 4 sokemen have 2 ploughs and 3 acres of meadow. It was worth 12 pence [before 1066]; now [1086] 10 shillings.



In APLEBY the Abbot of Burton had 5 carucates of land for geld [tax paid to the king]. There is land for 5 ploughs. Of this Abbot Leofric leased 1 carucate of land to the Countess Gode [Godiva] which the king now has. In the same vill are now 2 ploughs in demesne; and 8 villeins and 1 bordar with one plough. The land was worth 20 shillings at the time of King Edward [before 1066]; 60 shillings now [in 1086].

The Will of Wulfric Spot provides the first known written reference to Appleby. In founding the new Benedictine Abbey at Burton in 1004, he bequeathed (with many other estates) ‘that land at AEPPEL BYG that I bought with my money’. This is clearly the origin of Burton Abbey’s Domesday estate at Appleby. Because the majority of Burton Abbey’s land was in Derbyshire, it was convenient to regard this land as part of Derbyshire too. Abbot Leofric was the third and last of Burton’s Saxon abbots (1051-1066).

Well before 1086 therefore, the original Saxon vill (manorial territory) of Appleby Magna had been divided between the two counties, Burton Abbey holding the Derbyshire half, APLEBY, and Godiva the Leicestershire half, APLEBI (we can discount the difference in spelling). The fact that Godiva leased 1 carucate of the Derbyshire holding from Burton Abbey shows how close was the link between them. It is a moot point as to whether Godiva’s half should be regarded as part of Appleby Parva. The village at Appleby Magna, where the peasant workforce lived, continued to be a single unit, although it remained invisibly divided by the county boundary until 1897; but the farm land did become part of the Appleby Parva estate.

APLEBERIE, the third Domesday entry (in Leicestershire), refers to Appleby Parva. Establishing the direct equivalence of the Apleberie of Domesday to the medieval manor of Appleby Parva is not easy. Nichols’ account is very complex, but the argument seems to rest on continuity of overlordship by the Ferrers within the Honour of Tutbury.

There were clear differences of manpower and resources between the two vills, as Hoskins’ work suggests. Although only a small holding, APLEBERIE was clearly more prosperous. Two ploughs were shared by four men, which compares very favourably with the situation in the two APLEBY holdings, where 14 men had two ploughs and 9 men had one. As sokemen, the workers of the Ferrers land were also socially superior and relatively free. As Hoskins suggested, they were almost certainly the descendants of the Danish settlers.

The word ending -BERIE given in Domesday Book to APLEBERIE, Appleby Parva, distinguishes it from APLEBY, Appleby Magna. Among the (later) field names of the Leicestershire half of Appleby parish, occur Berrill Hill and Berrel Close. These fields lay about half way along the present lane to Upper Rectory Farm on the south side. The name goes a long way back: the 15th century Glebe Terrier for Appleby Church (listed in Nichols) gives land on Berihill and nygh Berihill wey and again in Beryhill wey. Jill Bourne tells us that the word element bere is Old English for ‘barley’. (Indeed the clock tower area in the centre of Leicester was from the 13th century known as Berehill ie ‘barley hill’). Appleby has other crops recorded among its field names, eg Rye Croft and The Oat Hills. Barley was of course grown extensively for use in production of beer. As G M Trevelyan so graphically put it: ‘Saxon and Dane each came from a thirsty race, and many an acre of barley went to fill an ale-horn’! Perhaps barley was grown as a cash-crop by the sokemen on the Appleby Parva land in 1086. This, therefore, could have been the means of distinguishing its place-name from that of its twin. Apple-tree barley(-farm) (APLE-BERIE) was being contrasted with Apple-tree village (APLE-BY).

A Scandinavian influence may be detected also among the field names of Appleby parish. Although many fields have relatively modern names, some clearly have elements which reach back to the time of Danish control. Flatt occurs several times, as in The Flatts the name of the fields between Top Street and Church Street near the School. Flatt (Old Norse) was used to describe a large division of an open field. Towards the River Mease below the White House is Flitton Flatt , Flitton itself probably deriving from Flit-holme. The latter element is also Old Norse and refers to a piece of riverside land. Holme occurs again in Ho(l)me Leys, behind Black Horse Hill and, again, where Appleby’s brook joins the Mease in Home Gap Meadow and Home Gap Close. The word heath, which occurs in several places in the parish, also derives from the Old Norse, heithr, meaning uncultivated land. These words describe features of the natural landscape or cultivated land and would have been introduced by the newly settled Danes. However their location in the parish, as they have survived, appears to be fairly arbitrary. Near the streams and in low-lying or remote areas, however, would be where the newcomers first lay claim to land in the parish.

