Everyone has heard of the Domesday Book, properly known as the “Book of Winchester” – the “Great Survey” ordered by William the Conqueror and undertaken in 1086. It tells us what England was like at that time, and so is an invaluable historical reference work.
Now I am not going to tell you that I have a copy of the manuscript at Admiral Storage. And even if I did I know you wouldn’t believe me. But I was reminded the other day that the Domesday Book is available on-line – and in a very interactive manner too.
Just go to http://opendomesday.org/ and there it is. You can type in your postcode and see what was there in the 11th century, how many people were there, how many slaves, and how much was paid to the King by way of tax. No other country in Europe has anything remotely like it.
Now I thought of this the other day when I was re-reading one of my earlier musings on the topic: The problem with Sheep in which I wrote about how the Domesday Book was written down.
And I started to wonder, did the nation ever do an update?
The answer it turns out is yes. This was the Return of Owners of Land, 1873 which was indeed the first analysis of the distribution of landed property in the British Isles since Domesday.
There was a lot of unrest at the time about the amount of the country owned by the landed gentry, an unrest which resulted in writers like Marx, who had been in London since 1849, writing a considerable amount about the inequalities of life in Britain.
There was a certain level of revolutionary fervour in the air, and so to overcome this, the nobility set about proving that they didn’t own most of the land after all. Hence the survey.
So the state set about gathering all the information it could (as opposed to finding new information, which is what Domesday did) to record who owned what.
As it turned out, what was so interesting about the Return of Owners of Land was not any statistical analysis of how much of the land was owned by the nobility, but rather it was the popularity it garnered as a way of seeing how much your neighbour owned.
Although the bound volumes cost way beyond anything that even a middle class person could afford, most local newspapers republished the results for their area – which was of course very much what the government wanted in terms of its anti-revolutionary approach.
This in turn led to a huge rise in the sale of local papers and a study by everyone as to exactly what his/her neighbour had been doing. It was perhaps the origin of the nosey neighbour syndrome. Keeping yourself to yourself was no longer an option for anyone who owned any land.
It may also have been the origin of the British obsession with owning our own houses – something that is not shared with people in many other countries.
But now, you will be asking, what does this have to do with Admiral Document Storage?
Well, what sent me down this route was the fact that recently, in conversation with one of my customers, I discovered that they were doing their own local survey and collecting data from publicly available sources.
I was very hesitant to ask why, but eventually I did get to that question and was told the reason was simple.
He just wanted to know.
And now he has thousands of cuttings and offprints from newspapers which he keeps at Admiral Document Storage.
As a hobby, I suppose it has something going for it. And I can’t really deny the interest in one’s own locality. After all, ever since I found that the Domesday Book is on-line and can be interrogated I have been seeking out all sorts of places that I have once lived or used to know.
But I do try to resist the desire to know exactly what my neighbours are up to!
You can find more information on our facilities on our website at www.archive-document-storage.co.uk. Alternatively you can call us on 0800 810 1125.
Admiral Document Storage Ltd
Tel: 0800 810 1125