Bonsall's Charm - Bonsall

This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper on 20th March 1989, reproduced by kind permission of its author, Julie Bunting.


Here is a village - a town almost - with a long, long history of rewarding its inhabitants with the means to make a modest living. Saxons certainly mined the region's lead and it was a Saxon thane named Bunt who was rewarded for military service with a piece of land here; the Bunting family tree was rooted in the Peak District by this settler 1300 years ago. By Norman times Bunteshale, meaning Bunt's comer of land, had expanded into a hamlet and was spelt Bonteshall into the 1600s. Amazingly, Bunting descendants inhabit ‘their’ village to this very day.

From Anglo-Saxon times landowners could be called upon to bear arms and this much amended requirement was the subject of General Musters returns ordered by Queen Elizabeth I, recording ‘ln the towneship of Bonsal harnes and weapons in redynes for one archer. Able men wtout harnes in ye same towne. Archers ij. Billmen v’. This respectable little force reflects Bonsall's steady growth which was gradually gathering momentum. Its lands had passed in and out of Crown ownership until in 1633 over forty tenants successfully claimed the demesne as copyholders upon fine of ‘five and thirtie years ancient rent’.

But change was in the air for England and soon a close Puritan eye watched everyone; Parliamentary Commissioners found Bonsall's parson ‘an able man of good conversasion’ and his flock even complied, abeit twice only, with a decree ordering monthly one-day fasts from food as well as ‘bodily delights, rich apparel, ornaments and such like’. No doubt the villagers welcomed the Restoration for their King's Head Inn of 1677 honoured the Merry Monarch himself, Charles II. The mullioned windows of the picturesque inn look out on Bonsall's superb cross set high on thirteen steps and inscribed 1671, restored at its bicentenary by Miss Prince of another old-established Bonsall family.

A story handed down hereabouts tells how a local man far from home was mocked for his country ways until he described his home town as the seat of worthy Princes, and where every man's home was reached over a marble bridge. True enough, for until Miss Prince had Bonsall Brook culverted in 1871 it ran alongside the main street, bridged by slabs of white limestone in front of each cottage.

There are no records that the cross ever saw market-day bustle for whilst an application for a market charter was submitted around 1670 it was turned down. Nevertheless, Bonsall continued to expand along its limestone cleft west of the great Masson Hill.

If lead was indeed the paydirt for Bunt's pioneer clan, their successors had the added reward of silver - from the rich lead deposits of Ball Eye mine. Other riches included calamine - oxide of zinc - for the brass foundries, barytes for paint production, which thrived locally alongside colour works into this century, and white chert or china stone which was exported in large quantities to the North Staffordshire potteries.

Lead-smelting cupolas sprung up in the Via Gellia as did papermills between Bonsall and Cromford, a route described in the 1840s as a 'succession of mills, wheels and dams skirted by high mantling rocks or stoney mountains with foliage intermingled'. One corn mill converted to cotton spinning and eventually produced the first Viyella, whilst another turned to spinning merino wool.

BONSALL'S HEYDAY This was Bonsall's heyday; leadmining flourished, one entrepreneur turned out tortoiseshell combs and almost 150 framework knitters took outwork into their cottages, or work-shops like the neatly preserved building with its long unobstructed windows near the market place.

In 1835 young gentlemen were educated at the boarding school of John Allen Esq., the former endowed school founded in 1717 had also expanded with room for 110 boys - this became the village hall in 1972 - and the public elementary school could teach up to 220 girls and infants. Young schoolleavers had a wealth of jobs to choose from along with the age-old farming industry, still in the village's lifeblood as is apparent from the encircling green land and the farms around Slaley and Upper Town.

So there was little time for idle hands in spite of an incident reported in the Derbyshire Courier of August 1834 when the admirable rector faced nearly forty men with bulldogs, all intent on a bullbaiting. The bull was handed to the good man in exchange for a guinea, when he apparently confiscated the bullring too and took it into the church where it has stood ever since. The golden coin caused further trouble, however, for by the evening the same group were fighting in half a dozen places around the village and several pubs had smashed windows and furniture. There were then six pubs in Bonsall, a trade still excellently upheld by the Barley Mow in The Dale, the Pig of Lead by the Via Gellia, the ancient Fountain Inn and the King's Head in the heart of the village.

Population peaked too in the middle of the last century, reaching almost 1500. Five independent chapels were built and the village had its first bobby. Secrets from the past came to light - a bronze Anglo- Saxon brooch beautifully worked in bronze Celtic style design, and a medieval carving of a lead-miner nicknamed T'Owd Mon of Bonsall. This can be seen in Wirksworth church.

Bonsall's own church of St. James is of thirteenth-century origin with a number of medieval features, and nothing in Bonsall overlooks its distinctive spire with three girdles of fine carved stonework. Geologists know Bonsall (or its min- erals, igneous rocks and the lava channel formed by volcanic activity around Ember Lane Neck millions of years ago.

BONSALL TODAY As for today, only on foot is it possible to discover Bonsall's eccentricities and architectural gems. Unlikely nooks of land have been taken for limestone-white cottages of all shapes and sizes; there is a three-hundred-year-old manor house, and strangely-named houses and byways - Witches Nest, The Cascades, Holly Fineas, Puddle Hill and The Clatterway. Summer brings the welldressings when numerous stone fountains, one an ornate Victorian Gothic edifice in the middle of the road, have pride of place. Christmas brings out the Bonsall Buskers to provide entertainment for the senior citizens.

The population has dwindled to below nine hundred now and the most profitable natural resource is fluorspar, concentrated round Bonsall Moor. An active Village Hall Committee constantly seeks to improve its facilities (and financial support) and the children of the village school put equal enthusiasm into their under-takings, about sixty pupils are on the register nowadays.

Bonsall presents a compact and friendly community in spite of appearances, where one half spends its days looking up to, or down upon, the other; a split-level village of split-level houses and farmland, a split-level church perched above its terraced graveyard and reached by a choice of long, stepped pathways climbing those ‘high mantling rocks’.

© Julie Bunting
From "The Peak Advertiser", 20th March 1989.

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