1066 Info 4 for Norman Origins
The life of Gilbert de Venables in Cheshire - the tradition view

The romantic account of Gilbert de Venables residing in Kinderton at the time of Domesday may stem from Kinderton Hall being the seat of the second Baron Kinderton and the Victorian interpretation of Gilbert's life. However, from this interpretation has grown the very close ad positive links between the village of Venables, in High Normandy, and Middlewich in Cheshire.

The Background to Norman Cheshire

Men had joined William's army as a profit-making enterprise. Those who fought expected to be rewarded with land, but this was impossible without disposing large numbers of English men and women. At some point between 1066 and the Domesday audit, Gilbert came to William's England and to his eighteen manors in Cheshire, once largely held by the Saxon Wolfgeat.

During the early stages of the Conquest, William was most concerned with the security of his newly won kingdom. He ensured this security by granting a compact area of land to trusted Norman nobles whose task it was to build a castle and guard it against all comers. In northern areas, the administration was entrusted to the English lords.

William, as the successor to Edward the Confessor, intended to make his rule easier with the co-operation of the English Earls and the church. In this, the English Lords readily acquiesced, remembering the lessons learned from the Danish Conquest 50 years before. After all, Earls Edwin and Mocar were the grandsons of one of the most successful collaborators, and had nothing to lose by supporting the new regime, whose claim to the throne of England had some validity. Nor did William move immediately against Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury, despite the Pope's initial disapproval of the invasion. Once the Pope had approved William as God's chosen successor to Edward the Archbishops of Canterbury and York were perhaps the staunchest supporters of William amongst the powerful and influential English. This allowed him to return to Normandy to protect his borders.

Right: William, Duke of Normandy depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry
William Duke of Normandy - 34kB jpg

Military and political power was consolidated so effectively, in only twenty years, because William embraced in the Anglo-Norman state the most efficient system of Government in Europe, initiated by Edward and Athelstan. The Counties of Saxon England were well governed, as a confederation of shires, and within them the Hundred, each with trained officials in charge of the central and local government. Every man had a lord and was reachable by the military, justice and by the taxman.

Domesday reveals a massive shift of ownership in England between the Conquest and the gathering of Domesday evidence. The Saxon civil service became the instrument of expropriation and the gradual mass transfer of lands of those who had fought at Hastings, those who had been killed and those in exile to William's followers. There were established 180 tenants-in-chief with large estates, 1400 or so lesser tenants-in-chief and 6000 further sub-tenants.

Confiscation of lands by the conquerors led to ongoing dissent and resistance for many years after the invasion. York, Durham and Cheshire, as remote northern and independent earldoms offered stiff resistance. The year 1069 was a turning point in the Norman Conquest, for the rebellion of the Earls seems to have snapped William's patience.

William therefore forcibly imposed his will with a degree of severity and brutality that made earlier Norse incursions pale into insignificance. He marched north to York, building new castles at Warwick and Nottingham on the way. Once again, simple motte-and-bailey structures of mounded earth and timber, which could be erected within as little as six days, formed easily defensible strong points from which the Normans could exert control, and were potent psychological symbols of authority. Right: The obverse side of the seal of King William
The seal of King William - 30kB gif
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William's northward march against the Northumbrians was as swift and surprising as Harold's march in Stamford Bridge three years before. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle deals with it in two simple lines:

King William came on them by surprise from the south with an overwhelming army and routed them, killing those who could not escape - which were many hundreds of men - and he ravaged the city. 1

He did more than ravage just the city. Having spent Christmas in York, rebuilding the castle and pacifying the area, he ordered the most notorious act of his reign: the so-called Harrying of the North - from the old English hergian - to raid, sack, pillage, harass. Northumbria was systematically ravaged, laying waste to the land, burning the crops and destroying the houses. A chronicler in Durham graphically describes the famine in Yorkshire, caused by the action: corpses decaying, survivors eating cats and dogs, no village left inhabited between York and Durham. Ordericus Vitalis [q.v.] was not the only one to vilify William for this act of cold brutality, though once again he was the most eloquent:

My narrative has frequently had occasion to praise William, but for this act which condemned the innocent and guilty alike to die by slow starvation I cannot commend him. For when I think of helpless children, young men in the prime of life, and hoary grey-beards alike perishing of hunger, I am so moved to pity that I would rather lament the griefs and sufferings of the wretched people than make a vain attempt to flatter the perpetrator of such infamy. 2

The Northumbrian revolt crumbled and further dispossessions took place.

In the church William replaced Archbishop Stigand in Canterbury with Lanfranc, his old friend and confidant from Normandy. At the same time, he installed a Norman into the archbishopric of York, left vacant by the death of Ealdred in that year, and replaced four other English bishops implicated in the uprisings with Norman prelates. Yet he was still prepared to use Englishmen in his administration.

In 1069, Chester and Shrewsbury rose in rebellion against William. After subduing Yorkshire, and raising the major settlement of York, William and his army entered Cheshire, in the bitter cold winter of 1069-70, north-east of Stockport. He destroyed Chester, the second major city of the north, with its ancient trade links to Dublin. His army destroyed communities, dispossessed the people and laid waste to the countryside so that there was no support for the people fighting against him. Those Saxons of eastern Cheshire who were not killed fled westward for safety, leaving most of the east of Cheshire desolate for many years. The Domesday Book of 1086 recorded the wasted 'manors' along his route from York to Chester and Shrewsbury. The population of Cheshire was recorded as only 11 000 people. 3

His treatment of Cheshire was particularly draconian. In 1069, a last ditch attempt at local resistance was bitterly put down. Measures were taken to impress native Saxons of the futility of future resistance. Whole swathes of land were destroyed, villages razed, crops burnt, livestock slaughtered and people rendered landless, homeless and dispossessed. In 1070, Norman forces targeted the city of Chester for destruction. It was besieged, eventually sacked and largely demolished. All this plunged the county into a state of utter poverty, starvation and deprivation, from which it took decades to recover. So complete was the devastation that in Domesday Survey most of the lands in Cheshire were recorded as 'wasta', or wasteland; ' abandoned or useless lands' which had once been fertile and prosperous before the Conquest.