There is one other location name of significance which occurs in the 15th century Appleby Glebe terrier. In the ‘Field next to Snarestone’ (In Campo juxta Snareston) the Church held six lands on Baronsheyth furlonge. The implication of this is that the modern name ‘Barnsheath’ is in fact a corruption of the earlier BARONSHEATH. Who was the Baron? There is only one possible answer: Earl Ferrers. We seem therefore to have further confirmation that the south-eastern, Leicestershire, half of the parish belonged to the Ferrers.

So, we may deduce that Appleby Parva was founded by the Danish settlers in the late 9th century. Appleby Magna on the other hand already existed as an Anglo-Saxon (Anglian) village well before that, perhaps for two or three hundred years, but we cannot be precise. The division of Appleby Magna between Leicestershire and Derbyshire occurred well before the Domesday survey as a result of Wulfric Spot’s bequest to Burton Abbey in AD 1004.

Click on image for larger view

Sources and Notes

Victoria County History of Leicestershire, II, 1954 (1969 reprint), p 76 (Scandinavian Settlement)

T D Cain, ‘The History of the Shire’ in The Leicestershire Domesday, Alecto Editions, 1990, p 3 (Aethelflaed)

Martin Biddle, Repton, Current Archaeology 100, June 1986 (Viking finds at Repton, extraordinarily including coins dated 873/74)

John Field, English Field Names; A Dictionary, David and Charles, 1972, p 267, Appendix 1, Glossary of Denominatives (name elements)

Jill Bourne, Place Names of Leicestershire and Rutland, Leicestershire County Council Libraries and Information Service, 1981, p 15 (Danish place-names); p 22 (barley)

Domesday Book, 1086, Folios 230- 237, Leicestershire and Folios 272 – 278, Derbyshire; I have consulted translations published by Philimore (Derbyshire 1978, Leicestershire 1979) and the companion guide by R Welldon Finn, 1973; also the facsimile copies with introductions and translations by Alecto Editions (Derbyshire 1988 and Leicestershire 1990)

W G Hoskins, The Midland Peasant, Macmillan, 1957, pp 8-10 (double vills)

Will of Wulfric Spot, 1004, held by Burton on Trent Library

C H Underhill, The History of Burton upon Trent, Burton on Trent, 1928 (Burton Abbey)

F R Thorn, ‘Hundreds and Wapentakes’ in The Leicestershire Domesday, op cit, p 29 (Burton Abbey land in Derbyshire)

J. Nichols, History & Antiquities of Leicestershire, Vol. IV, part 2, 1811, p 439 (Appleby Parva)

Victoria County History of Leicestershire, III, 1955, p 180, footnote q (1897 county boundary changes)

Map of the Parish of Great and Little Appleby, 1832 and Reference 1831, held by the School Trustees (field names)

Glebe Terriers: quoted by Nichols op.cit., p.438 (Berihill etc.)

G M Trevelyan, History of England, Longmans, 1937 reprint, p 86 (barley)

© Richard Dunmore, November 2000

The History of Burton upon Trent,
C H Underhill
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Richard Dunmore looks at:
The Anglo-Saxon Settlement

No. 3 in a series of articles
Part IV – Danes, Domesday and a Bequest

I am continuing to set the background to the establishment of Appleby parish, with its twin settlements of Appleby Magna and Appleby Parva. These settlements probably originate in the mid- to late-Saxon period.

The period following the Roman withdrawal has often been called the Dark Ages, not only because of the abandonment of the civilisation which the Romans had brought, but also because of the scarcity of surviving historical evidence. Historians have to take information from rare surviving documents and charters and piece them together with the results of modern research, usually in a local context, from different historical disciplines – for example archaeology, topography and the study of place names.

