1066CE to the early 17th Century (Normans to Tudors)
The first documented evidence of the existence of Woodnewton appears in The Domesday Book of 1086, produced for William The Conqueror, to value his new lands for taxation purposes. Ironically the Norman Domesday Book also provides the evidence that Woodnewton existed in the AngloSaxon period. It records that in 1066, in the reign of Edward the Confessor (the last legitimate Anglo-Saxon King of England according to the Normans), Niwetone in the Wilibroc (Willow Brook) Hundred of Northamptonshire was worth the equivalent of 50 pence per annum in today’s money and that this sum had risen to £1.50p in 1086. The village had its own mill, eight acres of meadow and four furlongs by two furlongs of woodland, together with land for five ploughs in total. It was assessed for tax at three geld units. Later Niwetone gained the prefix “Wood” to distinguish it from the other Niwetones (new settlements) in Northamptonshire. It is possible that the low value of Woodnewton at the time of the Conquest was because of events in 1065. In that year, Morcar the Earl of Northumberland had marched south with an army and met up with his brother’s army at Northampton. Negotiations prevented an all-out rebellion, but on his way to Northampton it is said that Morcar “wasted” the land through which his army passed.
An Anglo-Saxon nobleman called Northmann (or Norman) is recorded as the lord of Niwetone in 1066. He was lord of 11 manors at that date, but of none in 1086. Eustace, the Norman Sheriff of Huntingdon, was the tenant-in-chief of the manor in 1086 and held the land from the King. Another Norman nobleman named Reginald was (mesne) lord of the manor of Niwetone in 1086 and held the land from Eustace. The manor of Niwetone comprised 13 households (eight villagers or villans, and five smallholders or bordars). Within the Wilibroc Hundred only the settlement of Hale had a smaller population.
Woodnewton is recorded as having five ploughlands in total; land for one plough team on the lord’s land, and land for 3.5 plough teams on other (the men’s) land. In the Danelaw – the land to the east of Watling Street governed prior to the Conquest under the laws of the Danes – a ploughland or carucate was approximately the land a plough team of eight oxen could till in a single season. It is thought to be the equivalent of 120 acres and was the unit of land on which tax was levied.
The standard unit of assessment for land taxation purposes used in the rest of Anglo-Saxon Britain, and continued by the Normans, was the hide. This was initially intended to represent the amount of land sufficient to support a household but over time became a measure of the taxable worth of land. It had no fixed relationship to the area of the land nor to the number of plough teams that worked it. The amount of land varied in different parts of the country, but it is thought to represent, like the carucate, about 120 acres – although there continues to be considerable debate about this figure.
In the 11th century each county was assigned, centrally from the Exchequer, the total number of hides it had to raise in taxes. For example, Northamptonshire was assigned 3,200 hides in the early years of that century. Counties then allocated their “County Hidage” to the Hundreds in the county, which in turn allocated tax liabilities, to specific manors. In the early Anglo-Saxon period this land tax was used to support fortifications for the defence of towns and to maintain infrastructure such as bridges, in addition to providing food for urban populations. At the end of the period it was known as geld and used either to buy-off Viking invaders (danegeld) or to pay for a standing army (heregeld). Later the Normans used it to finance wars in France.
An assessment of the amount of agricultural land in Woodnewton at that time therefore is difficult. Domesday Book records that it had five ploughland or carucates which, at 120 acres each, would give (a maximum of) 620 acres, whereas the manor was liable for three geld units of taxation or three hides, which would indicate (a minimum of) 360 acres.
Therefore, whilst it is not possible to be precise as to the extent of the land in cultivation at the time of the Norman Conquest, there is firm evidence of the existence of Woodnewton as a settlement, and that the settlement existed in the earlier Anglo-Saxon period. The site of the early village was around The Green, Oundle Road and Pound Lane. If and how far it extended up present- day Main Street and the Nassington Road is unknown.
It is interesting to look at the wider area as reported in the Domesday Book. In the Anglo-Saxon period King Cnut had a royal hunting palace at Nassington and in 1066 King Edward the Confessor is named as lord and tenant-in-chief of the manor of Nassington along with other manors in Wilibroc at Apethorpe, Duddington and Tansor. The king was also lord and tenant-in-chief of many more manors across Northamptonshire and Rutland and extending into Lincolnshire which formed part of his royal estate. After the conquest King William took over the named manors in Wilibroc and the manor of Cliffe, which was renamed King’s Cliffe. These together with the royal manors elsewhere in Northamptonshire, Rutland and Lincolnshire comprise the basis for the royal hunting area later to be called Rockingham Forest. However, Woodnewton did not form part of either the Anglo-Saxon royal estate nor the later Norman royal estate and hunting forest.