Earl Edwin of Mercia along with other major landowners were made examples of: in reprisal they lost their titles, their properties was confiscated and lands redistributed amongst Norman barons.

In 1070, with Chester subdued, Gherbod [the Fleming] replaced Earl Edwin of Mercia as Earl of Chester but his tenure was brief and ineffective. His replacement was Hugh d'Avranches, known also as Hugh Lupus (the wolf) or, because he was grossly over weight, as Hugh the Fat. [Master Wace in Roman de Rou reports that the ship wrecked King Harold was take to Duke William who was then at Avranches. This suggests a possible close relationship between William and Hugh and a reason for Hugh being given Chester.] 4
Under the rule of the [Norman] Earls, Cheshire became the Palatine County of Cheshire (a term which first appeared in 1297 meaning a palace or independent government), with Hugh having semi-regal power. The Palatinate was also a military area, standing between England and Wales, but was part of neither. Although Hugh was tasked with advancing the conquest of Wales his Barons owed the earl no military service outside the county. 5
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Under Hugh were eight barons, each of which was given a great estate on which he built his strategically placed baronial seat, maintained his armed men, held court, founded towns and gave charters for markets and fairs.
In those feudal times, the Earl held his land directly from the king and the Barons from the Earl, making Gilbert one of the nine most powerful men in Cheshire. 6

Castles were the most important means of enforcing the suppression. At Chester, William built a wooden defensive post, located overlooking the River Dee from where it could dominate and control the city and administer the county. This was positioned at the site of the present Flag Tower, with the bailey on the rough pattern of the present inner walls. Gaps in the old Roman wall were repaired, ten additional guard towers built, so that the inner city had a two-mile defensible wall and walkway - making Chester probably one of the most heavily defended cities in Britain at that time.

Around the city, in a protective ring, lesser tenants and sub-tenants built motte-and-bailey castles, similar to the mound on Gilbert's land at Eccleston, which guards the access to Chester along the militarily important Roman road. Recent excavations have shown that the interior of the dominating motte-and-bailey castles were crammed with buildings - stables, smithies, barracks and fighting platforms - to enable the army of occupation to live, eat and sleep under the same roof. From these functional bases, they emerged to maintain the peace and carry out punitive raids.

It is against this background that Gilbert de Venables settled in Cheshire.


  1. Anglo Saxon Chronicles
  2. Odericus Vitalis
  3. ibid
  4. ibid
  5. ibid
  6. ibid


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The purpose of The Domesday Book

The Domesday Book is not about the men who fought at Hastings but an overview of a long and eventful period of English history that started before the Conquest and ended with the revolt of the Earls in 1080. It is generally seen as the culmination of the Norman Conquest, in which William commissioned a great survey of land and ownership of all he now ruled and had it presented to him at a great convocation in Old Sarum at Salisbury.

King William I spent Christmas 1085 at Gloucester where he held court for eight days. In the twenty desperate years since Hastings England had experienced war, hunger and pestilence. In 1069 the north was ravaged and unrest followed again in 1080. The revolt of the earls was suppressed in 1080. William needed to maintain an army to fight the French and Bretons, to subdue the Welsh and the Scots and to counter the threat from Denmark. Whilst at court the King had much thought and very deep discussion with his council about this country - how it was occupied or with what

sort of people. Then he sent his men all over England into every shire and had them find out how many hundred hides there were in the shire, or what land and cattle the King himself had in the country, or what dues he ought to have each year from the shire. Also he had a record made of how much land his archbishops had, and his bishops and his abbots and his earls - and though I relate it at too great length - what or how much everybody had who was occupying land in England, in land or in cattle, and how much money it was worth. So very strictly did he have it investigated that there was The Domesday Book - 50kB jpg
Above: The Great Domesday Book

no single virgate of land, nor indeed (shame it is to relate but it seemed no shame to him to do) one ox nor one cow nor one pig which there was left out, and not put down in his record; and all those records were brought to him. 1

The Domesday Survey divided the country into seven groups of counties, known as circuits. Commissioners were sent to hear the evidence of both franci et anglici recording the names of the tenants of the tenants-in-chief along with the names of those who held the land at the time of Edward the Confessor, together with its taxable value, details of the manors worth in terms of people, land, livestock and buildings.

Domesday identifies an incomplete list of 2477 individuals, mainly tenants-in-chief and tenants. Normally tenants-in-chief replicated the honorial structures of their homeland so that the tenants were dependant on their tenant-in-chief. 2 Generally, the more information about the tenants the more important that tenant was to the tenant-in-chief. Sub-tenants and tenants-of- tenants were in abundance but information about them is rare. David Roffe in Thegnage to barony, suggests that the names included in Domesday were responsible for the jurisdiction of their land. 'Only important tenants would have been permitted to establish tenure by the payment of taxes' 3  He adds that the tenant was in constant attendance of their lord as office holder [see Oger's illustration of Gilbert at Hugh's court] of the honour [allowed by the close proximity of the honour Eccleston] to which they owed knight service.

