The lost settlement of Burg refound?

In every county there is a handful of Domesday place-names that are not found in later sources and have therefore escaped identification. Many relate to what appear to have been small settlements and their disappearance attests the normal flux of settlement. Others, by contrast, were significant estate centres, and there more complex mechanisms can often be identified. It is the processes of Domesday entry formation and changes of name that provide the clue to the identification of the Lincolnshire Domesday settlement of Burg and facilitates an understanding of its functions in a wider tenurial context. Hitherto Burg has excited little interest among Lincolnshire antiquarians and historians. The only detailed discussion of the location of the vill is to be found in Foster and Longley’s edition of the Lincolnshire Domesday where Canon Foster concluded that the place was a lost settlement in the parish of Kirkby La Thorpe and/or Evedon. In 1992 the present writer suggested that Burg was probably to be identified with a part of the present village of Kirkby. The purpose of the present note is to expand on this suggestion and construct a context for the early history of the site.

There are three references to Burg in Domesday Book. A certain Archil had a manor of 6½ bovates there with inland in Heckington; the same man held a further manor in the same place of 5 bovates; and Colegrim held a manor in Ewerby of 2 carucates with 4 bovates of sokeland in Howell, 2 bovates in Evedon, and 6 bovates and a church in Burg. Aschil’s manors have not been identified in later documentation, but Colegrim’s can be readily traced into the thirteenth century and beyond. Its descent has been described by Canon Foster. In the twelfth century it passed with the bulk of Colegrim’s lands to the Clinton fee. The mesne tenant was Nigel son of Alexander who had been succeeded by Osbert son of Nigel in 1212. The sitting tenant was William son of Ranulf who gave land to the Templars in the reign of Henry II, and then his sons Nicholas son of William de Holland and Walter. In 1212 they held 2 carucates of land in Ewerby free of service. In 1239 Robert de Rye quitclaimed to William son of Nicholas 2 carucates in Ewerby and 1 carucate in Evedon and Kirkby La Thorpe. These are the 3 carucates that Colegrim held in Ewerby, Evedon, and Burg in 1086 (the Howell sokeland is not evidenced after 1086), and, as Foster notes, it is significant that by this date Kirkby had replaced Burg.

This is where Foster left the matter with the judgement that ‘the evidence is sufficient to shew that if Burgh is not included in the present parishes of Kirkby and Evedon, it is at least in close proximity to them’. In fact it is possible to go a little further by examining the parochial structure of the Kirkby La Thorpe area. Domesday Book records not only a church in Burg but also half a church in the king’s manor of Kirkby and half in Colsuain’s manor of Laythorpe. The two halves would seem naturally to go together, and indeed it is clear from the later history of Kirkby La Thorpe that they can be identified with two halves of the present parish church of St Denis. Throughout the Middle Ages the church was divided into two portions. From the early thirteenth century presentment to one portion were made by Croxden Abbey, a foundation of the Verdun family. In 1242 Roesia de Verdun held two thirds of a knight fee in Kirkby and elsewhere in the wapentake of Aswardhurn of the honour of Lancaster. The fee represents a manor in Kirkby held by the king in 1086, and, although I have yet to find a reference to the grant by the lord of the fee, it seems clear that Croxden’s portion was derived from the half church that belonged to it at the time of the Domesday inquest. Presentments to the second portion were made by the Engleby family. In 1242 Beatrice de Engleby held three quarters of a knight fee ‘in Kirkby’ of the earl of Salisbury. The fee can thus be identified with the Domesday manor of Colsuain in Laythorpe, and possibly Kirkby, and its portion of the church must therefore be identical with the half church ‘in Laythorpe’ that belonged to it in 1086. The identifying name of the Domesday entry for Laythorpe was either a hundred names - Laythorpe Hundred is recorded on f.341 - or St Denis’ church was considered to lie in Laythorpe.

St Denis’, however, was not the only parish church ‘in Kirkby’ in the Middle Ages. Until 1589 there was a second dedicated to St Peter. Given the displacement of Burg by Kirkby in the tenurial record by the thirteenth century, that church can make a strong claim to represent the eleventh-century church of Burg. Unlike the church of St Denis, there is no unbroken chain of title. St Peter’s was granted to Sempringham Priory in the middle of the twelfth century by Hugh de Neville and seemingly confirmed by Alice de Gant as his feudal superior. No connection has been found between the church. and Colegrim’s fee. Equally in 1086 Gilbert de Gant held seven carucates in Kirkby, but apparently no church. Another foundation is improbable. Domesday preserved a particularly detailed record of churches in the wapentake of Aswardhurn. Eighteen are noted where twenty are found in the Valuation of Norwich of 1256 and the Taxatio Ecclesiastica of 1291. It is therefore not unlikely that the Gant fee acquired its interest in St Peter’s after 1086. Significantly, Colegrim or his successors also failed to retain right to the honour’s other two nearby Domesday churches in Ingoldsby and Evedon. The church of the Lincolnshire Domesday was one that had full parochial rights or was of a standing that would soon be categorized thus. We would expect that each would have a counterpart in the thirteenth century, and it would seem that the church of Burg can only be represented by St Peter’s, Kirkby.

