Armley and the Domesday Book

On the Secret Library this week we hear from Local and Family History’s Josh Flint who will be delving into Thomas Wilson’s Transcription of the Yorkshire Domesday Book, 1748, and explore what the Domesday Book can tell us about Armley and the people who lived there in the 11th Century. This is part of a collection of articles about the Leeds Central Library’s Armley collection.

When researching the history of Armley there is no better place to start than the Domesday Book. We are fortunate to have Thomas Wilson’s transcription of the Yorkshire section of the Domesday Book from 1748 in the Leeds Central Library. The Domesday Book is the first mention of Armley that we have in our collection.

The Domesday Book and the County of York, Thomas Wilson, 1748.
The Domesday Book and the County of York, Thomas Wilson, 1748.

Thomas Wilson (1702 – 1761) was an 18th Century Antiquarian and Schoolmaster, though little is known about his life his Antiquarian work has formed an important part of our collection. This work included transcriptions of a selection of documents and manuscripts, including the Chartularium Kirkstallense (Charters relating to Kirkstall Abbey), the 1610 Survey of the Manor Leeds, and the item that we will be focusing on in this article, the Domesday Book for the County of York. In the Domesday Book for the County of York, 1748, Wilson’s transcription offers an unparalleled look into the lives of the people of Yorkshire in the late 11th Century. If you would like to know more about Thomas Wilson and his work I would recommend reading this Secret Library Heritage Blog on our Thomas Wilson Collection.

The Domesday Book and the County of York, Thomas Wilson, 1748. Leeds

The Domesday Book was commissioned by the newly crowned King of England, William the Conqueror in 1086. William commissioned this survey because he wanted to ensure that he was taxing the people of England appropriately, this in most cases saw taxes increase. Every person, animal, village and town was surveyed during this period, creating an unmatched document that portrays how and where people were living in the late 11th Century. The famous name the Domesday Book was given to this survey a hundred years later when the long lasting ramifications of the survey had been felt. 

So what does the Domesday Book tell us about Armley (known as Ermelai in the Domesday Book) in 1086? We know that Armley was ruled by the Norman Lord Ilbert De Lacy, who ruled over two hundred shires of Yorkshire from the newly built Pontefract Castle. But how did Ilbert De Lacy come to rule so much of Yorkshire? In the years after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and the Norman Conquest of England, King William was still not in complete control of the country and had to contest with many uprisings, primarily from the north of England. These uprisings led to the devastating Harrying of the North from 1069 to 1070. The Harrying of the North saw William’s knights and army decimate Yorkshire, this included burning down whole villages and land leading to the destruction of people and livestock. The primary objective of the Harrying was to find and eliminate any remaining northern enemies and by destroying the land and livestock was a constant reminder of the power and punishing nature of the new Norman rulers. After the Harrying of the North, William was now in control of the whole of England and the ruthless reputation of the rulers was set in stone. To reinforce this new control William gave northern land to his most trusted knights, one of these being Ilbert de Lacy, who now ruled much of Yorkshire, including Armley.

The Domesday Book and the County of York, Thomas Wilson, 1748. Armley/ Ermelai

Ilbert de Lacy then distributed his land to local Lords and Knights who would then manage the day to day needs of the land. The Saxon Ligulf, who was newly loyal to the Normans, was given the land of Morley, Wortley and Armley. The Domesday Book states that Armley had eights villagers, four households and was around six acres in size. The men were split into three plough teams who would then tend to the land of Armley. Armley was worth ten shillings to the Lord in 1086. Interestingly, the Domesday Book also states what the land was worth in 1066 before the Norman Conquest during the reign of Edward the Confessor. In 1066 Armley was worth one pound compared to the ten shillings twenty years later in 1086. This shows the devastating impact of the Norman’s Harrying of the North in Yorkshire. This burning land policy enacted by the Norman army not only decimated the Yorkshire land but also shattered the worth of the lands of Yorkshire, as seen with Armley.

The Domesday Book’s depiction of Armley gives us an incredible insight into who ruled Armley, how many people lived there and how that land was used. However, the most interesting part of the Domesday Book’s section on Armley is the comparison between 1066 before the Harrying of the North and 1086 when the Domesday Book was completed, this comparison shows how nearly twenty years after the Harrying Armley had barely started to recover a fraction of the value that it had before. The ruthlessness of William the Conqueror may have subdued the northern rebellions but in doing so devastated his tax base in the north and led to the infamous notoriety of the brutality of William’s Norman Dynasty.

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