Written 2004

As well as being ruthless William the Conqueror was also pretty smart. He gave out land all over England to his nobles because if he had not they would not have fought for him later.  Having given it out he wanted a record of who owned which piece of land and how much it was worth.  This was so he could plan his economy, find out how much was produced and how much he could ask in tax.  In each settlement six villeins, the priest and the reeve (overseer) gave information to the king’s surveyors and swore to its accuracy.  In each hundred (a county sub-division) a jury of four Frenchmen and four Englishmen were requested to swear on oath to the accuracy of the records for their area.

The questions asked were such as “How much land is there?  Who owns it?  How much is it worth?  How much of it is cultivated, pasture, woodland?  How many families, ploughs, mills, pigs and sheep are there?”  and so on.  The result of the survey in Pirton was as follows:-

Absent Lord of the Manor of Pirton           Ralph de Limesy

Manor rated for 10 hides ( a hide was about 120 acres.)

The arable is twenty carucates  ( a carucate was the amount of land a team of oxen could plough in a season at about an acre a day)

In demeasne (the Lord’s private land 2 hides and 6 carucates)

20 villeins (unfree tenant obliged to cultivate the lord’s demeasne in return for his landholding and subject to handing over his best beast (heriot) and seeking permission for his daughter to marry (merchet) among other fines and payments)

One priest

29 bordars (smallholders)

One English knight

One sokeman ( a tenant by socage i.e. fixed and determinate in quality, like a miller’s right to grind all the corn within a certain manor).

12 Cottars (cottagers who paid a rent and did some service for the lord).

18 ploughs

10 slaves (servants)

10 acres of meadow with grass to feed 10 plough teams (8 in a team)

Common of Pasture for the village cattle and sheep.

Woodland to feed 500 hogs

4 mills valued at seventy three shillings.

The whole place was valued at twenty pounds a year and included in the half hundred of Hitchin.

From the foregoing it can be deduced that Pirton was quite a wealthy village.  The fact that there were four mills valued at seventy -three shillings when Hitchin’s four were only worth fifty -three shillings and fourpence and the average value in Hertfordshire was nine shillings each, proves the point.

The amount of woodland was quite extensive.  Hitchin’s woodland only fed 100 more swine than Pirton’s.  There were only five towns in Hertfordshire at the time: Hertford pop.1000, Berkhampstead pop.500, St Albans pop.500, Ashwell pop.500 and Stanstead Abbotts pop.2000.  The rural population was between twenty and thirty thousand.  Since only adult males were counted the population of Pirton was probably between 150 –200 souls.

So, what else was going on in Pirton at that time?  The commencement of the building of our church for one thing.  The presence of a priest in the village would indicate the presence of a church.  Was there a Saxon church that predated this one?  Who knows?  One day somebody may unearth the remains.  Perhaps because they equate the eleventh century with Anglo- Saxon builders, architectural historians are very reluctant to date the buildings they call ‘Norman’ as being any earlier than 1100AD.  In fact there is a wealth of information about East Midlands parishes to show that their churches were at least begun by the Flemings before the Domesday catalogue of their manorial possessions appeared in 1086.  In any case Ralph de Limesy was dead by 1100 AD.  He left three sons by his wife Howisa –Alan, his heir, who seems to have lived mostly at the family seat in Wolverly, Warwickshire – Geoffrey, who inherited their lands in the Seine valley and Reyner who appears to have been the heir in Hertfordshire.  If Ralph’s work on the church was not completed by the time of his death, then either Alan or Reyner would have finished it and no doubt their heirs would have added to, or even rebuilt parts of it.


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