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Dersingham Folk
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The History of Dersingham - Early Beginnings
Elizabeth Fiddick ©
Origins of The Name Dersingham
Two different ways of translating this name have been found while looking through old documents. It is a mixture of Celtic and Anglo Saxon words.

a) Breaking the name up into Deorsige + ingas [people of] + ham [homestead] it translates to Homestead of Deorsige's People.

b) Breaking it up into Der [water] + ing [meadow] + ham [dwelling] it translates to Dwelling by the Water Meadow.

The name was recorded in the Domesday Book as Dersincham. In other old documents it has been written as Dasyngham, Darsingham, and finally Dersingham.

The Dersingham Sign
The original Dersingham Village Sign was given to the village by the Women's Institute in May 1967.The sign was designed by Mr. S. Turner and made by Mr. R. Carter of Swaffham.  It is in the form of a Norman shield divided into four quarters. In one quarter are the three crowns of East Anglia. The little ship is a heraldic device called a "lymphad" and reminds us Dersingham was once a fishing port. The three trout represent the fish and the rampant dragon represents strength. The five castellations stand for the village church.

Dersingham and Domesday
Soon after his coronation at Westminster on December 26th 1066 William the Conqueror ordered that a general survey be taken of all the lands in his kingdom; their extent in each hundred or district; their proprietors, tenures and values; the quantity of meadow, pasture, wood and arable land which they contained; and in some counties the number of tenants, cottagers and vassals of all denominations who lived on them.  He appointed commissioners for this purpose and after a labour of many years they brought him in 1085 and exact account of all the landed property in the kingdom. This is the DOMESDAY BOOK. By chance the questions that were asked of each hundred court have survived in a text known as the Ely Inquiry which is preserved in the British Library.

“In order [they asked] the name of the estate; who held it in the time of King Edward; who holds it now; how many hides; how many ploughs on the demesne [the Lord's land]; how many among the men; how many villeins; how many cottars; how many freemen; how many sokemen; how much wood; how much meadow; how much pasture; how many mills; how many fishponds; how much has been added or taken away; how much, taken altogether it used to be worth, and how much now; how much each freeman or sokeman has or had. All this [to be given] three times, that is, in the time of King Edward, as it was when King William first gave the estate, and as it is now; also whether it is possible that more [revenue] could be taken from the estate than is being taken now.”

In 1086 the richest and most populous counties were Suffolk, Norfolk and Lincoln. With a few exceptions William gave to his Norman followers all the lands and estates of the Saxons, particularly in the County of Norfolk. Norfolk was portioned into 1,392 Manors or Lordships.

Peter de Valognes was a nephew of the Conqueror.  Between 1070 -6 he was granted lands in Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Lincolnshire.  In 1086 he became Sheriff of Essex.  He was given most valuable lands in Norfolk and was given a further grant of lands when the estates of Ralph de Guader near Norwich were forfeited due to his participation in the Revolt of the Earls which was the last serious rebellion against the Conqueror.

By 1086 many of the estates held by Peter were in the hands of tenants.  In Dersingham there were seven Manorial Estates. West Hall, Pakenham, Gelham, Shouldham Priory, Binham  Priory, Brookhall and Snaring Hall.

These are extracts taken from the Domesday Book relating to Dersingham.

RICWOLD holds DERSINGHAM which SKEET a free man held before 1066 as a manor.
Always 1 plough in lordship; 1 men's plough.
Always 1 villager; 4 smallholders; 1 slave.
Meadow, 7 1/2 acres. Then 1 salt house.
Also 4 free men, 44 acres. He acquired these to make up his manors, and 1 free man, at 20(acres)
Always 1/2 plough; 4 small holders Value of the whole 20s.

1 free man held DERSINGHAM as a manor before 1066.
Always 2 ploughs in Lordship
7 villagers; 4 small holders. Then and later 4 slaves, now 2.
Meadow 7 1/2 acres; 1 men's plough; 1 salthouse.
Then 5 cobs, now 1. Then 3 head of cattle; 18 pigs; 300 sheep; Now nothing

In the same and, a free man holds 2c. of land in lordship as a manor.
Always 1 1/2 ploughs.
30 villagers; 6 smallholders; 7 slaves.
Meadow, 18 acres; 1 mill; 1 fishery; 1 salthouse. Then 6 cobs, now 5.
Then 4 head of cattle and now. Then 40 pigs, now 21. Then 560 sheep now 646.
De Valognes augmented his land by seizing 12 acres valued at 12 pence belonging to a freeman.
He appears to have got away with this and so seized land belonging to 21 other freemen.

The Hundred and a half of FREEBRIDGE

In DERSINGHAM 1 free man 12 acres Value 12d.
Peter of Valognes holds this man. His predecessor had the patronage only of him and Stigand the Jurisdiction.
In the same 21 free men hold 2 c. of land and 35 acres.
5 small holders.
Always 3 ploughs; meadow, 7 acres.
Value of the whole 40s.