In recording the considerable changes that had taken place since 1066 The Survey had several aim, the nature of which have changed with time. It was original thought that:

In this year people said and declared for a fact that Cnut king of Denmark, son of King Swegn, was setting out in this direction and meant to conquer this country. When William, King of England, found out about this, he went to England with a larger force of mounted men and infantry from France and Brittany than had ever come to this country, so that people wondered how this country could maintain all that army. And the King had all the army dispersed all over the country among his vassals, and they provisioned the army each in proportion to his land.
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Recently Domesday is thought to:

Government at this time was all about personal relationships, and the King could not simply demand such a huge sacrifice without giving something back. Domesday was not born out of a desire to 'set the seal' upon the Conquest of England, but to record, for the country, the fiefs held by the king and by his tenants-in-chief who were directly answerable to the king through their knight service.

So was born the book that to the Domesday writers was a 'survey' (description) and which was metaphorically called by the native English 'Domesday', that is 'the Book of Judgement, ... not because it contains decisions on various difficult points, but because its decisions, like those of the Last Judgement, are unalterable'. 4

Domesday whilst not naming those who fought at Hastings answers the important question of who settled in England between 1066 and 1087. Whilst there is no proof that Gilbert fought at Hastings it is through the readable record of Domesday that we know Gilbert de Venables settled in England between 1066 and 1087 and so enters English history. We know of the location of his tenancies, his assets and we know of his status in the court of Hugh d'Avranches.

'Beneath his four main tenants there was a group of tenants who were still significant and included the holders of the remaining Cheshire baronies, but who were more diverse in wealth and status. One of the most important was Gilbert de Venables [...] who had a fief of 18 manors assessed at some 30 hides, listed rather curiously in Domesday after several lesser tenants.' 5


  1. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
  2. Keats-Rohan, p.10
  3. ibid - quoted p.25.
  4. Hallam quoting Richard Fitz Neal, 'Dialogue of the Exchequer', written in about 1179
  5. VCH p.310


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Gilbert in Cheshire - his Domesday entries - numbers in brackets refer to the Domesday hundred and fief entry

The Domesday Book of 1086 records Gilbert de Venables as holding in total eighteen manors in Cheshire and North Wales, being credited with a very low hidages, being tenanted only by radmen or even a few villeins and bordars with half a plough team. Such estates might be coterminous with what was to become a single township or smaller.' 1

'The holdings was a scattered one, dispersed over seven hundreds, the largest group being six manors in Bochelau hundred, including a moiety of Lymm [Lime] (254) and Rotstherne [Rodestorne] (259), High Legh [Lege] (255), and Mere [Mera] (257), all in Rostherne hundred. In Middlewich hundred there was a further group of four manors, perhaps focused on the ancient centre of Astbury (261), together with Witton [Witune] (265), next to the salt town of Northwich. Those estates were credited to Gilbert the Hunter (Venator), perhaps intended to be distinguished from Gilbert de Venables, though later history of the estates shows the two to have the same man.
They include Kinderton [Cinbertune](263), which was later to be the caput of the Cheshire barony of the Venables family, though there is nothing to indicate it had special status in 1086.' [...] ' The scribe seemed to have considered the numbers 261- 66 in the last two hundreds as belonging to a separate Gilbert' 2
The same person under the name of Gilbert Venator, held Newbold (Astbury) [Neubald] (261), Brereton [Bretone] (262), Kinderton [Cinbertune] (263), Davenport [Deneport] (264), Witton [Witune] (265), and Blackenhall [Blachenhale] (266); and appears to be the same Gislebertus, who had joint possession of Sunderland and Baggiley, with Hamo and Ranulphus. 3

Kinderton, being recorded as held by Gilbert Venator, makes a definite link with the name Gilbert de Venables.

'Despite the scattered nature of the fief, at its core was the holding of one single Anglo-Saxon, Wulfgeat, who was Gilbert's antecessor in Riseton, Bochelau, and Middlewich hundreds and also held Gilbert's two important churches of Astbury and Rostherne and his moiety of the church at Lymm. Other important antecessors include Dot, who held or shared four of Gilbert's estates and Godwin who held three, including Kinderton. ... Dot's holdings were largely on multiple manors. ... A particular compact group of holding in Bochelau [and] Middlewich[was given to Gilbert].
They included ... High Legh (255), with the church which was probably the mother church of the great parish of Rostherne. ... Though none of Gilbert's holdings had a named undertenant in 1086, he had only five demesne plough teams working on five manors and many of his estates seemed to have been of that relatively minor kind where a few radmen and even villeins held a single ploughteam. Only Hartford was there a miles, with 1 ploughteam, 2 oxmen and 3 bordars.4

His other lands included the demesne manor of Eccleston [Eclestone] (249), Alpraham [ Alburgham] (250), Tarporley [Torpelei] (251), Wettenhall [Watenhale] (252), Hartford [Herford] (253), Wincham [Widmundisham] (256) and Upper, Lower and Nether Peover [Pevre] (258). To this list Lawrence (1895) adds Over and Hope (in the old county County of Flint, now Clwyd (260)). He also credited Gilbert, from the Harl manuscript, with: Areld, a moiety of Bollington, Bradwell, Castle-Northwich, Checkley, Doddington, Hartford-cum Horton, Lea, Marston, Moresbarrow-cum-Parme, Moreton, Alcumlowe, Pickmere, Radnor, Somerford, Sproston, Stanhope and Utkinton.

