THE BONSALL MAP PROJECT
A full colour pictorial map showing a bird's-eye view of a Derbyshire hill village. Crammed with illustrations, historical and nature notes. On the back are detailed articles about the village.
Produced, drawn, written and researched by villagers, the Bonsall Map is a celebration of our village's unique history, and a richly layered document, highlighting not only the topography of the parish, but, in a series of articles on the back, its geology, natural history, its past as a lead mining village, its businesses past and present including farming, buildings, pigeon racing, carnival and well dressing, and present day facilities.
The Map Project began early in 1996. A core group of around 30 villagers were involved in raising funds for printing, researching and putting together information. Far more information was collected than could ever fit on the map - so this is only the first part of an ongoing project. The map was completed in 1997.
These are brief extracts, intended to give a flavour of the Project:
Businesses in Bonsall
Around 200-150 years ago, people in Bonsall mostly earned their living from farming, lead mining, outworker frame-knitting and in cotton spinning mills at Cromford and the Via Gellia.
To supplement their income, families combined mining with farming. There are several tales, from the days of fluorspar mining, of children lowering their father down a mine when setting off to work in the mills in the morning and raising him out again when they returned in the evening.
Bonsall was an important centre for frame-knitting and may have had over 140 frames at one time. Cotton or silk supplied by master hosiers in Matlock and Belper was knitted into stockings on frames rented from the hosiers. From the late 1700s water-powered frames and a declining market left only seven workshops in the village by 1857.
Architecture and Building
We might guess the area around the Church and the Cross to be the oldest part of the village; ghosts of older buildings are visible everywhere: sandstone door and window surrounds, now filled in, are very obvious.
Walls are typically limestone, usually with contrasting sandstone quoins (French `coin', corner) and door and window surrounds - these are principal features of the local, or vernacular, style. Derbyshire limestone is hard to work, hence random rubble is common, where rough stone is laid without any attempt to form a course. Better stone may be roughly dressed and laid in courses.
Bonsall is an ancient settlement - artefacts from flint daggers to brooches have been found, and there are burial mounds on Masson Hill and Blakelow. Bonsall is known to have been in the possession of Edward the Confessor, and probably kings before him, before the Norman Conquest.
In the Doomsday Survey (1086), Upper Bonteshall was a hamlet in the Manor of Metesford (believed to have been centred on Matlock Bridge). Nether Bonteshall belonged to the Honour of Tutbury, a large holding under the Duchy of Lancaster. Over many years Upper and Nether Bonsall became one manor personally owned by the King. As feudalism declined, serfs became freemen and some eventually copyholders. (Copyhold was a type of land tenure somewhere between `tenancy' and `freehold'; the copyhold could be inherited, bought, sold, and transferred with permission from the Manor Court.)
Bonsall's unique, complex geology has shaped the industry, life and history of the village. The main bedrock is Carboniferous limestone, laid down 330 million years ago. A hard grey sedimentary rock, it is formed from the compressed remains of millions of creatures and plants who lived and died in a shallow tropical sea surrounded by coral reefs. They can be seen in the rock (the Bonsall Fault) along Yeoman Street.
Subterranean volcanoes erupted spasmodically through the sea floor, covering the limestones with ash and lava. These igneous rocks, including dolerite and basalt - called `toadstones' by lead miners - were in turn covered by more limestones. This process was repeated until widespread mountain-building earth movements folded and fractured the rocks. These were then overlaid by different sedimentary rocks: shale, mudstone and sandstone (the Millstone Grit Series), and capped finally by the Coal Measures.
Bonsall's geology meant it did not have many deep rich mines as did neighbouring parishes. A fractured displacement of rock, the Bonsall Fault, runs from the Via Gellia out onto Bonsall Moor. North of the Fault lies the Bonsall Sill, igneous dolerite which restricted the size of ore deposits within the parish; it can be traced up High Street and out to Brightgate. No mines are found in the Sill. Shallow mines were worked on Bonsall Leys in limestones lying above the toadstone, these contained small veins, called `scrins'.
