Radbourne: The Early History

Radbourne is located in the Appletree Wapentake, and a wapentake is an old historical subdivision of a county. The term is especially used in Midland or Northern counties of England. The earliest reference to Radbourne is found in Domesday. Although Radbourne lies in what was then part of the Danelaw, its name is Anglo-Saxon, and appears to suggest a name meaning ‘reed stream’, but since early forms are Rad- it is possible that there has been a confusion with a meaning of ‘red’, and this was the original first element meaning it was named ‘red stream’1

Before the Conquest, Radbourne had been held by an apparently relatively minor Saxon tenant. Wulfsi or Ulsi who is known to have held several estates in Derbyshire. Wulfsi also held land elsewhere in Derbyshire including Chellaston, Kedleston and Weston Underwood. By the time of Domesday he had apparently been totally dispossessed of his lands.2 although the manor itself seems to have been much like its neighbours. However, it is possible that Wulfsi survived the Conquest in possession of some of his estates as there is a record of a grant and confirmation of Robert, earl of Ferrers, concerning Tutbury Priory, records that ‘Ulsius’ gave two parts of the tithes of his lordship of Tuiford and Steineston (modern-day Twyford and Stenson)3.

By the time of Domesday the manor had three carucates of lands that were taxable, with sufficient land for four ploughs. However, there seem to have been a surplus of ploughs for this land. At the time there were three ploughs in demesne (meaning directly farmed by the lord of the manor – Henry de Ferrers). In addition to the demesne there were six villeins (tenants of an unfree status), and five bordars (smallholders), who between them had three further ploughs.

As well as the ploughland, Radbourne had other landed resources. There were twelve acres of meadow, and many communities in Derbyshire had meadowland at time of Domesday. The acreage of meadow at Radbourne is on the lower side, and most of the communities close to Radbourne had larger quantities, and especially at Mickleover where there was possibly as much as 73 acres and Eggington where there was 200 acres.

There was also a substantial stretch of woodland said to be ‘half a league long by four furlongs wide’. In metric measures this is approximately 2400m x 840m.Radbourne lies toward the southern end of a concentration of woodland among a network of communities and it seems that there were substantial stretches of woodland that survived around Radbourne, possibly as a large, single tract.

Radbourne lies in the southern part of the county which the Domesday survey reveals was both the most densely settled and had the highest density of plough teams per square mile, which strongly suggests that this was the wealthiest and most prosperous part of the county. This area was the was the lowest-lying and most fertile part of the county.

The Domesday evidence is that Radbourne seems to be typical of the settlements in Appletree Wapentake, and indeed of settlements in the west of the county as a whole. The presence of villeins and bordars, the two unfree tenures usually owing relatively heavy labour services, and other dues, are common across the Midlands part of the Danelaw. In contrast to the neighbouring counties of Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, and Lincolnshire they are accompanied by considerable numbers of a free tenure – the sokemen. In Derbyshire as a whole there were very few of this tenure and just 1% in Appletree, This was well below the average across the other counties. For some reason Derbyshire amongst this part of the Danelaw had few sokemen amongst its Anglo-Saxon tenantry, though it did have some survivals of other free tenures who were probably part of a class of thegns. Radbourne appears to have consisted of the unfree tenures like its neighbours.

Radbourne’s entry in Domesday, therefore, is not out of the ordinary. We have a community of six villeins and five bordars. This would suggest that, given a multiplier of four or five, there were between 44 and 55 people living in Radbourne at Domesday. In some ways it is what is missing from the entry that is as interesting. We would not expect there to be a mention of Radbourne Hall, though there might well have been some form of estate building in Radbourne. However, we know that Radbourne did come to have both a church and a mill. That they are not mentioned does not absolutely prove they were not there at Domesday, with plenty of examples where early evidence exists of the presence of both, with no mention being made in the survey. Indeed, at Kirk Langley, a neighbouring settlement to Radbourne, and clearly having a ‘church’ element in its name, has no reference to a church, and is simply identified as Langelei at Domesday. Other instances have priests without churches, churches without priests, and half churches. As we will see there are sound reasons why no mill was referred to, but the lack of a reference to the church may well indicate that the establishment of the parish of Radbourne was a later development. If this was the case then Radbourne might well have been within Dalbury parish where both a priest and church are recorded at Domesday, though there is a link between the church of Radbourne and the church at Hartington, for in 1291 in the taxation of Pope Nicholas, a pension was taken by the rector of the church there.

  1. Cameron, K.,The Place-Names of Derbyshire, Part III (Cambridge, 1959), p. 596.
  2. For printed editions of Domesday try ‘ Domesday Book: A Complete Translation’, ed. by Ann Williams & G.H. Martin (London, 2002), for Radbourne, see especially p. 749b.
  3.  (Monasticon Anglicanum: A History of the Abbies and Other Monasteries, Hospitals, Fieries, and Cathedral and Collegiate Churches with their Dependencies, in England and Wales).
  4. Darby, H.C., & Maxwell, I.S., (eds), The Domesday Geography of Northern England (Cambridge, 1962).

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