THE DOOMESDAY BOOK
The Domesday Book of 1086 records the name as Herlei and Erlei and history has allowed the name to evolve into many spellings. The Domesday Book spelling could be a corruption of the original. Exactly what the name means is open to some debate. Many hundreds of place names have ley or leigh within them - which is Anglo Saxon for wood or clearing, locally this would apply to both Earley and Woodley. Er or Ear could refer to eagles or gravel pit, (Gelling 1972) . Both are possible, birds of prey would have been a common sight in the Middle Ages. More recently a Golden Eagle was shot in Berkshire in 1924 - the unfortunate creature became a focal point in Reading Museum at the time. A few sightings of White tailed eagles were recorded in the County up until 1927. Today one occasionally sees a Sparrowhawk hunting over Maiden Erlegh Lake. Red kites have recently been re-introduced near Henley in Oxfordshire, so large birds of prey might one day return to our skies. The area does have large gravel deposits and thus this is a possible meaning. The most likely is however, "Eagle Wood".
Domesday records two manors, Erlegh St Bartholomew and Erlegh St Nicholas, also known as Erlegh Regis. The de Erlegh family held the manors from about 1160 until 1362. John de Erlegh, who owned the Manor around the year 1292, was known as the White Knight - thus the manor of St Nicholas was renamed. The other manor also had a name change to Erlegh Court. It is recorded that the Manor of Maiden Erlegh, Erley Maydens, was attested from 1502, and that it was formed out of Earley Whiteknights in the 14th Century (Gelling 1972). The size of the estate is believed to have been some 19 acres. It is hard to discover the exact meaning of the term Maiden, but it could refer to the fact that it was owned or occupied by young women.
There is evidence that a Deer Park existed within Richard de Erlegh’s Manor in 1276 being some 40 acres in size, but it is not clear where is was situated, (Hatherley and Cantor 1979). However, a writer in 1944 records that a deep ditch ran along the south side of Wokingham Road near Maiden Erlegh Manor, but had been infilled to widen the road, (Dormer 1944)(Reading Chronicle 1983). This could have been a feature to prevent deer from escaping from the old Deer Park.
Doomsday entries for Erlegh Manor:
Domesday place name: Erlei/Herlei People mentioned: Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel; Aethelgifu, free woman; Almaer; Almaer, free man; Eadraed the priest; Earl Harold; Roger de Breteuil, Earl of Hereford; Froger the sheriff; Gilbert; Hervey; King Edward as landholder; King Edward as lord; Leofflaed; Peter, Bishop of Chester; Priest of Geoffrey de Mandeville; Queen Edith; Rainbald; Richard; Robert; Saxi; Walter Giffard; William the deacon; Wulfflaed; Wulfric, free man
Place name: Earley, Berkshire Folio: 58r Great Domesday Book Domesday place name: Erlei/Herlei People mentioned: Aelfgeat; Alsige of Faringdon; Alweald the chamberlain; Beorhtweard; Church of Holy Cross of Waltham; Earl Harold; Father of Thorir; Froger the sheriff; Godric the sheriff; Henry de Ferrers; Herman, Bishop of Sherborne; King Edward as landholder; King William as landholder; Lang; Osmund de Sees, Bishop of Salisbury; Queen Edith; Ranulph Flambard; Reinbald son of Peter, Bishop of Chester; Roger d'Ivry; Roger the priest; Saxi; Theodric; Thorir; Walkelin, Bishop of Winchester; William de Saint-Calais, Bishop of Durham; Wulfwine the canon; Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury
Place name: Earley, Berkshire Folio: 62r Great Domesday Book Domesday place name: Erlei/Herlei People mentioned: Aelfric; Aelfric, free man; Algot; Almaer, free man; Alric; Alwine; Azur, steward of King Edward; Beorhtheah; Beorhtric; Cola the Englishman; Dunn; Edward; Edwin, free man; Esger; Geoffrey de Mandeville; Gilbert de Breteuil; Gilbert de Ghent; Godwine; Herlewin; King Edward as lord; King William as arbiter; Laurence; Leofgifu, free woman; Odo, Bishop of Bayeux; Ordwulf; Osbern Giffard; Payne; Richard; Richard Puignant; Robert; Robert d'Oilly; Robert fitzGerald; Robert of Stafford; Saeward; Saewine, free man; Saswalo; Tunni; Vigot of Wallingford; Wibert the priest