Eswalt and the neighbouring manor of Essewelle had once been part of of the manor of Oesewalum, also Oeswalum and Oseuualun, which had belonged to Christ Church Cathedral Priory in Canterbury and then came into the possession of the Crown, probably during the latter part of the 10th century.
The Domesday Survey of 1086 records that during the reign of King Edward the Confessor [1042-1066] Eswalt was held by Alnoth Cild or Cilt, also known as Alnod or Aethelnoth Cild or Cilt. Some 19th century, and later, reference books state that Cild or Cilt refers to royal birth and that Alnoth was a younger brother of Harold Godwinson, briefly king of England before his defeat and death at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Other more recent works believe Cild or Cilt, translates as “the young or younger”, or possibly “noble”, and that he was not a brother of Harold.
Young Alnoth, also Alnoth of Kent and Alnoth of Kent, was a major landholder in 1066, with several very large estates in Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire, totalling over 180 hides. His estates in Kent and eastern Wessex alone had a value of £260. Eswalt was his only estate in East Kent, the others: Chart Sutton; Eccles; Boxley; Bilsington; Pimp’s Court in Loose; West Farleigh; Hawkhurst,; and Merclesham were all in the west of the county. Possibly the fact that Eswalt straddles the road running from Sandwich to Eastry through Nonington and on through the Elham Valley to Lyminge and Lympne is of some relevance. Also the northern edge of Eswalt there is a possible estate boundary formed by Cherry Garden Lane, referred to in the 16th century as St. Margaret’s Street, which runs from Canterbury to St. Margaret’s Bay. Cherry Garden Way crosses over the Sandwich to Lympne road forming a cross-roads which again may be relevant to the importance of Eswalt.
Alnoth was a friend and protégé of Harold Godwinson and in the Kent Domesday Book there is a reference that “’Through Harold’s violence AlnothCild stole from St Martin [of Dover] Merclesham and Hawkhurst, for which he granted the canons an unequal exchange”. Harold provided support to Alnoth enabling him to hold on to the two estates taken from the canons of St Martin’s Church at Dover for which the canons claimed they had been given an unfair exchange.
Alnoth was an important man in Kent, especially in and around Canterbury, and he may have had ancestors who had been ealdormen. The Kent Domesday refers to the fact that when the King came to Canterbury or Sandwich he was obliged to provide food and drink for members of a bodyguard provided for him by Alnoth Cild and other landowners of similar status. It’s possible Alnoth was the portreeve of Canterbury, which would at least in part explain the often used “of Canterbury” suffix to his name. The office of portreeve was a Royal appointee with its origins in the reign of Edward the Elder [899-924]. A pre-Conquest portreeve was responsible for the collection of taxes and to ensure that trade was not conducted outside of the port without the supervision of the portreeve or his deputies. A port was a town or borough with a designated market, and was not necessarily a sea-port.
At this time the English system of civil administration and its efficiency in collecting taxes to provide the Crown with an impressive regular annual revenues was the envy of Scandinavia and Northern Europe. The large sums raised annually were certainly one of the main reasons for Duke William of Normandy wanting the English throne. King Edward the Confessor’s income has been calculated to have been some £6,000 per annum, and Earl Godwin, Harold’s father and by far the richest of the great earls and the most powerful man in England, had an annual income of some £4,000. Rich pickings indeed for William.
After the defeat of Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hasting’s by William of Normandy in October of 1066 Alnoth was allowed to retain his holdings, and when the newly crowned William I, the Conquer, returned to Normandy in March of 1067 Alnoth was one of several prominent Englishmen who accompanied William as “honoured guests”, in reality hostages. When he returned to Normandy William left Odo of Bayeux and William FitzOsbern as regents of England.
There are conflicting reports of what happened to Alnoth. One report records he never returned from Normandy, another that on his return he was imprisoned at Salisbury until his death. However, what is known is that William I gave all of Alnoth’s estates, including Eswalt, to Odo, Earl of Kent and Bishop of Bayeaux, and also half-brother of the King. Whether or not Alnoth had some connection with the 1067 Kentish Rebellion against Odo is not known, but if he had supported it that could explain why he disappeared.
The Domesday survey of 1086 records that Eswalt was one of the holdings of Odo, Bishop of Bayeaux and recorded as: “In Eastry Hundred………….Aethelwold held ESWALT from the Bishop (Odo, Bishop of Bayeaux), It answers for 3 sulungs. Land for… In lordship 1 plough. 6 villagers with 2 smallholders have 3 ploughs. 2 slaves; a little wood for fencing. Value before 1066 £9; now £15. Young Alnoth held it from King Edward”, (translation from “History from sources, Domesday Book of Kent”, by Phillimore, published in 1983).
Odo, Bishop of Bayeaux was the half-brother of William I, the Conquerer, their mother was Herleva of Falaise. Odo was created Earl of Kent by William in 1067 to reward his support during William’s invasion and subsequent conquestof England. The earldom gave Odo an annual income of £.3,000 from 184 lordships in Kent and numerous manors in 12 other counties making him by far the richest tenant-in-chief in England. He was also given the custody of Dover Castle, the “lock and key” of England and then probably the most important castle in England. However, this was not enough for Odo and he set about increasing his wealth by taking whatever he wanted by force.
In Dover, Odo confiscated homes and took the Old Guildhall for his household, as well as allowing one of his tenants to build a tidal water- mill at the harbour entrance in Dover which caused the harbour to silt up which had devastating impact on shipping. Odo’s misdeeds quickly made him many enemies in Kent, and by the autumn of 1067 there was open revolt against him mainly in and around Dover. Such was their hatred of Odo the Kentish rebels appealed to Eustace, Count of Boulogne for help. Eustace was himself a hated man in Dover, but apparently less hated than Odo. In 1051 there had been a brawl in Dover between Eustace’s retainers and the citizens of Dover which had caused a rift between King Edward the Confessor and Harold Godwinson which resulted in the temporary exile of the Godwinson family.
Eustace had been a loyal supporter of William I and had fought alongside him at the Battle of Hastings. However, Eustace was dissatisfied with his reward from and decided to support the Kent rebels in their fight against Odo in the hope of gaining more wealth. Eustace crossed the Channel to support the rebels in their attempt to besiege and take Dover Castle, but he soon realized the siege would fail and he returned to Boulogne. As a result of his support for the rebels his English property was confiscated by William I, but was later returned when the two were reconciled. After Eustace’s retreat to Boulogne the Kent rebellion soon failed and Odo regained control of Kent.
Now secure in his tenure Odo continued to increase his wealth by whatever means he saw fit which soon brought him into direct conflict from Lanfranc, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who also had extensive land-holdings in Kent. In 1076 this confrontation led to Odo being brought to trial on Pennenden Heath near Maidstone accused of defrauding the Crown and Diocese of Canterbury. After the trial Odo had to return some of the illegally obtained land holdings whilst other assets were re-apportioned.
Odo’s greed and ambition led to his downfall in 1082 when William arrested and imprisoned him for seditiously planning without the King’s permission a military expedition to Italy, supposedly in pursuit of the Papacy. Odo’s earldom and remaining estates were confiscated by the Crown and he was imprisoned until 1087 when William was persuaded on his deathbed to release him.