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Domesday: Norman Uffington

The Uffington (Offentone) entry in the Domesday Book (1086)


Berkshire volume, chapter 7, paragraph 37, Hillslow Hundred.  "The Abbey holds Uffington itself, and always held it. Before 1066, it answered for 40 hides; now for 14 hides. Land for 14 ploughs. In lordship 3 ploughs; 17 villagers and 16 smallholders with 7 ploughs. 11 slaves; a mill at 5s; meadow 85 acres. Gilbert holds 6 hides of this land from the Abbot; he has 1 plough and 16 smallholders with 1 plough." [Value of the whole before 1066 £15; later £21; now £26.] (from Morgan 1979)


The Abbey referred to in the Uffington entry of the Domesday Book is the Benedictine monastery of St. Mary at Abingdon, which had been granted land that roughly equates to the modern parish boundaries of Uffington in the 10th century AD (Hooke 1987).

After 1066, Abingdon Abbey was repopulated by Benedictine monks from the abbey of Jumiège in Normandy (Hudson 2002); monks from Jumiège were appointed as abbot at Abingdon until 1130 AD (Hudson 2002; lii).

An addition to a manuscript of Abingdon Abbey (MS B) lists Gilbert of Colombières, Normandy as the tenant knight holding land from the Abbey in Uffington (Hudson 2002; 325). Hudson (2002) considers this most likely to be the Gilbert referred to in the Domesday Book.

Hudson  (2002; xxx) lists the abbots of Abingdon in the century following the Norman conquest:

Adelem [of Jumiège] 1071-1083

Reginald  [of Jumiège] 1084-1097

Faritius  [of Jumiège] 1100-1117, who oversaw the building of the church at Uffington in 1105 AD

Vincent  [of Jumiège] 1121-1130

Ingulf  [of Winchester] 1130-1158

Walkelin [of Evesham] 1159-1164


There is an account of the building of the church at Uffington included in the records of Abingdon Abbey for the year 1104-1105:

"That same year, Abbot Faritius came to his village of Uffington so he could round off perfectly

the stone-work of the church which he had begun there from the foundations. His men from

that village gathered, and out of common devotion, offered by a common grant to St. Mary

and to the abbot, and to the monastery of Abingdon their tithe of all that village, thenceforth

and for the rest of time, so that the abbot might from his own resources complete their church

by building more swiftly, and so that they might deserve to be numbered amongst that

monastery's fraternity.


When the abbot heard their intention, he inquired whether of old they gave the tithe to the

church of that village, as he was unwilling to diminish it in its rights through any gift offered to

himself and his monastery. And it was said that the village custom was for twenty-four sheaves

from each virgate to be given to that church as a tithe.


In this knowledge, the abbot ordained in the villagers' presence that he would accept their tithe

as they had wished and offered, with the following division fixed between himself (the abbot)

and the village church, that is, that at the time of the collecting of tithes, the abbot himself would

send to Uffington a chosen man of his. That man would receive from each villager the just tithe

according to their individual possession, and after the whole tithe had been collected, from each

virgate of the village he would assign to the priest of the church as many bundles as we have

said above were owed to him, the rest of the tithe being kept for the abbot.


Also present there was Drogo, who held three hides of land in the same village from the fee of

Robert de Bretteville. Regarding his own tithe, he promised he would give 2s. annually, in so far as

he could with the abbot's help acquit the tithe of his land there in respect of the place to which it

had been given by Robert his lord, namely the canons of St George in Oxford castle.


When all these had been pledged in his hand, the abbot granted on his own behalf and that of the

whole convent of Abingdon the benefits of his monastery to all the grantors, with these witnesses

present: Gerard the reeve of this village, Mantin,and many others." (Hudson 2002; 208-211)


There is a later 12th C entry in the Abbey records that implies that the church at Uffington was completed by the time of Abbot Faritius' death in 1117, and indicates that he had during his tenure been quite an active church-builder or acquirer: "These are the things that Abbot Faritius conferred on the church [and all the offices of the monastery]: namely, the church of St. Martin of Oxford, and the church of Marcham, the church of Uffington, the church of Little Wittenham, the church of Cuddesdon, the church of Nuneham." (Hudson 2002; 215)

Not much is left of the church of St. Martin in Oxford, but the oldest part does date to the early 12th C (website here). The currently standing  church at Little Wittenham is mainly 19th C; it was apparently rebuilt in 1863. Marcham church was re-built in the the 19th C as well. Nuneham Courtenay had a Benedictine church already by the early 12th C, but Abingdon Abbey had lost control of it; Faritius evidently re-acquired it (web reference here). There is no longer a medieval church at Nuneham Courtenay, but the church at Cuddesdon still stands and could well have preserved 12th C portions. 


Betjeman and Piper (1949) date the building of St. Mary's church Uffington to 1150 AD, which is probably simply mistaken, as the records of the Abbey are quite clear about the 1104/05 date. In what may well be a flourish of retrospective Anglican patriotism, Betjeman also refers to the church as being Early English in style, when of course if it is largely 12th C it would be more properly described as Norman. Much of the construction work that went on at Norman monastic holdings in Britain following the conquest was carried out by craftsmen - especially stonemasons - brought over from France, so it is unlikely that the design or the supervision of the labour or the masonry for the 1105 church would have been carried out by those who defined themselves as English.

According to Betjeman and Piper (1949), "The only exterior features which are later than 1150, are the large Decorated (c. 1250) south window in the chancel and the eighteenth-century upper stage and pinnacles of the tower."

Betjeman and Piper (1949) suggest that the stonework of St. Mary's Uffington is similar to that of Salisbury Cathedral:  "From the deep precision of its mouldings and general excellence of proportion, one may infer that it was designed by an architect-mason, who probably worked on Salisbury Cathedral, some of whose nave, choir and transept mouldings are similar." This is an odd suggestion, as Salisbury Cathedral was not built until 1220-58, which is around a century after the church at Uffington (regardless of whether Betjeman meant 1105 or 1150). It's most likely that the dates given by Betjeman and Piper are simply all out by a hundred years. Most mid-20th C onwards sources give the rebuilding date of the church as ca. 1250. The majority of the church as it stands today probably dates from that 13th century rebuilding.







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Gelling, M. (1976) The Place-names of Berkshire: Pt. 3 (Cambridge University Press) 

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Little,  J.E. (1979) History of Uffington, part 1: Ecclesiastical History, pamphlet 48 pages

Little,  J.E. (1964) The Parish Churches of Baulking, Woolstone, and Uffington, pamphlet 12 pages

Miles, D., Palmer, S., Lock, G., Gosden, C., and Cromarty, A.M. (2003) Uffington White Horse and its Landscape: Investigations at White Horse Hill Uffington, 1989-95 and Tower Hill Ashbury, 1993-4, Thames Valley Landscapes Monograph 18 (Oxford Archaeology and Oxford University School of Archaeology)

Morgan, P. (ed.) (1979) Domesday Book: Berkshire Volume 5 (Phillimore & Co. , Chichester)