Over the next 100 years or so following the compilation of the Domesday Book there were significant changes in occupancy as the manor and lands of Woodnewton passed to and from the crown, and between families by marriage and inheritance. Eustace, the tenant-in-Chief in 1086 died without any heirs in around 1090 and the manor and land reverted to the crown. From a survey of hides carried out in the reign of Henry ll it is known that Robert de Chesney held land in Woodnewton on which three hides were payable, but whether this was the same land on which the three identified in the Domesday Book was paid is uncertain. Also, there were two smaller fees in Woodnewton during this period arising from the redistribution of the manorial land by the King. By 1195 the manor was held by Richard D’Engayne of Castle Hymel at Laxton. However, this castle was demolished in c1200 when Richard D‘Engayne founded Fineshade Priory on a nearby site and endowed the priory with lands at Blatherwycke and Laxton. In 1260, Richard’s grandson Henry D’Engayne gifted to the Priory the churches of Blatherwycke and Laxton, together with the lordship of the manor of Woodnewton “except one carucate”. This one carucate may have comprised the two smaller fees of Eketon and Holt that had been established since the Domesday Book was compiled.
The gift of the manor of Woodnewton to Fineshade Priory comprised “all land and tenements and with bonds and rents and all other appurtenances ……”. The gift also included the half of the mill at Woodnewton that was held by Richard D’Engayne; this was probably the mill referred to in the Domesday Book and was located on the Willow Brook at Walk Mill Close. Over the following years other lands in the manor were gifted to the Priory, most noticeably from the fee of Eketon by John of Sparsholt and, in 1344, the other half of the mill by Richard Knyvet of Southwick manor.
This period saw the beginning of the movement of the centre of the village away from the area around The Green towards the north and west along what is now known as Main Street. The church of St Mary underwent extensive rebuilding in the 13th century and this redevelopment forms the basis of what exists today. In addition, to the west of the church in the south east corner of the field known as Conegar the Priory built what is probably the first “manor house” in the village, although it was more likely to have been little more than the priory farm. It would appear from court rolls and rental information that the Priory retained the manor of Woodnewton for its own use rather than as part of the wider Priory demesne.
The priory farm is identified on a map, dated c1640, of the Cliffe Bailiwick which shows a site of about four acres, and marked “Priory of Fineshade”, opposite the Church. The map shows a gatehouse but no manorial building indicating that it had probably been demolished by that date. In the field known as Conegar earthworks can still be seen today which outline the extent of Woodnewton’s first manor house.
Soon after the Priory of Fineshade took possession of Woodnewton the manor and its fields and woodlands ,together with those of the Fees of Holt and Eketon were excluded from Rockingham Forest; the Royal Hunting Forest between the rivers Welland and Nene. Tenants therefore made an annual payment called “woodmol” to the rangers of the forest for the privilege of collecting firewood. These payments continued after the dissolution of the Priory in Tudor times. In 1551 this payment was for 10s 8d and paid at Michaelmas “for a cartload of wood from the wood of the Lord King and Queen at Morehay”.
A census of dwellings undertaken in the 13th century showed that Woodnewton comprised about 60 dwellings and agriculture remained the primary activity in the village. A survey of Priory land carried out in the early 14th century shows that agricultural activity was organised into three open fields; known as the South, West and East fields. The South field was sometimes referred to as Halefield as it adjoined the neighbouring settlement of Hale, and West field was sometimes known as North Field. In total these fields comprised nearly 260 acres of arable land. In addition, there were over 66 acres of woodland (outside of Rockingham Forest) and 32 acres of meadows in the possession of Fineshade Priory.
This following years however saw the decline in agriculture production and amount of land under cultivation due to changing climatic conditions and the ongoing taxation of land to fund the Hundred Years War. The Black Death plague also had an adverse impact on agriculture, and this probably led to the abandonment of the settlement at Hale. In 1356 it was recorded that “no one dwells or has dwelt in Hale near Woodnewton since the pestilence and the land is wasted by the king’s deer”. Fortunately, the Plague did not, as far as is known, strike in Woodnewton . The priory records show 44 tenants in 1410 but a rental list of 1485 lists only 28, and this fell to 20 in the early 1500s. The rental list of 1485 identifies that Guido Wolston rented the priory manor house for £4.
