by Ron Dale

People have lived in the area of our village for thousands of years, but there is no written record of their existence, only their archaeological remains in the soil and in Stanstead these have been few. Even the Romans who built their villas around here only bequeathed us a few coins and some bricks to remind us of their stay.  The first known written mention of the village name, Stanestede, was in the Domesday Book of 1086 (or 1085 as it is now reported). It is possible that somewhere lurks an older record of our village name on some shrivelled and stained parchment within the dusty depths of the National Archives, but for the moment we are compelled to begin our village story with the reign of Alwine, the Saxon lord of the manor, who would have been replaced by the Norman knight Ranulf at some time shortly after 1066. Full details of the village at the time of the Domesday Survey may be found elsewhere on this web-site, but this report provides updated information on Alwine Gottone and Ranulf.


He was lord of the manor of Stanestede in 1066, according to the Domesday Record and therefore, our village history begins with his tenure. We do not know what happened to him after the Conquest or when his lands were seized by Ranulf, brother of Ilger, who was still lord in 1086. What would their first meeting have been like? Was it violent?  We can only guess that it was certainly not friendly. When Daniel Secker, surveyor, was hired to do a stone-by-stone survey of the church of St. James for the Church Commissioners in 2005, he reported that the earliest part in the area of the nave was from the Saxon period. He said that judging by the size and shape of the nave it was Alwine the Saxon lord who made that section and not the Norman Ranulf. Mr. Secker is a specialist in the archaeology of Saxon churches and he dated the earliest part of the nave to circa 1060, far earlier than was previously realised.

    We know little else about Alwine except that a Frith Wood was named after him.     Alwine’s Frith was a wood with a house within it, mentioned several times in the 12th century charters of Waltham Abbey, its existence forgotten for centuries, but recently rediscovered. In the 12th century it was tenanted by Sir Simon of Stanstead, but owned by lord of the manor, Roger de Wanchy. (Early Charters of Waltham Abbey, ed. Ruth Rainsford, Boydell Press, 2004). It would seem that the Frith had always been the property of the local lord and it was obviously once owned by Alwine for this reason and it also carried his name. This being the case, he probably lived at the Frith in a large wooden hall, common for a lord at the time. The Frith was located on the hilltops of Easneye (the exact site located by Ron Dale and Ray Dixon on the ground, July, 2014). This historic piece of land was a 10-acre wood still on the 1840 Tithe Map but alas today it is just a ploughed field, no different from all those around it. (See reports on Alwine’s Frith elsewhere on this web-site).

    Our Saxon lord’s name is usually recorded as Alwine Gottone, but sometimes Gotton or even Godtone. I first believed the secondary name to be proprietary as many are and searched in the U.K. and throughout Europe for a place called Gottone or Godtone but was unsuccessful. After hours of searching I found mention of the word Gottone in a book about the Fall of the Roman Empire. In Birth of the Stormers of Rome: Gothic Ethnogenesis and Migrations, by Periklis Deliglannis, it is recorded here that the old Latin word for a Goth was Gottone.  Once again, this is an example of reverting to a study of ancient language to discover new information. (See The Meaning of Easneye elsewhere on this web-site). There are contrasting opinions about the origins of the Goths. Some historians claim they were from Sweden and north Germany with others claiming they had Slavic roots in Poland. They are normally considered to have been active only in the 5th and 6th centuries as most were assimilated into the Roman Empire, but the language of the Goths survived for many centuries after this. Even as late as the 16th century Crimean Gothic language was still used in that part of the world. So here we have Alwine the Goth!

(In Domesday Book is a record of a man called Gothmund who was overlord and tenant of a cottage and small toft of land in our village, both in 1066 and still in 1086, an exceptional occurrence. He also would have had Gothic origins).

    Alwine held only a few manors, in addition to Stanestede, these being Hunsdon, Ayot (St. Lawrence), Codicote, Oxwick and Broadwater in Hertfordshire with Quicksbury and Harlow in Essex. He was also overlord of Stanestede, Ayot and Sawbridgeworth.  Alwine’s estates were in a cluster, fairly close to each other on the borders of Hertfordshire and Essex. At that time Stanestede was classed as a town and was far more important than his other manors and it is believed that for this reason he would have made our village his base.


         Our first Norman lord, Ranulf, brother of Ilger, was far richer, holding 33 manors scattered across eight Home and East Anglian counties. As there were several Ranulfs mentioned in the Domesday Survey (as there were Alwines), he was identified by the fact that he had a brother named Ilger (this is today a family name). Ilger was the tutor to King William’s second son, Robert who was killed by a stag in the New Forest when only a young man.    

Statue of William  the Conqueror at Falaise, France

     In addition to being the first Norman lord of Stanstead, Ranulf’s many other estates included Nazeing and Epping. After his death his estates were broken up, and he died without issue.  Waltham Abbey was granted many of these, with Nazeing granted to them in 1189 by King Richard I and the Fitzwilliam family taking over some of the other lands. Nazeing was classified as a Shroudlands by the abbey (i.e. its income used to supply clothing allowances for the canons).

