The Domesday Survey was made in the year 1086. The conquerer appointed commissioners, who went into every county to make inquiries concerning the land. They set down the name of the person who held the land in Edward’s time, and how much it was then worth; by whom it was held at the time of the inquiry, and its worth; and also whether its value could be increased. Nothing was o be left out. The persons required to supply the information on their oaths were the Sheriffs, Lords of the Manors, Presbyters, Reeves, Bailiffs and others. The result of the inquisition was written in two books; these books are still preserved and known to the present generation by the name of Domesday Book. The thorough manner in which the conquerors great act was carried out by the commissioners is referred to by the Saxon chronicler as follows:
“So very narrowly he caused it to be traced out that there was not one single hide, nor one yard of land, nor even, it is shame to tell, though it seemed to him no shame to do, an ox, nor a cow, nor a swine was left, that was not set down in his writ. And all the writings were brought to him afterwards”.
Copies of the survey have been published and Doncaster’s entry is translated here:
“In Estorp (Hexthorpe), Earl Tosti had one manor of three carucates for geld and four ploughs may be there. Nigel has [it] of Count Robert. In the demesne, one plough and three villanes and three bordars with two ploughs. A church is there, and a priest having five bordars and one plough and two mills of thirty two shillings [annual value]. Four acres of meadow. Wood, pasturable, one leuga and a half in length and one leuga in breadth. The whole manor, two leugae and a half in length and one leuga and a half in breadth. T.R.E., it was woth eighteen pounds, now twelve pounds. To this manor belongs this soke – Donecastre (Doncaster) two carucates, in Wermesford (Warmsworth) on carucate, in Ballebi (Balby) two carucates, in Geureshale (Loversall) two carucates, Oustrefeld (Austerfield) two carucates and Alcheslei (Auckley) two carucates. Together fifteen carucates for geld, where eighteen ploughs may be. Now [there is] in the demesne one plough and twenty four villanes and thirty seven bordars and forty sokemen. These have twenty seven ploughs, wood, pasturable in places, in places unprofitable”
Doncaster is mentioned six times in the survey, but in no instance is it distinguished as a manor. It may be conjectured that it was included in the manor of Hexthorpe; it does not seem probable that ever there was either a church or a water mill at Hexthorpe, therefore it is not an unreasonable assumption that the church and the two mills entered as belonging to Hexthorpe were really situated in the adjoining town, or vill, of Doncaster. One reason why Doncaster was comprehended in Hexthorpe has been offered, and as it has about it the element of probability it is included here. Namely, that the Manor House (aula) where dwelt the Lords steward, or seneschal, was situated in Hexthorpe, and that the greater pert of Doncaster was an integral part of the Hexthorpe manor. It was no uncommon thing for a village to belong in parts to several manors; a part of Doncaster was of the manor of Wheatley, and another part was of the manor of Edlington. The latter part was held by Malagar under William de Perci, one of the great Norman Barons. It is a remarkable fact that Wheatley, in the parish of Doncaster, and just referred to as including in its manorial territory part of ancient Doncaster, contained two small manors.
At this distance of time and the lack of authoritative records, it is impossible to say what was the exact social status of the Domesday inhabitants of Doncaster. It cannot now be determined whether there ever dwelt within its precincts a free village community, as evolved out of the ancient mark, or what was the precise nature of the influences from Roman times onwards, which molded the character and destiny of its people. Doubtless, a remnant of Roman law and customs survived. The influence of Saxon and Danish settlers would modifty old usages and create new conditions. The Norman took hold of things as he found them, and moulded them as far as prudent on the lines of the feudal system for the special benefit of the new monarchy and its attendant train of adventurous supporters.
By the aid of the Domesday census we are enabled to get an interesting fact, namely, that the Hexthorpe soke contained a proportionately large number of a superior class of tenants, as compared with the tenants of the estates in the West Riding of Yorkshire. In the West Riding there were 268 sokemen, 1763 villanes and 1097 bordars. In Hexthorpe the numbers were 40 sokemen, 24 villanes and 27 bordars. Opinions differ as to the general conditions under which these sokemen (sochmanni) held their holdings, and what was their exact social status. All agree that they were a superior class to that of the villanes (villani), but whether their position was only a little above that of the villanes, or whether they ranked equal with that of the burgesses of Domesday Book are question we cannot answer here. The name is mostly confined to districts formerly under Danish influence; for this reason it has been suggested that they were of Danish origin. Probably by far the greater number of the Hexthorpe sokemen lived at Doncaster. It was to the descendants of these men that King Richard granted a charter confirming to them “all the liberties and free customs” enjoyed by them and their ancestors for a length of time now lost in obscurity. The Doncaster part of the soke gradually evolved into a borough, and a borough that continues to evolve today, we may even see Doncaster evolve into a city in the not too distant future, time will tell.