1069 and All That – A Conqueror’s Destruction, by Chris Nickson

Thought you knew about 1066? In this anniversary month, 950 years later, Chris Nickson tells us about its subsequent effects on Leeds and the region.

In 1066, on October 14, King Harold took an arrow in the eye and William became ruler of England. That’s the story everyone knows, but it’s far from being all the tale. Plenty of people weren’t happy with the new regime, especially in the North. Even as Norman forces established themselves throughout the country and took land from the local thanes, there was rebellion. Northumbria was a focal point, and in York they killed the leader of the Norman garrison in the city.

William, whose contemporary nickname was the Bastard, took swift and brutal revenge. He ordered Ilbert de Lacy, a lord who’d accompanied him on the invasion and who now held huge tracts of land, including the Honour of Pontefract, of which Leeds was part, to subdue Yorkshire from the Humber to the Tees. And in 1069-70, he did exactly that.

bayeuxtapestryscene47Much of the land was laid waste. Crops were burned, villages destroyed, people killed, while cattle and sheep were driven off. 16 years later, when commissioners came round to assess the country for the Domesday Book, much of the area was still classified as ‘waste.’ Around Leeds, Adel, Bramley, Calverley, Farsley, Chapel Allerton, Headingley, Cookridge, Gipton, Halton, Colton, Tong, Seacroft, Pudsey, and Morley were all reduced or waste. Few manors escaped, only Barwick-in-Elmet, which retained its pre-Conquest value, and Leeds itself, which actually was more valuable (£7 instead of £6). There was enough land for six plough teams, but actually 14 ploughs – possibly an intention to put more land under cultivation.



Why was Leeds spared? That it stood at a river crossing with a ford was an important factor, and it was already a base for Norman administration in the area; there was a moated fort of sorts on Mill Hill. The village was larger than many imagine, with around 200 inhabitants and a church. The 36 houses lined up along what is now Kirkgate, close to the church. The manor house and mill stood to the west, where the Scarborough Taps pub is now.

Everything else was fields, even going down to the river. There was common grazing land on Woodhouse Moor, and beyond that, woods. The priest at the church looked after the entire parish, which stretched from Headingley to Osmondthorpe, Hunslet to Headingley – a very large area. Under the feudal system, most of the men in the village worked the lord’s land and had small areas to grow their own food. Leeds only had four free men.

Leeds was lucky back then. All the areas around suffered while the village prospered because of its location on the Aire. That positioning has served us well over the centuries for transport and industry and helped transform the place into today’s booming city.

Yet it’s worth sparing a thought for all those who once lived on the land all around. The ones who died nameless for one man’s ambition. That is a scenario we’ve seen repeated over and over all around the globe. Some things, sadly, never change.

Lottie coverChris Nickson’s novel, Modern Crimes, is set in 1924 and features Lottie Armstrong, one of the first policewomen in Leeds. 

Chris will be at Oakwood Library, 6pm, on Tuesday 25 October, talking about Lottie and Modern Crimes. This is a free event, all welcome.

1924 – Six years after the Great War and Leeds still isn’t back on its feet. Work is scarce, poverty is everywhere and crime is spreading. The city has its first policewoman, though, and Lottie Armstrong is eager to prove herself in this man’s world. But with her duties confined to looking after women and children, the force doesn’t want a woman with initiative. Then Lottie has to search for a missing girl, and her life changes.

Suddenly CID needs a woman’s touch to find answers, and Lottie is a proper copper for the first time, following a trail that takes her from high society to the Royal Hotel, where men and women gather, the ones who live in the shadows because their love is a sin.

As Lottie uncovers a plot involving high level corruption, the truth is slowly laid bare. And she learns that if you show you’re as clever as a man, there’s always a price to pay.

Modern crimes, timeless tragedy.

Fiona Gell

Fiona is a lifelong reading enthusiast and book lover. Her career started as a bookseller and has never really veered away from the written and spoken word. It was a dream for her to be a founder member of The Leeds Big Bookend and the Northern Short Story Festival. She continues to be its Director.

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