When the Roman occupation came to an end in the 5th century, following the decision for withdrawal taken in Rome in AD 409, the military and administrative props of society were removed. Many of the ‘Romans’ who were already settled on farms in the countryside (and who incidentally were not necessarily from Rome but came from anywhere in the Roman empire) stayed behind and lived alongside the British as did many soldiers discharged from the Roman army. With the withdrawal of Roman government, the remaining inhabitants were left to fend for themselves. Towns crumbled and Britain reverted to a more primitive society, lacking the order and control which Rome had brought.

Even during the Roman occupation, Britain had been vulnerable to attacks from invaders from northern Europe. While the Roman army was in place, these invasions were repulsed or contained at the Roman frontiers (Hadrian’s Wall is the famous military line of defence in the north), but following the Roman withdrawal the population was left without adequate protection and invasions of fierce ‘barbarians’ from north Germany became an annual occurrence. The terrified British population, unable to resist the attacks of these Anglo-Saxon warriors, eventually bought off the invaders with land for settlement. By the middle of the fifth century the newcomers had settled throughout the whole country and, with the arrival of chieftains, the country became divided into small warring kingdoms.

In this part of the east Midlands it was the Anglian people who settled, infiltrating the major river valleys as far as the Trent during the fifth century. By the sixth century, the kingdom in the border region along the Trent valley had become known as Mercia. The people were the Mierce, or Mercians, literally the people of the borders. Peter Foss suggests that the new settlers in the Trent valley moved cautiously up the tributary Tame and Anker valleys into the Mease and Sence valleys which were occupied by surviving Romano-British groups.

The early, pre-Mercian, Anglo-Saxon place-name ending -ham (homestead or village) survives locally in the name of Measham, a little further up the Mease valley from the Roman farm or villa at Stretton en le Field suggested in the last article. Foss thinks the proximity of an early Anglo-Saxon settlement close to the site of a Romano-British farm is not accidental. Measham may therefore originate as the local survival of a farm or homestead from the period after the Romans withdrew. This is in keeping with the frequently held view of archaeologists today that there was some continuity of settlement and farming patterns from the Iron Age through the Roman occupation to the Saxon period.

Remarkably, during this turbulent period, Christian missionaries achieved the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons. The Church had already established a considerable presence during the Roman period and continued to thrive among the Romano-British population after the Roman withdrawal, but there appears to have been no attempt to convert the Anglo-Saxon invaders. During the sixth century the Celtic Church, already established in Ireland by St Patrick who himself was a Roman Briton, sent missionaries into the north of England, led by St Columba, and they spread their influence southwards. This was followed from the south, by the mission of St Augustine sent from Rome by Pope Gregory in AD 597.

By the mid-Saxon period, the small Anglo-Saxons kingdoms had been re-organised by sub-division into so-called multiple estates. The origin and significance of these is clouded in obscurity, but they may in some cases equate to divisions of the tribal regions of Romano-British times, if not earlier. By the twelfth century, the multiple estates themselves were divided into what we can recognise as administrative parishes. The existence of multiple estates is known from Anglo-Saxon charters, where they survive, but in Leicestershire generally they do not. However, the evidence of Domesday Book and consideration of other factors such as land unit boundaries (parish, hundred and county) and topography have enabled plausible attempts at reconstruction to be made where no charters survive. The nearest local example is that of Market Bosworth attempted by Peter Foss.

One of the clues to identifying these estates may be the distribution of churches and priests. Just as the later parishes were served by the Church with priests and places of worship, identification of churches and priests before the parochial system was fully established may point to the multiple estates which they served.

The Origins of Appleby Parish

Appleby is mentioned three times in the Domesday Book of 1086 with land held by Burton Abbey (Derbyshire) and Henry de Ferrers and Countess Godiva (Leicestershire). The latter was widow of Earl Leofric of Mercia – the famous Lady Godiva of Coventry. Burton Abbey had acquired its land at Appleby Magna in the will of Wulfric Spot dated 1004. The place name Appleby is a combination of Saxon and Danish elements. This is probably a modification of a wholly Saxon name, perhaps Appleton, so the settlement appears to date from Saxon times, before the Danish invasions of the ninth century.

