"Taxes Paid In Fish"

One of the most famous of all our public documents is Domesday Book. This was compiled in 1085-86, after considerable time had been spent collecting the information. Its purpose was to work out what England was worth in terms of agricultural produce so that William the Conqueror could decide what taxes might be raised. Other data was included as well, especially the mention of both freshwater and maritime fisheries. In the case of the latter, Lowestoft is not listed, but many of the nearby villages, both coastal and inland, are shown to have paid herring rents to Hugh de Montfort, one of the main landowners in the area. This shows that the fish were obviously caught locally and were easily available. In fact, throughout the whole of the mediaeval period, herrings were so valued as a foodstuff that they were quite often used as a substitute currency.

Lowestoft is described in Domesday Book as a small, agricultural village with 480 acres of arable land, five acres of meadow and a small area of wood. The stock consisted of 160 sheep, eight cattle, ten pigs, eight geese and five plough teams of oxen (eight animals to the team). The human population was made up of 16 labouring men and their families. In addition to this, there was a subsidiary settlement within the area called Akethorp(e), which had a priest who lived there. His estate was 80 acres in extent and it was farmed by three tenants, who shared one and a half plough teams between them. There was a small area of woodland, one acre of grazing meadow, and the stock amounted to 48 sheep and three pigs. There were also seven other men who lived in the place and who cultivated an unspecified acreage. It can't have been very large as it only required half a plough team to work it. No church is mentioned in connection with the priest (Aylmar by name), but it is quite likely that one existed and it could well have stood on the site of St. Margaret's, the present parish church of Lowestoft. The number of perhaps 20 or so families, as listed above, may have given Lowestoft a population of something like 100 to 120 people, and there may have been other folk who were not included in the survey. With herring rents being so important locally, there is little doubt that some of the men were involved in fishing off the beach.