'A particular compact group of holdings In Bochelau [and] Middlewich ... hundreds was mostly divided between two successors, Gilbert de Venables and Osbern FitzTezzon. They included ... High Legh (255), with the church which was probably the mother church of the great parish of Rostherne.' 5
'In all instances, what was to become the first caput the barony was distinguished in Domesday by being placed first amongst the holder's estates in the hundred, the only exception being Kinderton, which was in no way distinguished from the other Middlewich holdings of Gilbert.' 6
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Gilbert's Domesday Manors - 40kB gif
Above: A modern map locating Gilbert's lands in Cheshire

A Welshman, Edwin of Tegeingal, held a compact group of seven manors in south-west Cheshire including Gilbert's important demesne of Eccleston (249) and Hope (260). Wulfgeat, an important landowner who perhaps survived the conquest, though he retained none of his pre- conquest lands, was the

'principal antecessor of Gilbert, who succeeded him in seven estates (251, 254-5, 257, 259 261-2). His holdings included an exceptionally large number of Domesday churches: High Legh and Rostherne (which he held with Dot), Astbury, a moiety of Lymm. ... The bulk of his estates were in Bochelau hundred, around Rostherne, and in Middlewich around Newbold Astbury, but he also had an important manor in Riseton hundred, where Gilbert de Venables later held demesne (251)'. 7
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In Dudestan Hundred

(249) GILBERT DE VENABLES holds of Earl Hugh ECLESTONE [Eccleston]. Edwin held it and was a free man. There [are] 5 hides that pay geld. The land is for 6 ploughs. In demesne is 1 [plough] and 2 serfs, and 4 villeins and 1 bordar with 1 plough. There [is] a boat (narvis) and a net, and ? acre of meadow. TRE (At the time of King Edward) it was worth 10s., now 50s. It was waste. Gilbert's reference in the Domesday Book - 17kB gif
Right: The Domesday reference to Gilbert of Venables in Eccleston and the beginnings of the Alburgham entry.

In Riseton Hundred

(250) The same Gilbert holds ALBURGHA [Alpraham in Bunbury]. Edwin held it. There [are] 2 hides that pay geld. The land is for 4 ploughs. There are 3 villeins with 6 bordars have 1 plough. There [is] wood 2 leagues long and 1 wide, and 2 acres of meadow. TRE it was worth 20s., now 8s. (251) The same Gilbert holds TORPELEI [Tarporley] Wulfgeat held it and was a free man. There [are] 2 hides that pay geld. The land is for 4 ploughs. In demesne is 1 [plough] and 2 serfs, 4 villeins with 2 bordars with 1 plough. Wood 1 league long and 1 wide, and 2 acres of meadow. TRE it was worth 20s., now 10s. He found it waste.
(252) The same Gilbert holds WATENHALE [Wettenhall in Over]. Glewin held it and was a free man. There [is] 1 hide that pays geld. The land is for 2 ploughs. There 1 radman with 1 villeins and 2 bordars has 1 plough. There are 2 acres of meadow. Wood 1? leagues long and 1 league wide. It was worth 5s. He found it waste.

In Roelau Hundred

(253) The same Gilbert holds HERFORD [Hartford in Great Budworth and Weaverham]. Doda held it (as 2 manors in the margins) as a free man. There [are] 2 hides that pay geld. The land is for 2 ploughs. There are 4 villeins and 2 bordars and a smith having 1 plough. In Wich [Northwich] 1 salthouse renders 2s., and another salthouse [is] waste. There is 1 acres of meadow. Of this land a knight (miles) holds hide and has there 1 plough and 2 oxmen and 3 bordars. TRE it was worth 20s., now 10s.

In Bochelau Hundred

(254) The same Gilbert holds LIME [Lymm]. Wulfgeat held it and was free. There [is] 1 hide that pays geld. The land is for 2 ploughs. There are 3 bordars. There [is] ? church with ? virgate of land. Half a league in length and as much in width of wood. TRE it was worth 10s., now 12d. He found it waste.
(255) The same Gilbert holds LEGE [High Legh in Rostherne]. Wulfgeat and Dot held it as 2 manors and were free men. There [is] 1 hide that pays geld. The land is for 2 ploughs. There is 1 man of his has ? plough and 3 serfs. A priest and a church, with 1 villager and 2 bordars, who have ? plough. There [is] wood 1 league long and ? league wide and hay there. TRE it was worth 10s., now 5s. Domesday entry for High Legh - 85kB gif

Above: The Domesday entry for High Legh

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(256) The same Gilbert holds WIDMUNDISHAM [Wincham in Great Budworth] . Dot held it and was a free man. There [are] 1? hides that pay geld. The land is for 2 ploughs. In demesne is 1 plough with 1 serf. There [is] 1 acre of wood and a hawk's eyrie, and 1 house in Wich [Middlewich, Northwich or Nantwich], and 1 bordar. It is worth 10s. It was waste. and he found it so. Domesday entry for Wincham - 33kB gif
Above: The Domesday entry for Wincham
(257) The same Gilbert holds MERA [Mere in Rostherne]. Wulfgeat held it and was a free man. There [is] 1 hide that pays geld. The land is for 2 ploughs. It was and is waste. There [is] wood ? league long and 40 perches wide. There are 2 acres of meadow. TRE it was worth 8s.
(A priest and a church, with 1 villager and 2 smallholder, who has ? plough.)
Domesday entry for Mere - 29kB gif
Above: The Domesday entry for Mere
(258) The same Gilbert holds PEVRE [Peover]. Dot held it. There [are] 2 bovates that pay geld. It was and is waste. [One of only six Cheshire manors to be measured in bovates and not hides.] Domesday entry for Peaover - 19kB gif
Above: The Domesday entry for Peover
(259) The same Gilbert holds RODESTORNE [Rostherne]. Wulfgeat held it. There [is] 1 virgate of land that pays geld. The land is for 1 plough. It was waste. There are 2 acres of wood. TRE it was worth 4s. Domesday entry for Rostherne - 21kB gif
Above: The Domesday entry for Rostherne
In Exestan Hundred
(260) The same Gilbert holds HOPE [Hope, Flint now Clwyd] . Edwin held it and was a free man. There [is] 1 hide that pays geld. The land is for 1 plough, and it is there with 2 villeins, and 2 acres of wood. It is worth 7s. It was waste and he found it so. (Maelor Cymraeg Hundred?)
In Milestuic Hundred
(261) Gilbert (the Hunter) holds of the earl NEUBOLD [Newbold Astbury in Astbury]. Wulfgeat held it and was a free man. There [are] 1? hides that pay geld. The land is for 5 ploughs.One radman there has 1 plough, and a priest 1 plough and 3 villeins and 2 bordars. There is 1 acre of meadow and wood 1 league long and much wide and 2 hays there. TRE it was worth 20s., now 8s. Gilbert's reference in the Domesday Book - 17kB gif