To sort out the origins of Appleby parish, we need to see how the geographical extent of the parish fits in with its neighbours. This may give us an idea of the position and size of the multiple estate from which the parish was carved out. Saxon churches are few and far between, being limited in this area to churches (with seventh century foundations) at Breedon and Repton, the latter being the burial place of some of the Mercian kings. But we can also look at the distribution of priests and the eleventh century Domesday Book is the earliest source that we have. Assuming that Domesday Book lists all the existing priests in west Leicestershire (and that is a big assumption), these were located at Ashby, Packington, Swepstone, Norton juxta Twycross, Market Bosworth (2) and Cadeby. There was none mentioned at Appleby, so it may be that the priest at Norton catered for neighbouring parishes including Appleby.

Looking at the map, clearly the parishes of Chilcote, Stretton and Appleby were carved out of one unit of land. Their common boundaries, as I have noted before, radiate from No Mans Heath. Also, the old county boundary line between Leicestershire and the detached part of Derbyshire, radiating from the same point, separated the two manors of Appleby Parva and Appleby Magna, the constituent halves of Appleby parish from medieval times. To the south east, this group of parishes also joins smoothly on to the parish of Twycross, encompassing settlements at Norton juxta Twycross, Gopsall, Twycross and Orton on the Hill. No other contiguous parish joins smoothly to this larger group, which appears complete in itself. Each internal boundary meets the peripheral boundary in a ‘T’ junction, a feature which Jill Bourne has pointed out is ‘a characteristic indicator of being arbitrarily drawn’. The group must therefore be considered to be a serious candidate for the multiple estate which preceded the component parishes.

Click on image for larger view

In terms of topography, this supposed estate stretched from the low lying lands bordering the River Mease in the north and the River Sence in the south-east and reaching up to the ridge running from No Mans Heath to Twycross, with its southern spur to Orton on the Hill. This landscape would have provided all the meadow, pastoral and arable lowland and heath upland required in farming, together with a good supply of water from the rivers and streams. The creation of the later parishes retained this upland/lowland duality with each territory stretching from the high heathland down to the rivers.

It is not surprising that the ownership of land at the time of Domesday yields little information about the holdings of land as they existed several hundred years earlier. Estate boundaries must have changed and new groupings of land accumulated. We know that Wulfric Spot had accumulated an estate of scattered lands before his endowment of Burton Abbey in 1004. The Norman Conquest brought about the formation of large estates for the supporters of King William. According to the Domesday survey Henry de Ferrers, one of these tenants-in-chief, acquired a very large proportion of the vills (manorial territories) in this area including Stretton, part of Appleby Parva, Gopsall, Twycross and Orton on the Hill. The King himself held Chilcote (and Measham), as part of his Derbyshire estate at Repton. This may hark back to the Mercian system of collecting tribute and dues for the royal estate.

However, there is a suggestion of an earlier territorial grouping across our supposed multiple estate, in that the Saxon Countess Godiva ‘held’ Norton-juxta-Twycross and most of Appleby Parva as well as leasing part of Burton Abbey’s land at Appleby Magna (the past tense ‘held’ signifies that her land was confiscated). Her only other holding in Leicestershire was at Bilstone. This occupies an indentation in the boundary adjacent to Twycross and Gopsall (and part of the modern civil parish of Shackerstone). So perhaps Godiva’s pre-Conquest holdings represent the remnant of a Saxon multiple estate, identified by its boundaries and in which Bilstone should be included.

As we have seen, the only priest mentioned in Domesday Book for the area covered by these parishes was at Norton juxta Twycross and this location would have been conveniently central for serving the whole supposed estate. It would be fitting for the priest to have been provided by the pious Countess, who with Earl Leofric, founded and supported religious houses such as St Mary’s Benedictine Monastery and Abbey in Coventry.


Iron Age:
c. 800 BC – 43 AD

43 AD – 409 AD

5th-11th century

Postscript to 3. The Anglo-Saxon Settlement

I wrote in the last article about the possible ‘Multiple Estate’ out of which the parish of Appleby and its neighbours may have been carved and speculated that Bilstone, which had been held by the Countess Godiva in 1066, ought to have formed part of this larger estate (Godiva also held Norton and parts of Appleby in 1066.) My map showed parish boundaries based on those given on the Seventh Series One Inch Ordnance Survey Maps. These indicate a united Civil Parish for Twycross which incorporated Gopsall, Norton juxta Twycross and Orton on the Hill.