Lead was found `bassetting' or outcropping on the surface in Roman times and earlier. Roman ingots, called `pigs', of lead have been found in Britain and 14 are traceable back to Derbyshire. The Domesday Book recorded mines at Wirksworth and Metesford (Matlock Bridge). Derbyshire's lead mining region called the `King's or Queen's Field' is under the jurisdiction of the Barmote Courts, a judiciary system separate from the rest of the country's legal system. The earliest mining laws were first written down at Ashbourne in 1288 and in 1653 Edward Manlove from Ashbourne, Steward of the Great Barmote Court set down the laws and customs of the Court in rhyme enabling illiterate miners to memorise them (this rhyme is written around the edge of the map).
The Natural History of Bonsall
In the depths of winter you could be forgiven for thinking Bonsall Moor was a desolate place, with nothing to offer but old mine workings, and little in the way of plants and animals. You couldn't be more mistaken. The moor supports an astonishing variety of wild flowers, some of which are nationally rare, as well as providing a habitat for some unexpected mammals. The key to Bonsall's rich wildlife lies in its location and rock type, the underlying rocks of Carboniferous Limestone are within the area known as the White Peak.
The jewels in Bonsall's crown are largely a result of the lead mining mainly on Bonsall Moor and Masson Hill. The miners left behind them a landscape full of large and small hillocks made of the excavated spoil, and deep depressions in the field surface known as 'rakes'. This difficult-to-cultivate landscape has remained 'unimproved' and the limestone grassland surrounding and covering the spoil heaps is particularly rich in wild flowers and their associated insects, butterflies and birds. On parts of Bonsall Moor for example, up to 8 different species of wild orchid grow, with evocative names like bee orchid, fly orchid and frog orchid. Characteristic plants of the Derbyshire dales grasslands are also found here, common rock-rose, early purple orchids, and cowslips as well as plants associated with old meadows like wild pansy, violets, yellow rattle, birds foot trefoil and bedstraw. Clumps of wild thyme and harebells also thrive in these dry limestone grasslands. More uncommon butterflies like the Dark Green Fritillary whose foodplant is solely violets may be found on summer days.
Agriculture has always been important although the parish runs to 1217 feet above sea level with generally poor, shallow soil. For generations, many farmers lived in Bonsall village and walked to their moor farms. The field-barns scattered around the landscape were used for storage and shelter, some were disused coes (the huts built near mine shafts). Even by 1947, 13 of the 17 farmers lived in the village. They kept a few cows, using their milk for family and neighbours; the rest was fed to pigs. No pigs are kept in the village now. Poultry was kept on most farms, while today there are few free range hens.
The last of the moor farms have only in 1997 been connected to mains water. Previously households collected water daily from a nearby tap or well. If the summer was dry farmers, or more likely their children, collected water from springs such as Shothouse Spout, while water had to be carted to gritstone troughs for the animals. Many brooks serve fields with watering holes and on the moor there are several wells and natural springs. Old maps show ponds and wells, most have long since been abandoned; being sited on permeable limestone they required constant maintenance.
Carnival and well dressing
Carnival and Well Dressing began in 1927, organised by Fred Hunting, then Headmaster of Bonsall Primary School, and Miah Doxey who owned one of the village's fish and chip shops.
That first Carnival set a number of traditions. It was held on the August Wakes weekend, until recent decades, always the first weekend in August. Then as now, Carnival raised money for local charities and before the National Health Service, for local hospitals, a boon for local people who could get hospital treatment when they needed it.
Pigeon lofts are a feature of Bonsall as is the sight and sound of swift flocks of pigeons circling the village. Bonsall and District Homing Society goes back to before World War I. The club's 15 members range from 8 to 86 years old.
There is also a Business Directory and a Village Information section.
The map is still being sold. Income from the sale of The Map has reached £2000 and is being used by the Bonsall Community Development Trust to support environmental improvements to the village, starting with a small grant for improving facilities in The Park.