Above: The Domesday entry for Gilbert Venator in Newbold. (Accessed 13 March 2020)

(262) The same Gilbert holds BRETONE [Brereton]. Wulfgat held it and was a free man. There [are] 2 hides that pay geld. The land is for 4 ploughs. In demesne is 1 [plough] and 2 oxmen, and 2 villeins with 3 bordars. There [is]1 acres of meadow. Wood 1 league long and ? [league] wide, and a mill worth 12d. Of this land 2 of his men hold 1 hide and have 1 plough and 2 serfs and 2 villeins and 4 bordars. TRE the whole was worth 20s., now the same. He found it waste.
Domesday book image for Brereton - kB gif
Above: The Domesday entry for Brereton
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(263) The same Gilbert holds CINBRETUNE [Kinderton in Middlewich]. Godwin held it and was a free man. There [are] 3 hides that pay geld. The land is for 5 ploughs. In demesne is 1 [plough] and 2 serfs, and 3 bordars. There [is] 1 acre of meadow. Wood ? league long and as much wide and 1 hay there. It is worth 10s. It was waste and he found it [so]. Domesday entry for Kinderton - 21kB gif

Above: The Domesday entry for Kinderton

(264) The same Gilbert holds DENEPORT [Davenport in Astbury] . Godwin held it. There [is] ? hide that pays geld. The land is for 1 plough. It is there 1 radman and 2 oxmen and 2 bordars, and 1 acre of wood. It is worth 3s. He found it waste. Domesday entry for Davenport - kB jpg
Above: The Domesday entry for Davenport
(265) The same Gilbert holds WITUNE [Witton in Great Budsworth]. Dot held it and was a free man. There [are] 1? hides that pay geld. The land is for 2 ploughs. There 1 Frenchman has 1 plough and 2 oxmen and 1 bordar. There [is] a mill worth 3s. It is worth 7s. He found it waste.
(266) The same Gilbert holds BLACHENHALE [Blakenhall in Wybunbury]. Dot held it and was a free man. There [are] 4 hides less 1 virgate that pay geld. The land is for 5 ploughs. There [are] 4 radmen and 2 bordars have 2 ploughs. There [is] wood 2 league long and 1 league wide. There [is] a hay and a hawk's eyrie. TRE it was worth 10s., now 12s. 8

'There are signs that even the areas which suffered most heavily from William's ravaging, in north and east Cheshire, had made a modest recovery under new landlords by 1086. In Bochelau hundred, for example, several manors described as waste in 1070 were assigned a value on 1086, though virtually none had recovered their 1066 value.' By 1086 Gilbert's lands and their values had, generally, considerably improved. 9


In the tenth century Davenport was the market town on the Dane, but by the thirteenth century it was no more than a hamlet. When, at the time of the Norman Conquest, the market transferred from Davenport to Congleton, Congleton grew in importance. In the reign of Edward the Confessor Godwine held both manors.

Today Newbold is a handful of houses within the township of Astbury, but in 1086 it was a major manorial centre.

An analysis of Gilbert's Domesday lands in Cheshire (After Derby, 1962)

Of Gilbert's villages:

  • none were recorded as 'waste' on all three dates;
  • 15 had made some recovery by 1086;
  • six villages were of greater value in 1086 than 1066;
  • the total values of the estate was 10s less in 1086 than 1066;
  • the value of Eccleston had increased by 500% since Edwin's tenure;
Graph showing the settlement values of Gilbert's villages - kB jpg
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Ploughs Popu-
Wood Meadow
in acres
Value Notes:
in land
1066 1070 1086
249 Eccleston 5 6 2 7     ? 10s Waste 50s Boat and net
250 Alpraham 2 4 1 9 2x1 11520 2 20s   8s  
251 Tarporley 2 4 2 8 1x1 5760 2 20s Waste 10s  
252 Wettenhall 1 2 1 4 1?x1 8640 2 5s Waste Waste  
253 Hartford 2 2 2 11     1 20s 10s Salthouse 2s, Smith, Knight
254 Lymm 1 2 1 4 1x? 2880   10s Waste 1s Church
255 High Legh 1 2 1 7 1x? 2880 Hay 10s   5s Church
256 Wincham 1? 2 1 2   1   Waste Waste 10s  
257 Mere 1 2 ? 3 ?x? 1440 2 8s     Church
258 Peaover ?               Waste Waste Geld in bovates
259 Rostherne ? 1 2 4s Waste
260 Hope 1 1 2 2 7s Waste 7s
261 Astbury 1? 5 2 7 1x1 5760 1 20s 8s
262 Brereton 2 4 2 15 1x? 2880 1 20s Waste 20s Mill worth 12d
263 Kinderton 3 5 1 5 ?x? 1440 1 Waste Waste 10s  
264 Davenport ? 1 6   1   Waste Waste 3s  
265 Witton 1? 2 1 4       Waste Waste 7s Mill worth 3s
266 Blackenhall 3? 5 2 6 2x1 11520 Hay 10s   12s Eyrie
Total 30? 50 19? 100   54426 12? 164s 0s 161s  


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In the Palatine of Cheshire only ten villages were valued at ten hides and only three villages at five hides, Eccleston being one.

The production of land can be assessed by comparing the size by plough units - 'There is land for n plough-teams' - and the number of ploughs available to the village.

