What do we know about Hartford in Norman times?
The only real record we have is the Domesday Book of 1086 which records for “Herford”
"Isdem GISLEBERTUS tenet HERFORD pro ii. maneriis. DODO tenuit sicut liber homo. Ibi ii. hidae geldabiles. Terra est ii. carucatae. Ibi sunt iiii. villani et ii. bordarii et faber habentes i. carucatam. In WICH una salina reddit ii. solidos et alia dimidia salina wasta. Ibi i. acra prati. De hac terra tenet unus miles dimidiam hidam et ibi habet i. carucatam et ii. bovarios et ii. bordarios. Tempore regis EDWARDI valebat xx. solidos. Modo x. solidos."
which translates as:-
“IN ROELAU HUNDRED
The same Gilbert holds HERFORD. Dodo held it (as two manors in the margin) as a freeman. 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 waste. There 1 acre of meadow. Of this a knight holds ½ hide and has there 1 plough and 2 oxmen and 3 bordars. TRE it was worth 20s, now 10s.”
geld = tax (from ‘tax geldum’ – a periodic tax)
hide = an area of land between 120 and 240 acres (usually 120)
waste = in this case most likely means destroyed in the invasion
villains and bordars = part of a hierarchy of men with greater or lesser degrees of freedom - freemen, sokemen, villeins, bordars and serfs
TRE = Tempore Regis Edwardi - 'In the time of King Edward' (Edward the Confessor) i.e. before 1066
Gilbert is Gilbert de Venables. He was one of eight barons created by Hugh Lupus and chose Kinderton as the seat of his barony. He was descended from Eudo. the Earl of Blois, Byre and Charttes and fought at Hastings. The barony was a reward for his bravery in battle.
He had a great passion for hunting and was from the village of Venables in Normandy. Appropriately it appears that the name Venables may have been derived from "venator abiles" - literally "an able hunter". Venables was in the barony of Les Veneurs (the huntsmen), so named as the family were the hereditary huntsmen of the Duke of Normandy. Interestingly the Grosvenor family name (Earls of Chester) shares the same derivation "gros veneur" meaning "chief huntsman".
We know that Cheshire resisted the Norman invasion and that resulted in large areas being laid to waste by William the Conqueror. This was one of his standard tactics in the face of resistance – he destroyed communities, dispossessed the people and laid waste to the countryside so that there was no support for the people fighting against him. That must have been a time of hardship and devastating change as the battle was lost and a new hierarchy of lords took over the land. Principal among these would have been Hugh D'Avranches also known as Hugh Lupus (the wolf), a nephew of William’s, who was made the first Earl of Chester.
Following the subjugation of Cheshire the great hunting Forest of Mara and Mondrum was created. It encompassed 60 square miles of the county and reached up to the River Weaver. Since we know how these great Royal Forests were administered we can guess a little about the lifestyle of the people who lived within their boundaries.
The term “forest” did not have its modern meaning. It was derived from the Latin “foris” which meant “everything outdoors”, and was used throughout the Middle Ages to describe a legally defined area of land in which the “beasts of the chase” were reserved for hunting by the King or, at his pleasure, nobles and high churchmen. In the case of Mara and Mondrum both the Earls of Chester and the King used it. The forest of these times could be half grassland and heath and not the unbroken canopy of trees we would imagine today.
William the Conqueror introduced afforestation after the invasion of 1066 and reserved for his sole enjoyment the right to hunt Deer (Red, Roe and Fallow) and Wild Boar – the beasts of the chase, collectively known as the “venison”.
To protect these rights the areas were subject to Forest Law as opposed to Common Law. This law protected not only the animals themselves but also anything that they ate or provided shelter for them, collectively known as the “vert” (from the Latin for green).
A person attempting to kill or even disturbing a beast of the chase was guilty of “trespassing against the venison”. A person felling a tree, grazing livestock without permission, gathering firewood or protecting crops by fencing was guilty of “trespassing against the vert”. It was illegal to carry a weapon in the forest. Travellers were allowed a weapon for self-protection but had to stick to the highways running through the forest.
It should be borne in mind that before the introduction of Forest Law these things would have been taken for granted as a way of making, or supplementing, a living by exploiting the surrounding land.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records the following about William:
“He made great protection for the game
And imposed laws for the same,
So that who so slew hart or hind
Should be made blind.
He preserved the harts and boars
And loved stags as much
As if he were their father.
Moreover, for the hares did he decree that they should go free.
Powerful men complained of it and poor men lamented it,
But so fierce was he that he cared not for the rancour of them all”.
The punishments for breaking the Forest Law were harsh and included blinding, castration and death. Later the need to raise taxes led to a replacement of some of the physical punishments by a system of fines. The forests were expanded to encompass more and more of England until at one time nearly a third of the country was under Forest Law. Each expansion brought more people under Forest Law and the resultant fines became a steady income stream for the crown.
Very little of this Great Forest survives. Delamere (French for 'of the lake') is an example, if now extensively replanted with fir trees. However, Marshall's Arm is Ancient Woodland due to the land being too steep to clear for agriculture or housing and may even reach back to the days of the Great Forest.