I have now looked into the origins of the united Twycross Civil Parish in the Victoria County History of Leicestershire* with enlightening results. This united parish was formed in 1935 from the Ancient Parishes listed above viz. Twycross, Gopsall, Norton and Orton. At the same time Bilstone, which had been an independent Civil Parish from 1881, was transferred to Shackerstone, where it now remains. However, before 1881, Bilstone was a ‘Township of Norton juxta Twycross Ancient Parish’. In other words, it formed part of Norton parish from ancient times until 1881. This shows conclusively that Bilstone should be included within my proposed ‘Multiple Estate’.

* Victoria County History of Leicestershire, Vol III, 1955, pp180-201 ‘Population Tables’: p 183 Bilstone, p 194 Norton juxta Twycross and p 201 Twycross, footnote (j).

Sources and Notes

Peter Foss, ‘Market Bosworth and its Region’ in Anglo-Saxon Landscapes in the East Midlands, ed. Jill Bourne, Leicestershire Museums Arts and Records Service, 1996, p 87 Measham and local Anglo-Saxon settlement, p 88 origins of Mercia, pp 92-93 Market Bosworth ‘multiple estate’

Peter Liddle, The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon Leicestershire in Anglo-Saxon Landscapes in the East Midlands, op cit, p7: ‘The ‘multiple estate’ is a group of parishes which appear once to have formed a large land ownership unit … they are considered to originate well back in the Anglo-Saxon period (if not the Roman period, or even the Iron Age).’

R Millward, A History of Leicestershire and Rutland, Phillimore, 1985, Chapter IV, ‘Anglo-Saxon Colonisation and the Making of Mercia’

David Parsons, Introduction to Anglo-Saxon Landscapes in the East Midlands, op cit, p xxi (relationship of church organisation to territorial units, ie parish or multiple estate)

Jill Bourne, ‘An Anglo-Saxon Royal Estate ‘Aet Glenne’ and the Murder of St Wigstan’ in Anglo-Saxon Landscapes in the East Midlands, op cit, p 147 (multiple estates), p153 (‘T’ junctions)

Jill Bourne, Place Names of Leicestershire and Rutland, Leicestershire County Council Libraries and Information Service, 1981

Domesday Book, 1086, Folios 230- 237, Leicestershire and Folios 272 – 278, Derbyshire.

F R Thorn, ‘Hundreds and Wapentakes’ in The Leicestershire Domesday, Alecto Editions, 1990, p 29 (royal estate of Repton)

Will of Wulfric Spot, 1004, held by Burton on Trent Library

© R Dunmore, September 2000

St. Modwenna of Burton-on-Trent
9th Century
Abbess of Trensall

The traditional life of Modwenna is very confused for it seems to contain the actions of at least three distinct ladies. The main character was the 9th century St. Modwenna of Burton-upon-Trent.

This lady was given land at Trensall in Staffordshire by the King of Mercia, where she founded a famous nunnery. Here, she trained St. Edith of Polesworth before helping her to establish her own foundation in Warwickshire. Later, Modwenna retired to a small island called Andressey, near Burton-upon-Trent. She lived there as an anchoress for seven years before her death on 5th July, some time in the mid-9th century. Her relics were later translated to the Church at Burton.

She should not be confused with St. Modwenna of Scotland, St. Modwenna of Northumbria or St. Monenna.
The St. Modwenna, or Monenna, formally venerated at Burton-on-Trent and elsewhere, may have lived in the middle of the seventh century and been a recluse on an islet called Andresey in the Trent. But not only are other and conflicting things alleged of her, but her legend has been confused with that of the Irish saint Darerca, or Moninne, said to have been the first abbess of Killeavy, near Nerwy and to have died in 517; and she has perhaps been confused with others as well. Capgrave and others speak of St. Modwenna as having charge of St. Edith of Polesworth, which were it true would throw no useful light on either saint. The most valuable information we possess about St. Moninne seems to be the entry in the Felire of Oengus: “Moninne of the mountain of Cuilenn was a fair pillar; she gained a triumph, a hostage of purity, a kinswoman of great Mary”, with the gloss. Her feast day is July 6.