His predecessor had the patronage only of all these; 18 of them were to give 2s. each if they wished to withdraw. Stigand (had) the jurisdiction of them all.
In the same 2 free men 2c of land

Domesday Society
Villein Bonded peasants who pay labour service to the Lord but have a share of common fields.
Bordar: Unfree smallholders
Cottar: Similar, mainly in the South
Servi: Slaves, chattels of their Lords
Freemen and Sokemen: Usually paid money but were free to buy and sell land; 80 percent of these were in the three eastern counties of Suffolk, Lincoln and Norfolk.
Chief tenants
Miscellaneous rural workers

There are only a few places in the village that have retained the same name for 500 years. One is Doddshill. It was called after a family Dodys.  Other places mentioned in old documents are Emlotts and The Park.  Emletts Hill Common features on the map of 1839; it is opposite The Feathers. The cottage there today dates from 1801 and is called The Emblems. The Park is that piece of land from Park Hill reaching towards the upper boundary of the village.

Many of the old street names and land names are to be found in old documents but no maps exist to show where they were.
Some old street names that were once to be found in the village
Found in 15th century documents
Southgate, Eastgate, Westgate, Streetgate,  Snetyshamgate,  Chalkgate,  Haresgate,  Ffychamway,  Anmergate,  Bircham Way,  Newton Way, Twerlgate, Carlepytgate, Herysgate, Snoringhallgate, The Morgate, Brokegate, Kyrk or Chychgate,  Chapelgate, King's Highway,

Mention is made of "A path by the swamp leading to Doddshill called Wadgate"; recently known as 'Elmlands'
Old land names mentioned in documents
Mykyllhyll,  Mydellhyll,  Poolkpyt,  Urchynsmeer,  Chalkgatemeer,  Processyonmeer,  Woodmanyag,  Le Brynk,  Chyllhow,(how = hollow) Blakland,  Wateryland.

Marketstye could refer to a market place once near the present playing fields. The Rev. Lewis in his book in the library records that a Mr. Parker told him that a lane between the Foresters Hall and his cottage used to continue along the back of his cottage and down by the hedge near the Cricket Pitch. On the deeds of his house it was referred to as Market Lane. A footpath runs down by the Foresters Hall today.

There were seven Manors in the village of Dersingham. A Manor was the unit of rural organisation. Essentially it was a large estate which was the property of a lord. The Manor House was originally the dwelling of the Lord or his residential Bailiff. In the 11th Century it was an informal group of buildings, a Hall, Chapel, Kitchen and farm buildings, within a defensive wall and ditch. The Hall of the Manor House was the scene of the Manorial Court and a meeting place for the workers. The business of the Manorial Courts in Dersingham mostly consisted of the transfer of land from one tenant to another or the payment of rent.

The basic characteristics were the division of land between the Lord's Demesne and that assigned to the labourers. In the early centuries after Domesday the land was cultivated on a 2 or 3-field system of crop rotation, one field always lying fallow. The fields were divided into strips with those of the Lord scattered among those of his labourers. A peasant could own 20 - 100 small plots of land that were well scattered so that each had a share of both the good and the poor soil.

The peasant owed certain duties to his Lord. For example he would be required to work on the Lord's land for so many days a week, bringing his own ox team if he had one. He would be expected to work on the Lord's land during harvest and other important times of the farming year. He would have a share in the use and profit of the village meadows, pastures, woodland and commons.

This system was slowly changed as the Landowner began to find it more convenient to substitute rent charges for services, or to lease land to farmers and to hire men to work his land rather that rely on the services of an often disgruntled and unwilling labourer. In 1349 when the Black Death swept the country the labour force was greatly reduced and far more expensive to hire so many land - owners turned to sheep farming as a cheaper use of the land.

Norfolk and South West Suffolk operated a farming system that was unique to the area. It was known as the Fold Course system whereby the Manorial Lord had the right to graze his sheep over his tenants' strips in the open fields after harvest until sowing. He also had the right to graze on fallow land in the summer. The manure dropped by the sheep was of great benefit to the arable crops. Tenants were often allowed to run a few sheep in their Lord's flock and cattle were allowed on the open fields with the sheep in winter. The system should have been mutually beneficial but the Manorial Courts are full of instances of the Lord abusing the privilege. The tenants began to consolidate their strips and not allow access to the Lord's flock. Also the system led to great social division as the Landowner became the owner of great flocks with as many as 15,000 sheep whilst the tenants could only own a few sheep or cattle and relied on the arable crops for income.

The whole system of strip farming was uneconomical and gradually during the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries landowners applied for their land to be enclosed, consolidated and redistributed. Villagers resisted consolidation as the old strip system meant they had a fair share of both good and bad land. Consolidation could mean a peasant having all poor land, or land at the edge of the village and far from his home.

Communal land was enclosed and divided up for private ownership among landowners and local gentry. This was often disastrous for the smallholders and landless peasants who depended for a major part of their subsistence on the right to graze livestock. Many became paupers as a result.