MOBILE PHONE USERS WILL OBTAIN A BETTER EXPERIENCE IF ROTATED TO HORIZONTAL
In the middle of the 11th century, King Edward the Confessor lived a life of piety and spurned the Saxon warlike ways. He preferred the culture of Normandy and so the Normans became very influential in the English court. William, a Norman, believed that Edward had appointed him his successor but in 1066 when Edward died, the Saxons attempted to retake control and appointed Harold their king. William found no shortage of French barons willing to help him contest the throne by force. Everyone knows what happened next!
When William's army marched on London it is widely reported that he laid many lands waste and subsequently gave possession of lands and positions to his followers. However, there is no evidence for this locally.
William wanted to know the taxable value of his newly-conquered land and in 1086 ordered the Doomsday survey. At the time Mere was a royal hunting estate so did not pay taxes to the King. For this reason it was not included in the survey although the two small estates outside the royal estate (Zeals parish and three small holdings in Mere) were included. The recorded lands in Mere were held by Godric the huntsmen (whose duties would likely have been in the Forest of Selwood), Ulvric and Ulnod. These names indicate that the land remained in the hands of the Saxons.
At the beginning of the medieval period the community was large enough to
support its own church. The foundation Charter for the
cathedral of Old Sarum of 1091 listed the properties of the newly-formed diocese
including 'half of the
The implication of this is that the parish must have been reasonably substantial but not large.
By 1408 Henry, the Prince of Wales, held Mere and he was granted a Wednesday market and two annual fairs; one in May and another in August. The May fair and the market survived into the 18th century.
Much fine building was done during the late 14th. and early 15th. centuries. The Parish Church was enlarged with chantries either side of the chancel, a house provided for the three Chantry priests (The Chantry built 1424). The new Woodlands Manor (c.1370-80) which had a chapel on the upper floor, a vicarage (now The Old Rectory), and a deanery in Castle Street (now demolished) all built at this time.
The Grange in Water Street is probably a 15th century building and was the residence of the bailiff of the Duchy of Cornwall.
Mere shows all the signs of a typical medieval communal village:
In medieval times most villages grew higgledy-piggledy from a collection of farmsteads. But the major villages in the royal and abbey lands seem to have been planned. Mere is a nucleated village and shows signs of planning - there is a main east-west road with parallel back roads. The houses fronting the main road sit on plots which are a uniform width and run the full length between the main road and the back roads.
Outside the village we see scattered farms which grew into the small hamlets which surround Mere. The holdings recorded in Doomsday grew to form the estates and manors of Zeals and Woodlands.
The overall picture not of prosperity. Harvest failures were not uncommon; on average every seven or so years. It is quite possible that the population level of the peasantry was, like that of wild birds today, determined by the severity and frequency of these regular failures. In this respect things did not begin to improve until the opening up of the transport system and the ability to move food between regions.
But trade did not bring just food and goods ......
Rising (and falling) Population
The Administrative System
During Medieval times, Mere continued to be owned and managed by the Duchy. Peasants paid various taxes to their lord, the Duchy, together with a tenth of their produce. Peasants were also required to work typically 2 days a week on their lord's lands.
At the beginning of this period old Salisbury (Sarum) existed as a heavily defended hilltop settlement topped by a Norman castle; by the end of the period it has been rebuilt as a walled town adjacent to the new Salisbury cathedral down in the Avon valley. The importance of intermediate towns such as Wilton and Shaftesbury continued throughout the whole period.
In the nearly thousand years from Saxon times until the dissolution of the monasteries, the subsistence of daily life remained almost unchanged for peasants. Yet during medieval times there were important structural changes. The building of the castle transformed Mere from just a small agricultural village to a small town. The biggest change experienced by the peasantry was probably the decay of the feudal system. Slavery (serfdom) was eliminated; many peasants became leaseholders and payment of rent replaced the need for compulsory work on the Duchy lands. As the powers of one lord waned, that of another sort of lord took its place - a church was built and a vicar appointed.
1. Historical Atlas of Britain, Falkus and Gillingham. p167