The Domesday survey was ordered by William I, as an assessment of the taxable wealth of the country. In 1086 his officers went into every town and village to record who ‘owned’ land, how many sub-tenants he had, and how much wealth the land could generate. It was not a survey of buildings, so that even churches were seldom mentioned. There are large gaps in the records that have survived (including London) but West Sussex is very well covered.
The entries are listed by counties and then by Chief Tenant (the king held the freehold). The Chief Tenant’s holdings were then listed under by smaller administrative areas known as Hundreds (theoretically, the home of 100 families) and described in a common form – how he holds the land, how it was assessed ‘in the time of King Edward’ (the Confessor, who died early in 1066), how it is assessed now, and the land was divided between arable land, meadows and woodland.
In Sussex, the Church was a major landholder. Domesday lists the lands of the Archbishop and other clerics as well as that of the Bishop of Chichester (a few years earlier the see had been moved from Selsey). The Bishop had land in nine locations. Bishopstone and Preston in East Sussex; and Selsey, Wittering, Sidlesham, Aldingbourne, Amberley, Henfield, and Ferring in West Sussex. Ferring is listed under ‘Risberg Hundred’ (later known as Poling Hundred).
The entry is in highly abbreviated Latin. An English translation by Editions Alecto Ltd reads: ‘The Bishop himself holds FERRING in demesne. In King Edward’s time it was assessed at 12 hides, and now at 8 hides. There is land […]. In demesne are 2 ploughs; and 15 villans with 14 bordars have 5 ploughs. There is 1 slave, and 20 acres of meadow, and woodland for 4 pigs, and for the herbage 1 pig of [every] 7.
‘Of this manor Ansfrid holds 2 hides, and he has in demesne half a plough, with 4 bordars. in King Edward’s time it was worth £7; and afterwards 100s; now £7. What Ansfrid holds is worth 20s’.
Even in English it is not easy to understand. In the first sentence ‘in demesne’ means ‘as Lord of the Manor’. ‘Hides’ are measures of land but necessarily of actual area; in this case it is not that Ferring has shrunk by one third in the previous 20 years but that its value (as we used to say, ‘rateable value’) has shrunk. The next sentence should have shown how much arable land there was but the figure is missing. In the third sentence ‘in demesne’ refers to the Bishop’s own estate within the manor: it has two plough teams (of oxen), so a substantial amount of arable land. The ‘villans’ and ‘borders’ are two types of sub-tenant: between them they had five plough teams. The ‘slave’, or serf, belonged to the bishop’s estate; most of the work on the estate was done by the Bishop’s tenants, an obligation that went with the tenancy. It is not at all clear what ‘for the herbage’ means: possibly it was a payment to the Lord of the Manor, for allowing tenants’ pigs to browse on his land.
Ansfrid must have been a superior tenant: he held a significant amount of arable land which he farmed directly (half a plough-land) and had four sub-tenants of his own.
The general picture is clear enough though. Ferring was a farming manor, consisting of two independent farms – a large one under the direct control of the Bishop (arable, and meadows that fed livestock), a smaller one farmed by a Saxon proprietor (arable), and some 30 peasant smallholders and cottagers living on their plots with various resources including pigs. The Bishop’s own estate was almost certainly around the church and the good growing land to the south, probably with much the same boundaries as shown on the estate map of 1621. Ansfrid’s sub-manor and personal estate was almost certainly in the south-east corner of the parish, known later as the Manor of East Ferring, either side of what is now Sea Lane. This family’s holding can be traced through several generations.
These seven cramped lines of mediaeval Latin, although obscure in places, give us a window into a world that is very distant but recognisable. There are many continuities: the land supports some 35 families (say 150 people); even in 1911 there were only 50 families in Ferring: the Bishop (in reality his Steward) dominates the landholding and the local economy, as he continued to do for another 800 years: East Ferring is established as a separate economic unit, and the settlement there was still shown as ‘East Ferring’ on Ordnance Survey maps of the 1930s. The woodland that was only enough to support four pigs was probably on the other side of Highdown – still there, either side of the footpath leading to Water Lane, Angmering. In fact, the Ferring of 1086 is all around us still.
Ed Miller 16.2.2014