Exon Domesday – or The Conqueror’s Commission
22nd September 2014
Most people will have heard of the Domesday Book which is held in the National Archives. What many people will not know is that it is a truncated version of other records generated by William the Conquerors 1086 survey carried out by his commissioners who recorded the taxable assets of the newly acquired kingdom, settlement by settlement and county by county. Only one collection of the original records still exist they are the ones which cover what was then known as the south west region:Cornwall, Devon,Somerset,Dorsetand Wiltshire. The records are contained in what is now called Exon Domesday, which survives in its original form and contains vital evidence relating to the way the survey was conducted and recorded and is here inExeterin the care of the Dean and Chapter and held in the Cathedral Archives.
In 2011 a generous grant from ‘The Friends of Exeter Cathedral’ allowed the 1816 binding to be removed as it had become tight and was causing damage every time the document was being handled.
Whilst some research had been undertaken over the years the opportunity for more in depth work to take place whilst it was unbound was too good an opportunity to miss. Working with Julia Crick we agreed that in order to carry out such a detailed piece of work funding was a key issue and we came to the conclusion that an application to the Arts and Humanities Research Council was the way forward. Julia had by this time moved fromExeterUniversityto take up a Professorship at Kings College London and they in partnership with the Cathedral Library and Archives Team were prepared to make this application.
A considerable amount of preparation work took place and Stephen Baxter one of the world’s Domesday experts came to Exeter in May 2013 and gave us a fascinating evening, talking about what was known, but what was not known about Exon Domesday. Stephen will be one of the Senior Investigators on the research team and has promised to return toExeterto tell us what new information has been discovered.
Throughout our discussions key to our application was always to ensure that the Cathedral would also benefit from the research by offering the potential for educational, cultural and visitor resources.
Our application was submitted in November 2013 and we heard in June of this year that it had been successful. The project will last three years from October 2014 to October 2017. ‘The Friends of Exeter Cathedral’ have accepted the role of Project partners. They will be supporting the project in kind and the Chairman will sit on the Knowledge Transfer Advisory Group together with others from the Cathedral and Exeter University, who will be monitoring the project and promoting what happens after the research is completed.
The aim of the project is to publish the contents of Exon Domesday for the first time and to unlock the evidence which the book contains for the conduct of the survey at both local and central level.
It will create:-
· A series of freely available electronic resources for the use of scholars and the general public, to include text, translation and a digital facsimile or virtual codex.
· The virtual codex will pioneer an innovation in digital codicology which will allow users to rearrange the units of the volume and so reconstitute its content in different orders.
· A detailed examination of the composition of the book and a reconstruction of its creation and history will be published in printed form as a permanent record of the project.
After the research is completed the project is designed to have a legacy. Funds are set aside in the grant for the maintenance of the website after the lifetime of the project itself, other ways of using the outcomes of the project are already under discussion.