Lothingland on the Internet

History of Herringfleet and St. Olave's
part 3: Medieval period


Apart from the Saxon-Viking manor of the Herela family on the site of the present Manor Farm (about 400 yards to the East of the church) there seems to have been only one other settlement in pre-Conquest times, that of Ulsi c. 1020AD at the Priory Site. Ulsi was a freeman, and at this point on the river there was a ferry between the north bank (Norfolk) and the south bank (Suffolk) of the River Waveney with regular crossings from the Yarmouth to the Norwich area. In 1216AD this was described as an 'ancient ferry'.

In Domesday, the area of the parish is described as 'impoverished and bleak, containing sufficient wood for the maintenance of only 12 swine, and was valued at 12 shillings.'. There is reference to a man called Wolsey, a freeman from Saxon times, holding

one carrucate of land (about 500 acres) as a manor, two villeins, and one bordar. The villein was a partially free peasant (as distinct from the serf who had no freedom) and though he could not serve on juries, the villein did accept public duties imposed by the crown on the hundreds and vills. He was a farm labourer and small-holder combined, and though not trusted to carry arms, he was protected from ruin. The lord of the manor could neither slay nor main his villein (as he could in the case of

serfs) and his tillage was protected from arbitrary fine. The villein emerged as one who virtually had the same rights as freemen - he was a tenant at will, and could be ejected at the lord's pleasure, but in fact, if he rendered his labour-dues to the lord, the villein tenement became hereditary. His normal average holding would be a virgate of land i.e. c. 40 acres. The bordar, like the cottars, had their 'toft and croft' i.e. cottage homesteads and a small enclosure, and eked out a meagre living in

service to some prosperous villein. He was mainly a unit of labour to be pressed into service for week-work and boon-work i.e. at harvest - 'overtime' - he had to do quit duty as coastguard and serve the lord's sport in the field.

There had been half a plough team belonging to the men but at the time of Domesday, none - all these men had, in King Edward the Confessor's time (1042-66), rendered 20 shillings to the farm (of the manor) and later in Roger Bigod's time, Aluric the provost increased (the same) to a hundred shillings, and in Hugh de Houdan's time to fifty pounds, as was reported by the men. This was probably Herela's manor in 1086 - and it may be that members of the original Viking family had now entered villeinage.

And it is possible that by the time of Domesday, Ulsi was devoting his time to the ferry - not farming, except on the side.

There is no mention of the church of St. Margaret in Domesday - that is not fatal to its existence nor surprising if there was no glebe or income. The previous Saxon church would be a peculiar to the Viking Manor. As villein or freeman prospered, a minor thane (old Norse) or thane occupying a position between the ordinary freeman and the hereditary nobility, would wish to emphasise his status by building a (wooden) church, the absolute property of the thane with no endowments. The non-endowment of this church is reflected in the 19th century controversies.

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This page first posted on 20 April 1999