1086, The Domesday Book
The first description we have of Hessle is that given in the Domesday Book of 1086. Domesday Book was produced as a result of a survey carried out in 1085 on the orders of William I (the Conqueror). William was anxious to know everything he could about the land he ruled and so sent priests and soldiers out into the shires to make a record of towns, churches, villages, cows, ploughs, mills and population. The result was what we know as the Domesday Book, so called because it was believed to be so comprehensive that its information could be used on the day of judgement itself.
Hessle is referred to several times in Domesday. There are two references to the land and who held it and one reference to Hessle as the Hessle Hundred. Under the feudal system the King held all the land and allotted it to nobles in return for service. In East Yorkshire King William I nominated Drogo de Bevere as his Tenant in Chief and he was responsible for the administration and rule of law in the area. Drogo in turn allotted land to knights in return for their service to him. There were two such landholders in Hessle, Gilbert Tyson and Ralph de Mortemer. Of these Gilbert Tyson had the larger holding and the entry for his estate reads:
‘In Hessle Alwine and Kettil had 7 carucates of land taxable. There is land for 4 ploughs. Now Gilbert has there 1 plough; and 17 villagers and two bordars with 3 ploughs. There a church and a priest. 1 league long and 1/2 wide. Value before 1066, 60s, now 50s.’
The entry for Ralph de Mortemer is a little more complicated as Hessle is included as an outlier of Ralph’s holdings of North Ferriby but it does tell us that Ralph held 1 carucate of land in Hessle which supported 4 villagers with one plough. The other land holdings mentioned in this extract—at Waudby, Anlaby, Myton, Totfled, Wolfreton and Riplingham are all described as waste.
One of the problems with Domesday is that of accuracy. The Domesday Book does not give us an entirely accurate record of life in Hessle in 1085. It was written in Latin by monks who probably spoke French and received answers to their questions in Anglo-Saxon. Mistakes in translation must have occurred. It also seems that Yorkshire, being far away from Winchester, was one of the last counties to be recorded and that the commissioners were in something of a rush to complete their work. Mistakes and omissions were inevitable leaving us with an incomplete picture of life at the time. This is evident in that there is no mention of the ferry between Hessle and Barton but this is clearly recorded in the entry for Barton. Nor is there any mention of trades such as fishing, a blacksmith or a mill which may have existed close by the settlement.
However, taking this into account Domesday does give us a picture of Hessle towards the end of the eleventh century. We know there was a church which served a thriving agricultural community of around ninety people.