The Third Leader: Book keeping

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The Independent Online

Tick that box, pat that file, watch the dust rise, click that mouse for a cross ref and then form a cheering, swaying conga line, in duplicate, round the consoles and cabinets: yes, the world's finest ever piece of bureaucracy, The Domesday Book, is online!

How proud they would have been, those King's Commissioners who travelled the country - twice, naturally - on their mission to record what everybody owned, if they could have known how their work would survive, thrive, and now thread the very heavens.

Not for the fame, you understand - the entire 413 pages were written by one, anonymous scribe - but because it's important to keep records. Fascinating, isn't it, that of our two great early documents, one, Magna Carta, is about freedom, while the other, Domesday, is the origin of a line that leads down to control orders and identity cards? Or that we have this hazy nostalgia for the first concerted attempt to tax us until ye pippes squeaked?

What a great year 1086 must have been. Large swaths of the country laid waste by William's harrying; torrential rain, cold, thunder, lightning; and this lot asking all these questions about every last ox, hide, pig and piece of set aside. Grim nodders will point to William's fate, stripped naked and abandoned at his death, reviled ever since. I prefer to take consolation from another feature of Domesday, evidence of an enduring quality that has always confounded authoritarianism in this country. For it notably omits some rather important places; and I can see them now on deadline day as the Chief Commissioner asks, "Right then, who's done London?"

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