However, the land was 60% below productive ploughing capacity perhaps because of the shortage of plough, and associated man power, needed to manage the land.

Other indications of Gilbert's wealth include:

The table to the right shows the effects of the suppression of Cheshire, in 1069, and the ravaging of the villages. The number of villages declared wholly waste increased by 329% but then recovers to its 1066 level. Figures for the partly wasted villages show an increase of 245% but these villages did not make the same recovery (After Derby, 1962)
Wholly waste Partly waste
1066 41 11
1070 135 27
1086 41 17

These same three assessment years have reference to the state of 'waste'.

The twelve references to Gilbert's holdings being 'waste' in 1070 suggests that Gilbert arrived in the north following the suppression of Chester.

The Victoria County History hints at the prosperity of the manors around Chester, on the Wirral and in the Dee Valley.

'Cheshire as a whole was poor and sparsely inhabited. Many manors had little or no demesne and Cheshire villains often had fewer oxen than their fellows in more favoured districts. Undoubtedly it was richer and more settled in the west especially in Wirral and the Dee basin where Domesday records 31+ inhabitants and at least one plough team per square mile.' (VCH 1 p.335) 'Almost everywhere there was a deficiency of plough teams in comparison with estimated potential in the form of plough land. .... Plough teams were considerably greater in west Cheshire, in Wirral and the Dee Valley. The average there of 1-1.2 per square mile is almost double the nearest [Cheshire] figure.' 11
'Other land owners, however, seem to have been more successful. The estates of the earl himself, of the bishop and St Werburgh changed relatively little in value, while those of William Malbanc ... Gilbert de Venables considerably improved.' 12

Does this give reason for Gilbert's home to be at Eccleston?

1066info4, sheet 13

Glossary with 11th century translations 13

Rider, ridingman Radman = a riding escort for a lord, chiefly recorded in the Welsh Marches.
Freeman libra homo = a villager of higher class than a villanus, with more land and obligations to his lord.
Frenchman Francus homo = a French settler, usually a Norman, of similar standing to a freeman.
Sokeman = freeman peasant who was able to sell his land, and liable to attend the court of his soke.
Villeins villanus = villagers - the highest members of the dependant peasantry with most land often between 30 and 100 acres. Kinderton was a holding without villeins.
Bordars bordarium = smallholders - member of the feudal class, usually with more land than a cottager but less than a villager.
Cottager cotarius, coscat = the lowest of the peasant class, probably with a cottage but less than 4 acres of land.
Serf = of the lowest feudal class, bound to the land and to his lord.

Hundred = An administrative division of a county of 100 hides, with a court.
Manor = equivalent to a single holding, with its own court and probably its own hall, but not necessarily a manor house as we think of it. The manor was the basic unit of Domesday.
Seat Caput = The principle manor of a lord. Still used today.
Fief = A feudal estate or sphere of authority and influence.
Demesne = lands held by a feudal lord for his use and profit, worked by the peasants as part of their obligation.
Moiety = a half, a part, portion or share of indefinite size.

Acre acra, agra, ager = Measurement of land used in Domesday mainly for pasture, meadowland and woodland, which varied from region to region. A days ploughing for one team. (0.4047 hectares)
Plough caruca, carruca = a plough team with its eight oxen and the plough itself.
Hide hida = an area of land, to support one family, that could be ploughed in one year. Between 120 and 240 acres (usually 120 acres / 48.56 hectares).
Carucate = equivalent to a hide - as much land as could be ploughed with one plough and eight oxen in one year.
Virgate virgata, virga = an area of land equivalent to a quarter of a hide (q.v.)(30 acres or 12 hectares). Used in Domesday for tax purposes.
Bovates bovata = an eighth of a hide ploughed by two oxen. Used in Domesday for tax purposes. About 15 acres (6.1 hectares)

League = a unit of distance equal to 3 miles (4.828km).
Mile = 1000 Roman paces, 1618 Medieval yards (1479m)
Perch = a measure of length for land equal to 5 yards (5.0292m)

d. Denarius = the English silver penny, the only coin in circulation in 1086. (1/12 of a shilling or 1/240 of a pound)
s. Shilling solidus = money for accounting purposes worth twelve pennies. There was no actual coin.
Geld geldum = a periodic tax.
TRE Tempore Regis Eduardi = 'In the time of King Edward' (Edward the Confessor) i.e. before AD 1066.

Churches ecclesiae = nine villages, including Chester are recorded, of these Gilbert was endowed with two. However, Darby suggests that many went unrecorded.
Fisheries piscariae = were connected to twenty places in Cheshire and by inference to Eccleston where there is a reference to boats navis and nets rete.
Hay haiae = an enclosure in the wood. Frequently associated to a hawk's nest.
Meadow prati = the normal amount is 1 or 2 acres but some have no more than an acre.
Mill molinum = 18 out of 264 Domesday settlements had a mill. Brereton yielded 12d others were worth 12s.
Wich = related to salt workings by evaporating brine-springs. The salt industry had suffered greatly in the disturbances of 1070 and it had far from full recovered.
Woodland = Cheshire was a fairly wooded county, usually measured in leagues and occasionally perches. Some woodlands were measured in acres, but a Domesday acre was not always equalled a modern acre. 14
Waste wasta - Domesday records three valuations: TRE/tunc for 1066, post for 1070 and modo for 1085. Often only two values were given. This suggests that those who could give first hand verbal evidence to the assessors for 1066 and 1085 were not living in the village in 1070. The village may have been uninhabited.
wasta est = land which in 1086 was either unusable or uncultivated, and not taxed. Sometimes, as at Peaover, the absolute waste was the result of William's suppression of Cheshire and there was no population. It could also mean that though not completely devoid of resources or value the land was fit for agricultural use. 15
wasta fuit = is open to a variety of interpretations - possibly waste in 1070, when there was no value to the area, or reference to no value being given in 1066. 16
wastam invenit = waste when the holder took over.
It was always waste and is = 'always' is interpreted to cover 1066 and 1070. 17
It was waste/he found it waste = the land had value in 1066 but was waste when the owner took it over. 18
1066info4, sheet 14