“The great fight of Winwoed or Whinwood took place in 655, on Whinmoor high table land, about a mile above the village of Seacroft and near the source of the little river (Cock). The combatants were Oswell, king of Northumbria, and that grim old pagan, Penda, king of Mercia. Long before the conquest of Britain by the English, the old Celtic race had received Christianity; and a native church had risen through the length and breadth of the land. The invaders being heathen, according to the custom of their country, worshipped images of wood and stone, and for a century after their appearance Christianity slumbered, as slowly but surely the old Celtic race were conquered or driven step by step to the hills and vales of the north and west. The first prince of the Saxon race in the north to embrace the Christian religion was Edwine or Eadwina. His power was greater than any English prince who had preceded him. It was during the early years of his reign that the British kingdom of Elmete was crushed. The mound on the outskirts of Barwick-in-Elmet is the place where stood the castle and home of the British king. Some few miles north east, yet to be distinctly traced, ran a line of earth works raised in the first instance by the Celts to stem the tide of Saxon advance.

Three centuries later the same earth works were used by the English, when repelling the furious invasion of the sea kings.

Tradition says that the Edwine who conquered Elmete extended his domain to the Firth of Forth……and took for his wife a Kentish princess who was a Christian, and with her to the court of Northumbria came Paulinus, a missionary of Rome. It appears that Edwine not only promised that his bride should be protected in the free exercise of her religion but would himself embrace the same, if, after careful enquiries it was found to be better than the gods they hitherto had worshipped. Many were the pleadings of his queen and the nissionary before the heathen prejudices and customs of the king gave way. Paulinus being ever on the watch for favourable omens proved more than a match for the semi-barbaric king. By some means he had become aquainted with a story of a vision which had appeared unto Edwine when an outlaw and a wanderer. To this vision he pledged himself that should he ever regain the throne of his fathers he would lead a better life. “Remember your pledge,” were the words spoken by the vision as it disappeared. In after years when he had regained his kingdom and returned triumphant from the conquest of Wessex, and the just punishment of its king,soon after that time in conversation with Paulinus was startled to hear the very words spoken by the vision, “Remember your pledge,” Edwine trembled with emotion. The Italian said, ” you remember a promise made years ago to the vision. All your hopes have been crowned with success, now is the time to ‘redeem your pledge’ and the God who has led you through so many dangers to ensure an earthly throne will remain steadfast until you reach the glorues of His own eternal Kingdom.” After this appeal the king was powerless to resist and felt anxious to redeem his promise.

( Bede tells us that the wise men of Northumbria, with their king, met to deliberate on the new religion. Paulinus having pleaded in favour of Christianity, Coifi, a Druidic high priest, thus addressed the assembly and the king: ‘ It seems to me. O king, that our paternal gods are worthless, for no man’s worship of them has ever been more devout than mine; yet my lot has been far less prosperous than that of many others not half so pious!’ A chieftain then spoke: ‘ The life of man, O king, reminds me of a winter feast around your blazing fire, while the storm howls or the snow drifts abroad. A distressed sparrow darts within the doorway: for a moment it is cheered by warmth and shelter from the blast; then, shooting through the other entrance, it is lost again. Such is man. He comes we know not whence, hastily snatches a scanty share of wordly pleasure, then goes we know not whither. If this new doctrine, therefore, will give us any clearer insight into things of so much interest, my feeling is to follow it.’ )

Before such arguments…. Northumbrian paganism fell. Coifi was foremost in making war upon the superstition which had so severly baulked his hopes. His priestly character obliged him to ride a mare, and forbade him to have a weapon. The people, therfore thought him mad when he appeared upon Edwine’s charger and with a lance in hand rode furiously to the temple at Godmundham, pierced the idol through and through, shattering it to pieces and ordered the temple to be burned. Soon afterwards, Paulinus kept a most impressive Easter by holding a public baptism at York, in which Edwine, his principal men, and multitudes of inferior people, were solemnly admitted into the Christian Church.

In 633 AD, Penda, the fierce king of Mercia, joining his army with Cadwallon, king of the Welsh, met the Northumbrian army at Heathfield, and in the fearful fight the army of Edwine was defeated, and he was slain in the battle. Nine years later, Oswald, king of Northumbria, whose great fame on the battlefield was only eclipsed by his piety, was the next champion of the Cross who fell on the field of battle. Oswald’s great ambition was the conversion of all Britain, but like his predecessor he was slain by the heathen Penda at Maserfeld. After this great victory Penda, the champion of heathenism, reigned supreme, ravaging the kingdom of Northumbria until the new faith seemed doomed to be swept aside by the advancing wave of paganism.