The land belonging to the Holt Fee, which was probably part of the carucate not given to Fineshade in 1260, was interspersed with those of the priory in the three open fields. It is convenient to consider this land as a separate manor, known as the Holt Fee manor, from the priory manor. John of Holt had given part of this land to John Knyvet of Southwick in 1347 but the manor fell into decline, for the same reasons as the priory manor. Some of the land and the manor house passed through various hands over the next 100 years until in 1490 the freehold of the land came into the possession of Sir Guy Wolston. Sir Guy (Guido) Wolston had earlier acquired Apethorpe manor together with the manors of Yarwell, Tansor, Castor and Hale. With his lands at Woodnewton and elsewhere he had established by 1492 the beginnings of the Apethorpe estate and had begun to build his home on the site that was to become Apethorpe Palace.
Over the next 50 years the Apethorpe estate changed hands several times. It increased in size in 1515 when it was bought by Henry Kebyll (Keble) – an alderman and former Lord Mayor of London – George Keble his son, William Blount (4th Baron Mountjoy) his son-in-law, and others. Keble had bought previously Woodnewton manor and several areas of land in Woodnewton and Nassington. The estate eventually passed to the crown in exchange for former monastic lands in the Midlands and Dorset. Henry Vlll had bought the estate for Queen Kathrine Parr who was from Northamptonshire. On her death in 1548 the estate passed to Princess Elizabeth, later to become Queen Elizabeth l. However, by 1551 the estate was in the possession of Sir Walter Mildmay.
Previously, in 1535 Henry Vlll had ordered a nation-wide survey of the value of the estates of the monasteries prior to their dissolution. This showed that the priory manor of Woodnewton made a profit of £16. After the dissolution of the monasteries, the priory manor was handed to Edward Lord Clynton, but he sold it to Sir Walter Mildmay who in 1551 possessed the whole of the manor of Woodnewton together with the rest of the lands and manors comprising the Apethorpe estate. It was probably at this time that the priory manor farm at Conegar was either demolished or left to fall into ruin
Sir Walter Mildmay died in 1589 and the estate passed to his son, Sir Anthony Mildmay. When he died in 1617 the estate, including the manor of Woodnewton passed to his daughter Mary and her husband Francis Fane. In 1624 King James I created them the Earl and Countess of Westmorland thereby establishing a connection between Woodnewton and the Westmorland estate at Apethorpe that was to last until the beginning of the 20th century.
There is very little evidence in the village of the changes that had taken place between the gifting of the manor to the Priory of Fineshade and the creation of the new lord and lady of the manor. Significant as those changes were, they were more concerned with ownership and control rather than the development of the village and its community. Agricultural production was still the main economic activity and in 1460 Edward IV granted Fotheringhay College four acres of land in Woodnewton for a kiln for burning lime. The church continued to be extended and developed to meet the growing needs of the village both under the old (catholic) and the new (protestant) regimes. The priory manor house had come and gone leaving only the gatehouse to be recorded on the 1640 map.
The 1640 map however appears to show the position of two new mills on the Willow Brook, but not the one thought to have been located in Walk Mill Close and recorded in the Domesday Book. That mill is understood to have been a fulling mill and indicates cloth production in Woodnewton prior to the date of the map. Whether the mill was for fulling at the time of Domesday is unknown. If it was a fulling mill it would suggest there had to be second mill somewhere close-by to mill grain.
The first new mill shown on the 1640 map is located on the Willow Brook to the left of the (Oundle) road leading into the village. This mill had been demolished by the 18th century and no traces of that mill or any associated buildings are to be seen today in this general area. The second new mill is located to the south of the land identified as belonging to the Priory of Fineshade and sits at the end of a track or lane running from the church passed the gateway to the priory farm. The location given on the map of this second new mill is not that of the mill that existed in the 18th century and which exists today, albeit fulfilling a changed purpose. The 1640 map is (obviously) schematic as later maps show the priory farm manor site to the west of the church, not to the south. Nevertheless, it suggests that there was a mill in this general location in the early 17th century serving the agricultural needs of the local community
Perhaps the most important evidence of new economic activity in the village was the discovery in 1973 of a Tudor pottery kiln during the building of houses on the site known today as The Paddock. Pottery sherds were found all over the site, but particularly from the footings of one unit where burnt stones were uncovered. The subsequent rescue excavation showed a rectangular (2m by 1 m approximately) pottery kiln with a free-standing central pedestal, built of limestone and running NW to SE, with a stoke hole to the SE. The central pedestal was 1m by 300mm. The type of vessels produced, as determined by the sherds, were bunghole pitchers, cooking pots, lids, bowls, chafing dishes, skillets or handle pans, costrels, tripod-footed vessels and narrow based jars. This range of forms suggests a date in the first quarter of the 16th century. It is not thought that the potters were engaged in “mass production”, rather meeting the local needs of the residents of Woodnewton and possibly the wider Apethorpe estate