  1. VCH p.333
  2. ibid p.296/311
  3. Ormerod p 187
  4. VCH p.311/321
  5. ibid p.321
  6. ibid p.307
  7. ibid p.322/4
  8. All refAll references Cheshire Domesday online
  9. VCH p.337
  10. After Darby
  11. VCH p.338
  12. ibid p.337
  13. Domesday online unless otherwise stated
  14. Darby
  15. ibid
  16. ibid
  17. ibid
  18. ibid


1066info4, sheet 15

Gilbert's Legacy

Such was Gilbert's wealth and standing that 'before the year 1093 [he] gave to the abbey of St. Werburgh the church of Astbury, and a moiety of Newbold, which gift is recited in the charter of Hugh Lupus to that abbey.' (Ormerod, 1882 p.187)

Werburgh (also known as Werburga) (d. 03 February 699 at Trentham) is an English saint and the patron saint of Chester.

She was born in Staffordshire, the daughter of King Wulfhere of Mercia (the Christian son of the pagan King Penda of Mercia) and his wife St Ermenilda, daughter of the King of Kent. She was a nun for most of her life, and was tutored under her great aunt Etheldreda (or Audrey), the first Abbess of Ely and former queen of Northumbria. Werburgh was instrumental in convent reform across England. She eventually succeeded her mother Ermenilda, her grandmother Sexberga, and great-aunt Etheldreda as fourth and last recorded Abbess of Ely.

By the year 708 her brother Cenred, now king of Mercia, decided to move his sister's body to a more conspicuous place within the church at Hanbury. Her body was found to be miraculously intact. This was considered to be a sign of divine favour, and her tomb therefore became an object of veneration and a centre for pilgrimage. Her brother, said to have to have been so affected by this miracle, decided to abdicate and enter holy orders himself; however, he did come from a notably religious family.

The shrine of St Werbergh remained at Hanbury for the next 160 years or so but due to the threat from Viking raiders the shrine was relocated in 875 to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul which lay within the protection of the city walls of Chester. The city of Chester therefore became the focus for the cult of Werburga. Sometime around the year 975 the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul was re-dedicated to St. Werburgh and St Oswald, when a monastery was also built in the names of these two saints.

In 1057 the church was rebuilt and further endowed by Leofric, Earl of Mercia. By this time, St. Werburgh was regarded as the protector and patron saint of the city, after the supposed miraculous withdrawal of the Welsh king Gruffudd ap Llywelyn from a siege of the city.

St. Werburgh remained popular after the Norman conquest. In 1093, Hugh d' Avranches, Earl of Chester, further endowed the abbey and its church. He also established a Benedictine monastery, with specially imported monks from the highly regarded Bec Abbey in Normandy, which had provided Lanfranc and Anselm as the first two post-Conquest Archbishops of Canterbury. Like many other Anglo-Norman barons, Hugh d'Avranches entered the monastery himself shortly before he died. He was buried therein.

The foundation charter of St. Werburgh's Abbey records:

Gilleburtus de Venables dedit deo et sancte Werburge ecclesiam de Esteburi (Astbury) cum medietate bosci et palni et ominium que pertinrnt ad Neobald (Newbold in Astury). 1

Willelmus Malbanc, who was associated with the manors of Wepre in County Flint, Wicho (Natwich) and Witebiam (Whitby), was a co-signatory. This person is important to the arguments presented in 1066info5.

Charter 28, known as the Great Charter of Ranulf II, Hugh d'Avranches' heir, confirms the details of the rights of the Abbey. This again mentions Gilberto de Venables and Willelmo Malbanc. 2

The abbey became Chester Cathedral in 1540 and was rededicated to Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

During the reign of Henry VIII, when the abbey was dissolved, the elaborate 14th century shrine was broken up and the remains of the saint scattered. The surviving remains of the shrine were collected together in 1876, reassembled, and now remain on display to this day at the Lady Chapel of the cathedral.

1066info4, sheet 16

The Victorian interpretation

That Gilbert made his home in Kinderton probably stems from Lawrence's interpretation of the origins of Kinderton Hall and the account of Queen Margaret's Progress of circa 1145. He argues that because of the location of Kinderton Castle, the home of all the Barons of Kinderton, Kinderton had also been the home of Gilbert de Venables, Comments have also been made as to the 'uniqueness' of Kinderton in being one of the few Domesday seats not heading the barons list of manors.

Kinderton Cheshire, the home of Gilbert - 71kB gif

'On lands usurped from the giant sea, Erect his hall of dignity.' 3 At Kinderton Gilbert built his castle, assumed to be the typical wooden motte and bailey rapidly constructed as a form of protection against the deposed and oppressed Saxons and the arauding Welsh, and similar to his home in Venables. Apart from outline ditches nothing remains of this castle nor of the more permanent red sandstone castle that followed. However, it is assumed that the site was chosen, near to the present Kinderton Hall, because of its historical defensive position.

Within bow shot of Kinderton and across the modern by-pass lies the 10 acre Harbour's Field, now known to be the Roman station of Condate. Roman roads radiating from its centre. It was bounded 'by a natural bank lofty and steep on one side, with the little river Croco, curling at the foot of it, and by another natural bank, less lofty, but more steep, on another side, and by the river Dane gurgling directly beneath it'. 4 It was sensible for Gilbert to use the same defensive position and even to rob the Roman stone when replacing his wooden structures.