Out of this confusion and anarchy there stood forth another champion of the Cross in the person of Oswin, brother of the brave Oswald. For half a century the now hoary-headed old heathen had been continually harassing the dominion of the Christian, carrying war and desolation through the beautiful vales of York. And generations after youths and maidens shuddered when sat around a blazing fire listening to their grandfathers recounting those dire scenes of misery and war, yet with all his fierce desire to annihilate the Christian, Bede tells us that “Penda utterly despised those who did not act up to the faith they professed.” In the year 655, he gathered around his banners a mighty army, consisting of thirty legions of tried soldiers, commanded by generals who had led them to victory on many a battlefield. Once again he felt a desire to shatter the growing power of Northumbria and utterly destroy the Christian faith, which the pagan priests represented to him as tending to overthrow the sacred altars, in the groves where he loved to worship along with his kingdom. Marching in a north-easterly direction towards the old Kingdom of Elmet, crossing the River Aire near Leeds, and taking up his position on Winwoed field, now Whinmoor, awaited the coming of his foes. In vain Oswin tried by every means in his power to conciliate the Mercian king by the offer of gold and silver ornaments and other costly gifts.

Oswin at length, growing impatient, dried, “If the pagans will not accept our gifts let us offer them to one who will.” vowing at the same time that if successful he would dedicate his daughter to God and endow twelve monasteries in his realm. The Northumbrian army was only small compared with the hosts of the Mercians, but, putting their trust in God they boldly marched into battle. The dreadful fight took place on 15th November 655. In vain the Mercians tried to penetrate the ranks of Oswin’s army.

The power of heathendom was lost for ever when he, who for fifty years had been the cause of so much misery and bloodshed, lay with his generals and thousands of his army, a ghastly and confused heap of slain, their blood changing the waters of the little rivulet to crimson. The wreck of the Mercian army fled southward, and in their frantic rush from the field of battle many fell into the river Cock and were trampled underfoot until their bodies formed a bridge for their flying comrades, who in turn were swept away and drowned when attempting to cross the swollen waters of the River Aire.

“In Winwoed field was amply avenged the blood of Anna, the blood of the kings Egric, Oswald and Edwine.” Soon after this great victory Oswin sent his little daughter Ethelfleda to the monastery over which presided the sainted Hilda, whilst the lands and other goods he gave were the means by which the noble abbey was built on the summit of the cliff overlooking Whitby.

Near to Whinmoor is a place known to this day as “Hell’s Garth”. Tradition says that on this spot thousands of the slain were buried.

Wheater – 1882


Oswald, King of Northumbria, was from the Bernician dynasty which lived north of the Tees. King Edwin, who died in 633AD, was a rival Deiran from North Yorkshire and so during Edwin’s reign, Oswald sought exile on the Christian island of Iona, where he learned about Christianity. Oswald remained a pagan, but his defeat of the Welsh at Hexham in 634AD persuaded him to convert. Before the battle, he prayed to the Christian God for victory. His prayers were seemingly answered. Oswald employed a monk from Iona called Aidan to become Bishop of his people. Aidan chose Lindisfarne as the centre of his bishopric. www.thenortheast.fsnet.co.uk/Timeline.htm

Penda celebrates his victory over King Edwin of Northumbria and becomes King of Mercia (The Midlands). Penda is one of the most powerful kings in the country along with his Welsh ally Caedwalla who claims the throne of Deira. www.thenortheast.fsnet.co.uk/Timeline.htm

Eanfrith, pagan son of Aethelfrith, is the new King of Northumbria. Northumbria reverts to paganism. St Paulinus, the Christian Bishop of York returns to Kent. www.thenortheast.fsnet.co.uk/Timeline.htm

King Eanfrith, eldest son of Aethelfrith, is killed by his younger brother Oswald who has returned from exile on Iona. Oswald becomes king.

