Nothing specific appears to be known of Grasby in the prehistoric or Romano-British periods, although some fragments of Roman pottery were found in the parish in 1962 exposed by deep ploughing. According to local detectorists Roman coins have also been found in several fields in the parish.
The present village lies on the southerly facing scarp face of the Wolds. A line of similarly positioned settlements runs along the edge of this chalk scarp from Caistor to South Ferriby. A trackway, almost certainly of prehistoric date, joined these settlements and is still followed by the A1084 today between Caistor and Bigby.
The settlements along this spring line created good, viable economic units with easily worked arable land on the chalk Wolds (wold is from the Old English word “wald” or “weald”, meaning high forest land), settlement sites at the springs and ample pasture and meadow in the lowland to the south.
The estates into which Anglo-Saxon England was divided were known variously as scirs, shires or multiple estates. At the centre of each estate was a caput which contained the lord’s hall and barn, church, mill and an area of demesne farmland and pasture. Alongside the caput were a number of other settlements whose inhabitants provided food to the lord’s barn, labour services as required and attended the lord’s court. These shires seem to have been taken over by the Danish colonists, somewhat reorganised and re-named wapentakes. The great estates became known as sokes in which the land (demesne) and peasants (villeins) directly controlled by the lord was known as inland, and that controlled by peasants (sokemen) was known as sokeland. Yarborough wapentake, in which Grasby lies, was very large and included another shire, based on Barnetby. The wapentake had its own court and men from Grasby would doubtless have travelled to its meetings, probably held in Melton Ross parish.
Grasby lay within the very extensive scir based on Caistor. This estate was held by an earl before the Norman Conquest and by the King afterwards. The great estate was beginning to fragment by 1066 and in Grasby itself two other discrete estates had appeared – held by Ulchil and Chetelbern respectively. Ulchil had further strengthened his position by building a Church for his peasants at Grasby and appointing a priest to serve in it. It might have been at this time that the parish boundary of Grasby was finally fixed. It would hold all the people and land which would owe tithe to the settlement’s church.
Place-name experts are unable to give a convincing explanation of the meaning of Grasby, but it does seem certain to be of Scandinavian origin. The first element may possibly be from the Old Norse grjot, meaning gravel or stones. The suffix is the Old Danish by, a farmstead or village. Many other Scandinavian names occur throughout the parish – in particular ‘-gate’; from the Norse gata, a way, path or street.
Grosbei appears twice in the Domesday Book of 1086; Grosbi and Grossebi both once. Grossebi appears in the Lindsey Survey of c.1115 and then later Gressebi, Gresby, Griseby, Grisby and Grassebi appear numerous times.
There are three entries for the settlement of Grasby in the Domesday Book. Taken together they show that it was assessed at three carucates, a quarter of a Domesday Hundred. Each wapentake was divided into a number of hundreds, each with a court responsible for the conduct of its inhabitants, and required to pay geld to the King.
The first entry appears after the Norman Conquest and tells us that in 1066 Grasby was part of an extensive estate (manerium) whose capital or caput was Caistor. The estate belonged to Earl Morcar who was jointly Earl of Northumbria and Mercia with his half-brother Edwin. However, the property in Grasby was recorded as belonging to the Church of Caistor and valued at 6 shillings and 8 pence = half a mark. Morcar was one of the hostages taken back to Normandy by William in 1067. Later he was to join Hereward at Ely, but in 1071 William besieged the rebels and Morcar and many others were imprisoned.
The second entry appears to record details of a manerium whose caput was at Grasby. In 1066 the estate was held by Ulchil, but by 1086 it had come into the hands of William’s half-brother, Odo, the Bishop of Bayeux. Some two thirds of Grasby’s geld payments were collected from this estate which also had attached to it a parcel of sokeland in Swallow. Grasby Church belonged to this estate and was by then a church with full rights. There was also a water mill belonging to Grasby.
The third entry recorded another small estate in Grasby. Its holder in 1066, Chetelbern, was apparently still in possession in 1086. He appears to have held extensive lands in 1066, but had lost most of them by 1086.
The layout of today’s village suggests from the distribution of older properties that a number of separate or small groups of households have been amalgamated to form a single village by infilling. This historic open nature of the settlement explains its complex tenurial pattern.
The National Mapping Programme 1992-96, undertaken by the Royal Commission of Monuments in England, has revealed, through the examination of aerial photographs, earthworks of medieval ridge & furrow in three locations in the parish – to the west, south and east of the village. The latter was identified again in 2014 in the field immediately to the east of the properties in Front Street. The alignment in each case is on a south west/north east axis.
The population of Grasby appears to have been relatively stable during medieval times. The axis of the village ran east/west along the line of the scarp with a throughway to Clixby in one direction and Searby in the other, with streets running up and down the scarp. A curve on the east/west street and its intermittent wide sections, particularly where the present Clixby Lane joins Front Street, may indicate a former open green area. The present Church dates back to the C13th.
Apart from the ridge & furrow very little archaeological evidence of the past has been found in Grasby. However, a Henry VII groat (silver coin worth 4 pennies), dated 1490 – 1504, was found in 1970 in OS field 147, adjacent to Knapton’s reservoir in the south of the parish.
*(Information taken largely from “Some notes on the early history of Grasby”, Lincoln Archives).