According to the Diocesan Survey of 1563 (see below) Matlock and Bonsall were roughly the same size, and in 1328, Matlock was a settlement with twelve households 4 This takes no account of those people who were exempt from the tax. Cox estimates that this amounted to no more than five per cent of the population, although this has been questioned by historians in the twentieth century, who have put forward a figure closer to twenty per cent, suggesting that the settlement of Matlock was probably around seventeen or eighteen households, and its population was between seventy-five and eighty-five.
This does not mean that Bonsall was of a similar size in 1328, and, indeed, it is likely to have been smaller than Matlock at this time. From the middle of the fourteenth century lead mining assumed a greater importance in the English economy. Lead was widely being used for the roofs of public buildings and churches, and the re-discovery of gunpowder fuelled an increasing demand for lead shot. Despite the hazards, and in spite of the taxes of the'tithe', the 'lot' and the 'cope', which miners had to pay on loads of lead, it rapidly became an attractive economic proposition for people who had previously scratched out a living from the soil. In the same period the lead miners began to establish their rights over workings in Derbyshire as a whole, and in the Wirksworth area in particular. It was these two factors that saw a change in the character of Bonsall, and probably swelled its population between 1328 and 1563, when it was on a par with Matlock.
At the same time there is little doubt that Bonsall was already bigger than Wensley or Ible. The Taxation Roll of 1291 ordered by Pope Nicholas IV to enable him to assess the wealth of the Catholic Church makes mention of a church in Bonsall, an indication that it was a settlement of some size, and probably a focal centre for some surrounding settlements. Cromford, for example, did not boast a church until the eighteenth century. In 1297 there is the first mention of 'Over Bonteshale', modern-day Uppertown, and in 1326, just prior to the Lay Subsidy Roll, there is a reference to 'Slauwleyge', sloe clearing, today's Slaley. Each of these was probably a small settlement in its own right, of two or three farmsteads, but looking to Bonsall for its economic and religious lead.
Taking all these factors into consideration it would seem likely that the settlement of Bonsall in the middle of the fourteenth century could have amounted to as many as fifteen households, with a population of between sixty and seventy people.
The Diocesan Survey of 1563
The period covering the middle of the sixteenth century was one of rapid religious change. In 1534 Henry VIII had broken away from the Catholic Church to marry Anne Boleyn. Between 1547 and 1553 his son Edward VI had adopted an aggressively Protestant position. This was overturned on the accession of his older sister Mary, who restored the Papal Supremacy, returned England to Catholicism, and reversed the majority of the legislation that had been passed since 1534. In 1558 she, in turn, was succeeded by her sister Elizabeth I, the daughter of Anne Boleyn, and the product of a Protestant education.
In view of such instability it is perhaps not surprising that the Government should have wanted to know a bit more about the population of the country it ruled, not only for taxation purposes, but also to assess the loyalty of its people to the emerging religious position of the monarch. The mechanism chosen to make the assessment was the Church itself, and in 1563 the Archbishop of York ordered to Bishop of Lichfield to make a series of visitations which would enable the local clergy to report on the size of the communities they served.
According to this survey Bonsall consisted of eighty-four dwellings, which probably equates to a population of between three hundred and eighty and four hundred and forty. What is perhaps more significant than mere figures, however, is the fact that Matlock had only eighty dwellings. Bonsall was now larger than Matlock, an indication of its growing importance in terms of the lead industry. Apart from a slight blip in fortunes after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, which had released large amounts of roof-lead onto the market, lead had continued to grow in importance, being used for lead shot, for lead roofs for increasing numbers of stately homes, and for the leaded lights of the now fashionable glazing for houses of all but the lowest classes. Lead production increased dramatically, and improved techniques of smelting attracted significant numbers of people into the villages of the Wapentake of Wirksworth. The town itself was estimated to have four hundred and seventy dwellings, with a probable population of around two thousand, a not insignificant community.
This does not mean to say that all the people of Bonsall had become lead miners between 1328 and 1563. It is likely that most Bonsall people still depended on agriculture for their livings, but the extension of lead-mining rights in this period, together with the growing economic importance of lead as a commodity, probably increased the number of villagers who worked a small mine on an occasional basis. The village may also have seen an increase in the number of 'in-comers', a feature which is repeated throughout its history, and a significant expansion in the number of dwellings.
The Hearth Tax Assessments, 1662-70
One of the more accurate indications of pre-Industrial population that we can make is that based on the Hearth Tax Assessments of the late seventeenth century. It is always in the interests of a government to make sure that its tax returns are as accurate as possible, and this was no less so for Charles II's administration as it emerged from a damaging civil war, and from the rule of the Interregnum. We are also fortunate that there has been a good deal of detailed work done on the Derbyshire the Hearth Tax Assessments 5 which enable us to get some kind of idea of the population of Bonsall in the middle of the seventeenth century.
The Hearth Tax or Chimney Tax as it was popularly called in the seventeenth century was introduced after the Restoration in 1662, and was withdrawn after the Glorious Revolution in 1689. It was levied on each household at a rate of two shillings per annum for each hearth or stove, and was part of wider experimentation that was taking place in the field of national finances. It was intended to be part of the finance necessary to conduct the normal business of government, but like all taxes it was highly unpopular. The number of hearths that a person had in his/her house was presumed to reflect his/her purchasing power and wealth, but on those on whom it fell the tax seemed to be a direct levy like the Poll Tax.
According to the Hearth Tax Returns of 1662-70 there were 103 dwellings in Bonsall, with 146 hearths. Applying Peter Laslett's 6 pre-industrial estimation of 4.7 people per household, this probably indicates a population of somewhere around 500, although this figure certainly would not have included those persons in the village who were too poor to be liable for the tax, or those certified by the parish officers as occupying premises worth less than 20 shillings per annum, or possessing personal property worth less than £10. An examination of those settlements that made returns to the 1664 assessment, which also included non-chargeable properties, reveals that these amounted to an average of around fort-five per cent of the chargeable properties. This would increase the number of households in Bonsall to around 150, and would revise our calculations of its population upwards to approximately 625.
The Bishop's Visitation,1677