Oswald heavily defeats Penda of Mercia and the Welsh under Caedwalla at the battle of Heavenfield at Chollerford near Hexham (today the battlefield is marked by a cross). The victory leaves Oswald undisputed overking (Bretwalda) of all England, a title previously held by King Edwin.
Before the battle, he had asked his men to pray to God and is convinced that the Christian faith helped bring victory. He is determined to reintroduce Christianity to the North-East and he employs St Aidan, an Irish monk from the Scottish island of Iona, to convert Northumbria to Celtic Christianity. Aidan establishes a monastery on the island of Lindisfarne and becomes the first Bishop of Lindisfarne.
Celtic Christianity is slightly different to the Roman style of Christianity introduced by Paulinus. These differences are largely subtle and presentational but they will become clear at the Synod of Whitby in 664. www.thenortheast.fsnet.co.uk/Timeline.htm

The Lothians and Edinburgh are besieged and captured by Oswald who adds them to Northumbria. Edinburgh was the chief fortress of an ancient British tribe called the Gododdin. www.thenortheast.fsnet.co.uk/Timeline.htm

640 – MONASTERY AT HARTLEPOOL, (North-East Coast)
A monastery has been established on the coastal headland at Hartlepool by Hieu, an Irish princess, who becomes the first abbess.

Oswald completes the work begun by King Edwin on St Peter’s Church in York. www.thenortheast.fsnet.co.uk/Timeline.htm

August 5, 642 – OSWALD KILLED AT MASSERFELTH (South Lancashire)
Oswald is killed in battle at Maserfelth (now called Mackerfield between Wigan and Warrington) fighting against Penda of Mercia. www.thenortheast.fsnet.co.uk/Timeline.htm

Oswald is succeeded by his brother Oswy in Bernicia (North-East) and by the rival Oswine in Deira (Yorkshire), splitting Northumbria into two. www.thenortheast.fsnet.co.uk/Timeline.htm

Penda of Mercia seizes Northumbrian land in Deira, Lincolnshire and Elmet near Leeds. He placed these under the rule of Osric, a grandson of Edwin. www.thenortheast.fsnet.co.uk/Timeline.htm

649 – HILDA OF HARTLEPOOL,(Hartlepool)
Hieu, the founder and abbess of the monastery at Hartlepool, has been succeeded by St Hilda. www.thenortheast.fsnet.co.uk/Timeline.htm

St Aidan dies in the church at Bamburgh. He is succeeded by Bishop Finan. Meanwhile, a boy called Cuthbert sees the death of Aidan in a vision while shepherding on the moors near the Tweed. Cuthbert decides to become a monk and joins the monastery of Mel rose. www.thenortheast.fsnet.co.uk/Timeline.htm

Oswine, King of Deira, is murdered after backing down from military confrontation with Oswy of Bernicia at Wilfar’s Hill near Catterick. Oswine’s hiding place at Gilling is discovered by one of Oswy’s men and he is killed. Oswine is buried at Tynemouth. Oswy claims Deira on the strength of his marriage to Eanfled, daughter of the late King Edwin.

Oswy, King of Bernicia, appoints Ethelwald, son of Oswald, as King of Deira but Deira (Yorkshire) is subordinated to Bernicia (the North-East).

Penda, the pagan king of Mercia, attacks Northumbria as far as Bamburgh in an alliance with Ethelwald, King of Deira.

The Picts, who live in central and eastern Scotland, elect Talorgen, nephew of the Northumbrian King Oswy, as their king.

653 – GOAT’S HEAD ON TYNE, (Gateshead)
Uttan is the abbott at the monastery of Ad Caprae Caput on the south bank of the River Tyne. Ad Caprae Caput means Goat’s Head (Gateshead). It may refer to some kind of totem signifying a meeting place.

654 – LASTINGHAM PRIORY FOUNDED, (North Yorkshire)
Latingham Priory has been founded by St Cedd in North Yorkshire.

November 15, 655 – WELSH AND MIDLANDERS LOSE BATTLE NEAR LEEDS, (West Yorkshire)
The Mercians and Welsh are defeated in battle near Leeds. Penda, King of Mercia, and 30 enemy chieftains are killed. Many Mercians are drowned in a nearby river as they try to escape. www.thenortheast.fsnet.co.uk/Timeline.htm

Oswy, king of Northumbria, is proclaimed Bretwalda or ‘overking’ of all England. He appoints Penda’s son Peada as King of Mercia south of the Trent. Oswy takes north Mercia for himself. www.thenortheast.fsnet.co.uk/Timeline.htm

2006. David A. Caldwell