vills, or village

Latin, villa.

Village is an infelicity in the Phillimore translation of the Latin word, which would have been better rendered as vill. However, the original translation has been retained here to avoid confusion. The vill was an administrative unit, not a type of settlement. It might contain a village, but it might equally contain hamlets or scattered farms or some combination of village, hamlet and farm. There is no means of determining which from Domesday Book.

Until a generation ago it was generally assumed that many, perhaps the majority of Domesday vills were nucleated villages, and that nucleated villages were an ancient feature of the countryside in the eleventh century, as old as the Anglo-Saxon settlement of the fifth and sixth centuries. This is no longer credited. There is as yet no consensus as to the date at which nucleated villages began to emerge on a significant scale, though the period between the tenth and twelfth centuries is held to be the most probable.

While known to be an incomplete and sometimes misleading guide to settlement, Domesday Book is still overwhelmingly the most important source on this subject. Of some 15,000 places recorded there, Domesday is the first record of their existence in some 95% of instances. In some parts of the country - notably in the north - a map of places known to exist before they were recorded in Domesday Book would be almost blank. In the East Riding of Yorkshire, for instance, only 4 place-names are recorded in sources earlier than 1086; Domesday Book names another 437.

H.C. Darby, Domesday England (1977), discusses Domesday's record of vills and the problems it poses. For more detail on settlement types, see Christopher C. Taylor, Village and farmstead (1983). Taylor's sumptuous edition (1988) of W.G. Hoskins, The making of the English landscape (1955), points up the radical changes in interpretation of the making of the landscape which have occurred since the publication of Hoskins' classic work. John J.N. Palmer, 'Domesday vills', in Historical atlas of East Yorkshire, edited by Susan Neave and Stephen Ellis (1996), pages 30-31, and W.G. Hoskins, Provincial England (1963), discuss two extreme cases of the relationship of Domesday place-names to contemporary settlements.