The settlement of Burg must have been close by. Indeed, it may now be represented substantially by the present village of Kirkby. Burg, Kirkby, and Laythorpe would seem to have been a loose agglomeration which eventually coalesced into the single settlement of Kirkby La Thorpe. The name Burg represents the OE burh, ‘defence’, and it would seem that it was this characteristic that distinguished the settlement from its neighbours at some point in time. It was, however, a word that was widely employed. It was used of a whole range of sites from defended settlement, that is, borough, to a house with a defensive ditch around it, and it was so applied from the earliest period of the Anglo-Saxon settlements into the thirteenth century. In itself the name Burg neither identifies the site nor dates it. Rather it is patterns of tenure that suggest the nature of Burg.

It is conceivable that the burh referred to was one of the manors held by Archil in 1066. This, however, is a possibility that is remote. Archil, a tainus regis of a type normally associated with ministerial tenure, does not appear to have been of any exalted status and his manor was small. He was most likely a minor thegn at most and his land more akin to sokeland than bookland. The attachment of a large part of Burg to Colegrim’s manor of Ewerby is suggestive of a subordinate status. The manor of Ewerby, with its sokeland in Howell, Burg/Kirkby, and Evedon, fits into a pronounced pattern of tenure in Aswardhurn. The wapentake is dominated by the manor of Sleaford which had sokeland in Ewerby, Howell, Heckington, Quarrington, Laythorpe, and Evedon. In isolation the distribution looks random. However, it constitutes a pattern that is mirrored in the structure of the king’s manor of Kirkby, and Colsuain’s manor of Ewerby Thorpe as well as Colegrim's fee (Table 1). Here, it would seem, the four estates were not an ad hoc collections of appurtenances and dues. The recurring distribution clearly indicates that they had been created at some point before 1066 by the ordered division of an extended complex of estates element by element.

Table 1.

Bishop of Lincoln

The King



1. M Sleaford


1. M Kirkby


3. S Burg

5. M Burg

2. S Ewerby


1. M Ewerby


3. S Ewerby Thorpe

1. M Ewerby Thorpe


3. S Howell

4. S Howell

3. S Howell

2. S Howell

4. S Heckington

5. S Heckington

2. 2M Heckington

6. B Heckington

5. S Quarrington

6. S Quarrington


6. S Laythorpe


4. 2M Laythorpe


7. S Evedon

2. B Evedon

5. Evedon

4. S Evedon

NOTE: M=manor, B=berewick, S=sokeland. The numbers indicate the order in which the entries appear in Domesday Book.

Place-names hint at its antiquity. Sleaford, 'the ford over the Slea', is of a type that comes from the earliest stratum of English names. The existence of a large cremation cemetery of the pagan Saxon period suggests that site was an important local and regional centre from at least the sixth century. The other English place-names - Heckington, Howell, Evedon, Quarrington - are not such specific chronological markers. Kirkby, Ewerby, Ewerby Thorpe, and Laythorpe are Danish names of the late ninth and tenth centuries. What is interesting about them, however, is that two -Ewerby, 'Ivarr's settlement', and Laythorpe, 'Leiðulfr's hamlet' - are compounds of a personal name with the generic by. At the time they received their name it would appear that individuals had already begun to establish several rights. The Sleaford/Kirkby complex must, in some form, date from the Middle Saxon period at the latest.

Embracing almost the whole of the area of the northern part of the wapentake of Aswardhurn, it would appear to have been constituted as 'a multiple estate'. The characteristics of this type of early land organization are well known. The estate centre was essentially a nexus of tribute and the settlements that owed dues to it were grouped to provide all the necessities that the lord and his household required for its sustenance. Specialization was pronounced. The lord's demesne was distinguished from the land of the church and both were distinct from that of the ceorls. Significantly, the burh of the complex was often separate from all three types of element. Sleaford can claim to exhibit some of these characteristics. In 1066 its soke dues were probably rendered largely in coin, but they were of a type that originated in the food rents that were owed by the dependent peasantry. The place-names Kirkby, 'the settlement of the church', and Quarrington, possibly 'the settlement of the millers', hint at defined functions. Within this context, the possibility arises that the burh to which the place-name Burg refers was the defended settlement of the estate.

ã David Roffe, 2000.