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Britain, 1070 – 1091 A.D.


The upper tiers of the aristocracy held almost half of the land in England, while another half was held by 190 lay tenants-in-chief. Some of the holdings were huge, and a dozen or so leading barons together controlled about a quarter of England. Such estates were geographically scattered: 20 leading lay lords had lands in ten or more counties, and 14 had possessions both north of the Trent and south of the Thames.

King William I
In the 11th Century all representations of people were hand crafted. One's image was either sculpted or painted. Prices charged by painters were not based on how many people were to be painted, but by how many limbs were to be painted. Arms and legs are "limbs," therefore painting them would cost the buyer more. Hence the expression, "Okay, but it'll cost you arm and a leg."

The great majority of landholders came from northern France, but there were still a few Anglo-Saxons and Danes. Only one member of the old nobility still possessed sizable estates - Thorkill of Arden, who had lands in Warwickshire. Many formerly independent Anglo-Saxon and Danish thanes and their descendants appear in Domesday as the under-tenants of Norman lords.

A noble's position in the royal court was often bolstered by his contacts with foreign courts. To this end Baron Hilton-Griswold has obtained the services of Dr. Rene De La Croix, a French doctor, alchemist and diplomat of some distinction who serves to give the Baron entre into political circles and has made him valuable to King William I on many occasions. Dr. De La Croix lives a plush life as a guest in Hilton-Griswold Castle with his young daughter Mariette.

Early politicians required feedback from the public to determine what the people considered important. To do this, the politicians sent their assistants to local taverns, pubs, and bars. They were told to "go sip some ale" and listen to people's conversations and political concerns. Many assistants were dispatched at different times. "You go sip here" and "You go sip there." The two words "go sip" were eventually combined when referring to the local opinion and, thus we have the term "gossip." At local taverns, pubs, and bars, people drank from pint and quart-sized containers. A bar maid's job was to keep an eye on the customers and keep the drinks coming. She had to pay close attention and remember who was drinking in "pints" and who was drinking in "quarts," hence the term minding your "P's and Q's."


The manors were very diverse in size, to be very typical; They were compact, centered around a church and separated by open land. Habitations in most areas of late 11th century England followed a very ancient pattern of isolated farms, hamlets and tiny villages interspersed with fields and scattered over most of the cultivable land. As in the Iron Age, over time the settlements gradually shifted or were abandoned or reclaimed. This is a pattern which is still retained in Cornwall today.

The system of landholding was based on a rigid social hierarchy called the feudal system, imposed in England by William the Conqueror following his successful 1066 conquest. Rather than being owned, as is the case nowadays, land was held from a member of society higher up the social tree. At the top sat King William I who granted land to tenants-in-chief - usually lords or members of the Church, in return for their assistance in the Norman Conquest. Next down the ladder came under-tenants who held land from the tenants-in-chief, and so it continued with the bottom of the ladder being occupied by peasants - villagers, bordars and cottars - who earned their opportunity to hold a small amount of land by working on the land of the lordship, and slaves, who held no land.

The basic unit of land is the manor; manors could be larger or smaller than just one village, but all consisted of land and had jurisdiction over the tenants. These were part of larger administrative subdivisions of land called hundreds which contained several manors and had their own assembly of notables and representatives from local villages.

The total value of the land has been estimated at about 73,000 pounds a year. The most common form of land ownership was under-tenancies, whose holders owed military services to their lords, and subsequently to the King. Another form was leasing or renting land for money, often large amounts. Thaxted in Essex, for example, was worth 30 in 1066 and 60 in 1086, but its holder had leased it to an Englishman for an annual amount of 60 pounds. The tenant was unable to pay and defaulted on at least 10 pounds a year. The value of an area of land and its resources was calculated according to size, with set values on each resource unit. In some areas, the values of the manors and their geld assessments are also connected, these are the figures in hides, virgates and carucates.

The cost of the Conquest on land values was particularly devastating in Northern England where many small villages were destroyed or damaged so badly their land values decreased by about a quarter since 1066. King William I was partly to blame for his men's ruthlessness, but raiders from Ireland in Devonshire also had a bad effect on land values in the areas they passed through.

The total population of England in 1086 cannot be calculated because only the heads of households are listed; major cities like London and Winchester were omitted completely; there are no records of people in castles, nuns, and monks. The population of England in 1078 A.D. has been tentatively estimated at between 1 and 2 million. Lincolnshire, East Anglia and East Kent were the most densely populated areas with more than 10 people per square mile, while northern England, Dartmoor and the Welsh Marches had less than three people per square mile. This is because many villages had been razed by the conquest armies.