Queen Margaret's progress

'Then commenced the erection of Kinderton Castle, of which not the slightest trace now remains. The castle is supposed to have been built of red sandstone. The following account (taken from the Cheshire story) of the visit of Queen Margaret [circa 1145] to it will give the reader some idea of it:-
After making some stay at Helegh Castle the Royal party (consisting of Queen Margaret, the Baroness Kynderton, the Prince of Wales, the Baron of Kinderton, and others) pursued their progress towards Chester touching at Kinderton the ancestral abode of Sir Hugh Venables. A double association invests the site of this magnificent pile with mournful interest. It speaks of the decay of two great institutions of the world - the Roman empire and the feudal system. Within bow shot of its site are the vestige of a Roman camp, believed by antiquaries to be the long-lost and vainly sought station of Condate. This spot now called Harbour's field, embraces about 10 statute acres, and is bounded says Wittaker, by a natural bank lofty and steep on one side, with the little river Croco, curling at the foot of it, and by another natural bank, less lofty, but more steep, on another side, and by the river Dane gurgling directly beneath it. ... On the third side are considerable remains of a ditch rising up the ascent [of the field], and once undoubtedly continued in the same line, and along the hollow of the contiguous lane; on the fourth, the ancient ditch preserves its original perfection being a steep fosse about ten yards in depth to the narrow bottom and eight in breadth at the top. From this spot as from a centre appears to have diverged several Roman roads, traced here and there, in their original course by tumuli sepulchral urns, broken weapons and other vestige of Roman remains.' 5
1066info4, sheet 17

Cheshire under the Earls

Hugh d'Avranches, earl of Chester from 1071 until his death in 1101 was an important figure of great ability. Son of Richard Goz vicomte of Avranches , who was still alive in 1068 (van Houtes 'Shiplists' quoted in Keats-Rohan, 1997, p.169), and probably Emma daughter of Herleave and Herlium who was possibly a half sister to Duke William.  By his wife Ermengarde, daughter of Hugh count of Clermont, he had one son Richard, born 1094. He was the father of several known bastards including Robert abbot of Bury and Otuer fitz Count and Geva, wife of Geoffry Ridel. 6

In Domesday Earl Hugh controlled 'parcels' of land in the counties of:

Berkshire' 5 Hampshire 1 Shropshire 1
Buckinghamshire 1 Huntingdonshire 1 Suffolk 4
Cheshire 3 Leicestershire 2 Somerset 1
Flint 5 Lincolnshire 4 Warwickshire 1
Derbyshire 1 Norfolk 3 Wiltshire 2
Dorset 2 Northamptonshire 2 Yorkshire 5
Devon 1 Nottinghamshire 3    
Gloucestershire 2 Oxfordshire 2    

' ... King William the First created Hugh surnamed Lupus, son to the Vicount of Auranches in Normandy, the first hereditary Earle of Chester and Count-Palatine, and gave unto him and his heires all this county to be holden as freely by his sword as the King himselfe held England by his Crowne (for these are the words of the Donation) who forthwith appointed under him these Barons, viz.,

Niele, Baron of Haulton, whose posterity afterwards tooke the name of Lacies, for that the Lacies inheritance had fallen unto them, and were Earles of Lincolne; Robert Baron of Mont-hault, Seneschall of the Countie of Chester, the last of whose line, having no issue, ordained by heires William Malbedeng Baron of Malbanc, whose nephewes daughters by marriage brought the inheritance to the Vernons and Basses; Richard Vernon Baron of Shipbroke, whose inheritance for default of heires males in the end came by the sisters unto the Wilburhams, Staffords, and Littleburies; Robert Fitz-Hugh Baron of Malpas, who, as it seemeth, died, as I said before, without issue; Hamon de Mascy, whose possessions descended to the Fittons of Bollin; Gilbert Venables Baron of Kinderton, whose posterity in the right line have continued and flourished unto these our daies; Nicholas Baron of Stockeport, to whom at length the Warrens of Pinton, budded out of the honorable family of the Earles of Warren and Surrie, in right of marriage succeeded.

Left: From Ormerod’s History of Cheshire: Engraving showing Hugh Lupus holding court in 1109. The armorial bearings displayed identify the participants. Above Hugh is his arms, a wolf’s head. To his right are the representatives of the Diocese of Chester, Abbey Vale (three lions) Abbey of Norton, Abbey of Combermere. On Hugh’s left are his barons: Nearest the Earl is Nigell, Baron of Halton, Constable, and Marshall. Next is Massey, Baron of Dunham. Then, there is de Monhalt, Baron of Hawarden, steward. The last is Gilbert Venables, Baron of Kinderton.
Click on the picture for a 512x750, 91kB Gif image.
Gilbert at
the court of
Chester - 39kB gif Gilbert at the court of Chester - 39kB gif
Above: The Court of the Earl of Chester.
Source: Victoria County History of Cheshire Vol.2 Front piece
1066info4, sheet 18

And these were all the Barons of the Earles of Chester that ever I could hitherto find, who, as is written in an old booke, had their free Courts of all Plees and Suits or Complaints, except those Plees which belong unto the Earles sword. And their office was to assist the Earle in Counsell, to yeeld him dutifull attendance, and often times to repaire unto his Court for to doe him honor, and, as we find in old parchement records, Bound they were in time of warre in Wales to find for every Knights fee one horse with caparison and furniture or else two without, within the Divisions of Cheshire. Also, that their Knights and Freeholders should have Corslets and Haubergeons, and defend their Foes by their owne bodies.' 7


  1. Barraclough  p.6
  2. ibid p.39
  3. Lawrence
  4. ibid
  5. ibid
  6. Keats-Rohan, p.258

  7. Camden


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