    In the Domesday Survey we encounter for the first time the complex names of Normans to whom our lands were given by the all-conquering William.  Most of these men who accompanied William on the battlefield and survived were given large estates, most likely comprised of many small manors in different parts of the country, so that they did not become over-powerful in one area and cause a possible threat to William.  When William landed on our shores he had an estimated number of about 10,000 to12,000 men: standard-bearers, men-at-arms, yeomen, freemen and a large number of knights, his aristocracy. When he doled out the lands of King Harold, the higher the rank, the more lands were given. Some lesser ranks were given just one small village, whilst others received four or five or even more manors.  The richest became the foundations of British aristocracy which has survived to this day in many families under anglicised names.

    In Stanstead’s Domesday Survey are mentioned several Normans, the lowest in rank being Ranulf, brother of Ilger, the lord of the manor and above him was Geoffrey de Bec as overlord, one of the knights listed with William at Senlac and he had several manors in the south-east of England. The Bec castle was about 10 miles from Le Havre in France and the family were very ancient and highly respected. Another name was Geoffrey de Mandeville and he is also listed in the Battle Abbey Rolls. His name crops up on several other manors. However, Geoffrey de Lee and Geoffrey de Runeville are not listed as knights, but the listing of these is unreliable as it is reported that the Battle lists were altered. Who really was with William on the Invasion and who came after the battle was won is not always very clear.

     For the tiny manor or Rye which had then no residents and is today part of Stanstead Abbotts, Peter de Valognes was the lord, one of his many estates. He was also lord of Hertford and had Hertford Castle. The overlord of Rye was Odo, the half-brother of William the Conqueror. He had been made Bishop of Bayeux at the age of 19 by William in 1049. After the Conquest he was the second largest landowner in the country with estates in 23 counties and when William travelled back to Normandy, Odo acted as Regent in his place. However later in his life he became over-ambitious and planned a military expedition to Italy. It was believed he wished to overthrow the Pope and take over the role himself, although his plan was not clear. He was imprisoned for about five years. He was eventually released and he died in 1092.

AFTER 1066

William of Normandy became King William I of England when he was crowned at Westminster on Christmas Day, 1066. This meant that in that fateful year England had three Kings: Edward the Confessor, Harold and William.  William had persuaded his knights to invade England by offering them lands in a country which they knew was well organized under the Saxons and was Christian and was also very rich. Its only problem, William understood well was that it had not been ready to defend itself and a country not ready to fight would soon be swallowed up as he had done. He soon began building mighty castles across the land, as many as 86 were built during his 21-year reign. He also introduced horses as cavalry in his army so that it was swift-moving as opposed to the slow Saxon foot soldiers. He retained much of the Saxon system of administration, but legal language changed from English to French or Latin. Additionally, to ensure he had on call a fighting force to defend his realm he introduced the manorial knight system where he had in each manor at least one knight, trained and armed ready to do military service annually in exchange for a plot of land (knights fee system).

    Understandably there was much resentment from the local population at this take-over of land and property and we can only guess at the local problem this caused. Reports written afterwards say that these were tragic times with mass destruction of property, burning of fields, slaughter, enslavement and great famine, with people surviving on a diet of insects and rats and with a large refugee problem. (This sounds familiar to modern ears.)

    William took over the estates of those who fought against him at Hastings and Stanstead was on King Harold’s land! Some of the Saxon English who were prepared to submit to the Normans even changed their Saxon names to Norman names such as William and were allowed small estates. There were attempts at revolt, especially in Yorkshire, but William ruled with an iron fist and was determined to stamp out any signs of opposition. By the time of his death in 1087 there was hardly any property left in the hands of an Englishman. He was cruel and harsh and after the death of his wife Mathilda in 1083 he became tyrannical. He died in Normandy on 9 September, 1087.  Writing in circa 1130 many years after William’s death, historian Orderic Vitalis recorded what purports to be a deathbed confession from the dying Conqueror:

‘I treated the native inhabitants of the kingdom with unreasonable severity, cruelty, oppression, and caused the death of thousands by starvation and war, especially in Yorkshire. In great fury I descended on the English...’  (N.B. Even if God forgave him, I do not think Yorkshire folk have).

    These do not sound like the words of the brutal tyrant history shows him to have been, but perhaps they are the words Orderic thought history would like to hear.   



Inevitably we will have gaps in the history of our village, but not many. We have no knowledge of any names before Alwine in 1066 but few villages have. After the death of Ranulf we have another gap. We know that later in the 12th century our lord of the manor was Roger de Wanchy (or Wancy), who was the man responsible for the loss of the manor to Waltham Abbey circa 1170 due to his debts. From about this time the abbot and canons of Waltham Abbey were the lords of the manor until 1531 when it was handed back to Henry VIII. From that date onwards, our record of manorial lords is more or less complete to the present day. (See A History of Stanstead Abbotts, Rye House and St. Margarets, S.A.L. H.S., 2012, featured on our home page).

     The 12th and 13th century histories were mainly provided to me by the early charters of Waltham Abbey (see these also on this web-site). Other centuries I have mentioned, mainly from property transfers (Feet of Fines documents) and local court hearings. Research is ongoing and as the years unfold, hopefully others will undertake serious work on completing the jig-saw puzzle of our history, but of course it can never really be complete. There will always be more to find... Fortunately.  

               Ron Dale, May, 2017