Sussex is extensively reported in the Domesday Book and many modern day towns and villages can be found in it. Therefore, the Domesday Book is a valuable source for historians trying to find out about Sussex in the late 11th Century after the impact of 1066 and the Battle of Hastings.

William the Conqueror landed at Pevensey Bay in Sussex in 1066. After the Battle of Hastings and William’s victory against Harold, the Norman army marched to Dover in Kent and from there to London. Considerable damage was done to the areas of Sussex through which the Normans passed – even the Bayeaux Tapestry shows homes being burnt by soldiers and this tapestry was in celebration of William’s victory!

The Domesday Book contains much information but three sections offer a good insight into what happened to Sussex. This information is:

How much a village or town was worth before 1066

How much a village or town was worth in 1066

How much a village or town was worth in 1085/1086

The following values are rounded up into modern currency. In the Domesday Book they are referred to in pounds and pence old style!

Name of manorValue before 1066Value at 1066Value in 1085/86
Exeat£4No value given£3
Hailsham£5.10No value given£3
Hankham75pNo value given£3
Hastings (1)£5£2£6
Hastings (2)£34No value given£50
Hastings (3)£5£5£6
Langley80pNo value given50p
Mayfield£4No value given£5
Warbleton£2No value given50p

Other villages in Sussex were severely affected in 1066 as the Domesday Book shows:

Name of manorValue before 1066Value at 1066Value at 1085/86

One of the oddities of the Domesday Book is that for all the vast information it contains of Medieval England, there are no maps of England for it. The names in the book are not matched by being placed on a map of England. In fact, the Normans would have found this task very difficult, even impossible. It was not until the 1570’s that a man called Saxton started to produce maps of English counties – nearly 400 years later.

The Domesday Book is more than just a list of statistics. We can learn from it that most people in Sussex lived in the south of the county and fewer people lived in the north. The first mention of Crawley (now a major town) is in 1203 (about 120 years after the Domesday Book). The first mention of Crowborough is in 1293. From this we can conclude that there were reasons why north Sussex was not well populated. Much of the area was heavily wooded and used for hunting. Therefore it could not be used for keeping livestock and for farming in general. For this simple reason, people would have been reluctant to settle there.

In the south of Sussex, there would have been more opportunities to farm and fish and many coastal villages would have been reasonably well populated. It was simply easier to live in the south of the county and much of central Sussex would have been covered with Ashdown Forest. The very existence of the forest would have made farming over a large area of the county difficult and without farming, people would have found it very difficult to live.

It is also clear that not all of Sussex was covered by the Domesday inspectors. Horsham was referred to as early as 947 AD, 140 years before the Domesday Book. Therefore, it must have existed! However, there is no reference to it in the finished version. This either means that Horsham was never visited or that it was accidentally left out. It is highly unlikely that it was accidentally left out after the evidence was gathered, as those who produced the book were simply too thorough. The only other explanation is that there was simply too much to do for the inspectors and some places were not visited – which would have been lucky for the people who lived in these places!

Share with friends