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Notes (in Latin) on a football scandal


William the Conqueror commissioned the Domesday Book in 1085, 19 years after his successful invasion of England. Allowing for some significant exclusions — among them the city of London — this extraordinary survey of the country was completed by the end of the summer of 1086.

Domesday BookIts 413 pages were written in Latin by one scribe and checked by one assistant. Its purpose was to provide William with information about his subjects' assets and the amount of tax the country could sustain.

In the process, of course, the Domesday Book gave a detailed picture of the state of the economy and the society 20 years on from the massive disruption of the conquest.

All over England and in parts of Wales towns and villages awaited the visit of the royal commissioners who would record land ownership, tenantry, livestock, buildings, woodland, natural resources such as animals and fish, farm equipment, and much else. When the commissioners arrived, it was, as people in later years came to see it, a kind of Day of Judgment — hence the name: Doomsday.

Sleepy villages like Alstonefield, on the Staffordshire/Derbyshire border, with its fine village green and population of a few hundred people spread thinly through the district, were of interest to the commissioners who recorded that in the year of their enquiries, 1086, Roger Earl of Shrewsbury held the Manor and its land which they assessed at '3 virgates'. A virgate was a land measurement roughly equal to 30 acres which in turn is about 12 hectares.

But because the survey was not as exhaustive or as wide-ranging as may have been originally planned — William's death in September 1087 was one of several events which sapped the enterprise of some of its original momentum — there were villages which, waiting apprehensively for the commissioners to arrive, were spared such notoriety.

To be overlooked by the Domesday commissioners turned out to be a blessing then but a pity later on. In modern times 'mentioned in the Domesday Book' lends a certain cachet to some otherwise unexceptional villages and towns.

One that was spared a visitation was the Hertfordshire village of Eslingadene. As historian Henry Bateson notes, 'Neither the church nor the manor is mentioned in the Domesday Book.'

As a matter of fact, it seems that, while the years and centuries rolled by, not much at all was especially noteworthy about Eslingadene. It was, as Bateson describes it, 'A placid, picturesque village, typically English in its scenery ... it commands a magnificent view across the Lea Valley to where the distant skyline is broken by Burnham Beeches.

'Never of any importance, [it] has played but little part in England's history, and its historic associations are trifling.'

But one thing did change. The town, which in the tenth century had been known as Esyngden and which became Isendene and then Eslingadene over the next 200 years, seemed in some odd, abstract way to enjoy its chameleon character. If it had nothing much else to offer, it would damn well keep on changing its name if not its face. Unmentioned in the Domesday Book to be sure, but bobbing up every now and then under a new titular disguise.

And so it was that, in 1545, though many still called it Eslingadene and a few diehards stuck to Isendene, when Henry VIII granted the local manor to Giles Bridges, a London citizen and wool merchant, the manor, consistent with an alternative line of nomenclature stretching back to the tenth century, was called Essendon.

And Essendon it remained. One blot on its impressive escutcheon — Party cheveronwise sable and argent three griffons' heads razed and counter coloured — occurred when a certain John Middleton (presumably not a relative of the present Duchess of Cambridge, but who knows) petitioned in 1666 for the restoration of his 'setting dog taken from him with affronting language' by Viscount Cranborne, who is described in the petition as lord of the manor of Essendon.

This was probably the same 'John Middleton of Essendon, esquire' who in 1665 was presented with others at quarter sessions for 'riotous assembly and entry into the close of Richard Pooley at Essendon and stealing firewood'.

But Eslingadene/Isendene/Essendon was its customary quiet and bucolic self when Richard Green, one of its respectable citizens, farewelled it in the 1850s, migrated to Australia, settled near Melbourne and, honouring his native village and his upbringing, called the area Essendon.

Like its northern hemisphere namesake, Essendon, needless to say, does not appear in the Domesday Book, but Macbeth-like vaulting ambition, disjoined from care and humanity, has enrolled it in a modern Doomsday register and stained its name in a way that seems ineradicable.

A digital search of the name 'Essendon' simply brings up a torrent of references to Thymosin beta 4, tb4, scandal, and so on, replacing and overwhelming so much that is honourable and proper. So that if a latter day Domesday scribe were to annotate the name 'Essendon' in his records, he might have to write, however reluctantly or sadly: Omni ope atque opera. Whatever it takes.


Brian MatthewsBrian Matthews is honorary professor of English at Flinders University and an award winning columnist and biographer.

Topic tags: Brian Matthews, England, Essendon Football Club, William the Conqueror



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Existing comments

Any missive containing reference to Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (nee Middleton) is of no little interest to a semi-enthusiastic observer of the Royal Family, such as myself. Indeed, in the village of Middleton, Lancashire, The Church of St Leonard boasts an early sixteenth-century stained-glass window depicting a company of archers and commemorates a religious confraternity. The window is a powerful reminder of the diversity of religious confraternities and guilds, embracing groups of craftsmen and professionals as well as those with particular devotional interests (Thank you "Parish Church Treasures"). Just what all this has to do with Essendon is quislibet scriptor coniecto.

Pam | 09 February 2016  

Car'n Bombers!

John | 14 February 2016  

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