The origins of townships in Cheshire are obscure, although by the time most of them enter the light of recorded history, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, they are clearly part of a well-organised system. Recent scholarship has tended to push back the date at which this system was first established into the Saxon period. Dr Nick Higham has made a case for believing that the territorial organisation of Cheshire, as recorded in Domesday Book, is largely a creation of the early tenth century, when control of northern Mercia was wrested from the Vikings. In many instances, though, it can be argued that the individual estates which were grouped into Hundreds at this time originated at a much earlier period.
Placenames often preserve information relating to the history of an area that is not found explicitly in documentary or archaeological sources. For instance, the language and form of a name can give clues about the origins of a settlement and the form which it took, whilst field names can indicate past discoveries of buried treasure or suggest former land use and topography.
Carden is first attested in 1230 as Kauerthin; other forms beginning Kar- or Car- show it to be derived from an Old English *Carrworðign, ‘enclosure at a rock’. The element worðign is relatively common in the region, being attested at Worthenbury, Hawarden (where the pronunciation “Harden” exactly parallels the history of the name of Carden whilst retaining the older spelling), Arden, Larden, Northenden and Woodworth Green. What type of enclosure it refers to is not known, if it refers to a specific type; the name Worthenbury is certainly suggestive of a fortification as it contains the Old English burh. The only other local occurrence of carr is in the form Bedestonecarre recorded for Bidston Hill in 1303.
This type of name is difficult to date, and could have formed at any time between the seventh century and the first record of the name in 1230. The type of enclosure associated with a worð name is usually assumed to have been the smallest type of dependent farmstead in a larger estate, which could explain why the Domesday Commissioners did not distinguish Carden from Tilston. As a minor subdivision of an estate based at Tilston, Carden would not have been mentioned as a separate unit until the fragmentation of Saxon estates in the post-conquest period.
The Domesday Book was compiled in 1086 as a survey - commissioned by William I to establish what land he owned in the newly-conquered territory of England, and what other people owned. His commissioners also sought to establish who the owners had been at the time of Eadweard the Confessor’s death in January 1066 (Harold II being regarded by the Norman administration as a usurper).
Like the other townships in Tilston parish, Carden is not recorded in the Domesday Book, as they were probably all treated as part of Tilston. In 1066, Tilston had been part of the possessions of Edwin, Earl of Mercia (1065-70). He held numerous estates in Cheshire, including many in Dudestan Hundred, which probably represent the remnants of Mercian royal holdings in the county. Tillestone was evidently already subdivided, as the Bishop claimed half a hide of the manor and, after the Norman conquest, another half hide was sublet to Ranulf Mainwaring.
In 1066, the four hides (approximately 480 acres) of taxable arable land paid £6, making it one of the most prosperous Cheshire manors. Eight ploughteams could be accommodated on this land; one was in demesne. The recorded population consisted of four villeins, two bordars, four radmen, a reeve, a smith, a miller and two slaves who shared four ploughteams; the mill was worth eight shillings. The manor is described as being one league long and one wide (about 2.4 by 2.4 km); this is reasonable enough for the east-west measurement, but only acceptable for the north-south dimensions if the township of Horton Green is not included.
At the time of the conquest the manor was ‘waste’. This term is thought to mean that the estate provided no revenue to its lord, and although the causes of this decline in value are unknown, they are no longer thought to be the direct result of the conquest. By 1086 the value was 30 shillings, only 25% of its earlier value. Three components can be discerned: the main manor, presumably Tilston township, one part in dispute with the Bishop of Chester – perhaps Grafton – and the part sublet to Ranulf, either Carden or Stretton.