Houses or cottages consisted of a large room with only one chair. Commonly, a long wide board folded down from the wall, and was used for dining. The "head of the household" always sat in the chair while everyone else ate sitting on the floor. Occasionally a guest, who was usually a man, would be invited to sit in this chair during a meal. To sit in the chair meant you were important and in charge. They called the one sitting in the chair the "chair man." Today in business, we use the expression or title "Chairman" or "Chairman of the Board."

Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying It's raining cats and dogs. There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence. The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt.Hence the saying, Dirt poor. The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entranceway. Hence the saying a thresh-hold.


The Cursed Forest of Blackbridge was rumored since Roman times to be inhabited by demons and malevolent spirits. The Druids are alledged to have built a temple in the midst of the forest and subsequently for unknown reasons planted more than a thousand more trees around the temple. In Roman occupational times, there was a paved road constructed that partially transversed the forest, but was never finished because the builders kept vanishing without a trace. Thus the legend of the Curse of the forest that no one ever returned from was born. By 1066 A.D. the forest had grown so thick that light barely penetrated it. It is recorded that more than 150 persons had vanished into the unfathomable darkness of the wood. In 1520 A.D. a quarter mile of thorny brambles were planted around the forest as a deterrent to people to approach it. In 1066 A.D. the local legend had it that Satan held his Black Sabbaths in the woods and that demons and witches frolicked at midnight in it. This legend exists to this day. In 1940 A.D. the British government declared Blackbridge Forest a national wildlife preserve and fenced it in.


Blackbridge Manor came into possession of Baron Hilton-Grisworld immediately after the Conquest, and is ruled by the Baron and his son, Baronet Frederick Hilton-Griswold. The heir to the realm, Frederick would rather indulge in scholarly research than fulfill his father's goals for him - fighting for glory in the Crusades thousands of miles away in Palestine. Frederick is terrified of injury and death, but captivated by Druscilla for whom he would actually fight Roggevand to the death. Impressed by Frederick's devotion and loyalty, Druscilla makes a pact with him that is seriously detoured by Jocelyn's treachery.


Hygiene and Health
Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in and still smelled pretty good by June. However, they were starting to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married. Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water."

Because men and women took baths only once a year, women kept their hair covered, while wealthy men shaved their heads because of lice and bugs and wore wigs. Wealthy men could afford good wigs made from wool. They couldn't wash the wigs, so to clean them they would carve out a loaf of bread, put the wig in the shell, and bake it for 30 minutes. The heat would make the wig big and fluffy, hence the term "big wig." Today we often use the term "here comes the Big Wig" because someone appears to be or is powerful and wealthy.

Personal hygiene left much room for improvement. As a result, many women and men had developed severe acne scars by adulthood. The women would spread bee's wax over their facial skin to smooth out their complexions. When they were speaking to each other, if a woman began to stare at another woman's face she was told, "mind your own bee's wax." Should the woman smile, the wax would crack, hence the term "crack a smile." In addition, when they sat too close to the fire, the wax would melt . therefore, the expression "losing face."

Ladies wore corsets, which would lace up in the front. A proper and dignified woman, as in "straight laced" wore a tightly tied lace.

Common entertainment included playing cards. However, there was a tax levied when purchasing playing cards but only applicable to the "Ace of Spades." To avoid paying the tax, people would purchase 51 cards instead. Yet, since most games require 52 cards, these people were thought to be stupid or dumb because they weren't "playing with a full deck."

In 1078 A.D., they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme, Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old. Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, bring home the bacon. They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and 'chew the fat'.

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous. Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the upper crust. Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a wake.


There were few castles and churches built in the 11th Century, but those which survive today are a tangible link between the England of 900 years ago and the England of today. Most of the castles were built out of wood and consisted of a simple mott and bailey. Parish churches constructed immediately after the Conquest are indistinguishable from those built just before in Anglo-Saxon England. They are not recorded systematically in Domesday which mentions only 147 churches in Kent, whereas other sources note at least 400. It does however give details about them such as how they were divided into fractions between different owners.

Blackbridge Manor has the distinction of St. Martin's Church, a rarity in that it is a stone building with a sturdy wooden roof. It is operated by Father Astin and the Nuns of St. Martin's. The church is well-known in the district for it's convent school and strict Catholic doctrines.

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