Bonsall in the Seventeenth Century - Gwen Wright and John March

The Civil War (1642-9)

        In March 1642 (1641 in the Old Calendar) Sir John Curzon presented 'the humble petition of divers baronets, knights, esquires, freeholders and others of the County of Derby' to the House of Commons.  The petition, signed by 7,077 residents, outlined some of the grievances the people of Derbyshire had against King Charles I.  Many of the demands it made were economic in tone, complaining, as do most generations, against excessive government taxation.  Of the signatories 1,912 have been identified as lead miners, a group that had little reason to love King Charles I.  Much of the lead-mining area of Wirksworth and the High Peak was part of the 'King's Field'.  Over the course of the early seventeenth century there seems to have been increasing tension between the miners and the King.  The miners were fighting to retain the mining rights which had been established in the thirteenth century, whereas the King, according to Andy Wood 1, seems to have been attempting to lease these same rights out to influential entrepreneurial courtiers.  This resulted in demonstrations, petitions and litigation as well as tithe strikes and, in 1630, riots against the king.  Jill Dias also suggests that evangelical preachers were active in the lead mining communities of the Peak Country, providing another area of dispute with the monarch, and helping to foster an increasing mood of independence and assertiveness.2

A significant number of people in Bonsall were probably, to some degree or other, employed within the lead mining industry.  Jill Dias estimates that there were as many as 20,000 such people in the Peak Country, although she maintains that fewer than 2000 were independent miners 3, a number which had probably been swelled towards the end of the sixteenth century as a result of new techniques in lead smelting, and successive rises in the price of ore.  Andy Wood, in his detailed analysis of the signatories of the petition to the House of Commons, estimates that Ball Eye Quarry provided work for about forty men.  He also claims that 34% of the able-bodied men in Bonsall would have defined themselves as miners, and that 77% of the village's population would have been partially or totally dependent on mining for their incomes 4.  This does not mean to say that the miners were well off.  By the beginning of the Civil War much of the wealth of the industry had passed into the hands of a few families, such as the Talbots and the Gells, while the majority of workers in the industry scratched out a meagre living, often supplementing their other economic activity, such as farming.  Nevertheless the lead-miners were identified as an important group by both Royalists and Parliamentarians prior to the Civil War, and extensive attempts were made to attract them to their respective causes. 

During the War the Lord Cromwell attempted to recruit the miners into a regiment, and in 1642 Sir John Gell of Wirksworth managed to draft 140 miners into his foot and dragoon.  In the 1640s the king removed two of the taxes on lead miners, the 'lot' and the 'cope' which were very unpopular, and in 1642 he promised to free lead miners from the onerous tithe if they agreed to fight for him.  According to one source, this enabled Christopher Fulwood of Tideswell to recruit 1000 lead miners to the Royalist cause on Tideswell Moor
5.  It is not known whether these included any miners from Bonsall, although it would seem unlikely, given the proximity and importance of Sir John Gell in the Parliamentary cause.  It is also more than likely that the figures provided by the source were less than accurate, as it asserts, rather unrealistically, that 3000 miners declared for Parliament, alongside another 3000 who deserted from the King.
Both of the Parliamentary regiments recruited from Derbyshire in the first civil war did include miners from across the lead field, and particularly from the Wapentake of Wirksworth.  One of their number was William Debankes, from Cromford, who had been involved in resistance to the tithe in the 1630's and it would seem likely that some Bonsall miners might have been involved too.  Having said that, they also had little reason to be particularly supportive of John Gell.  In August 1635, when the King was endeavouring to raise money to keep his administration solvent, John Gell was given the job of collecting the  tax known as 'ship money', and there is some evidence that he acted vindictively to those who did not contribute to it willingly

Gell's own wealth was derived from every level of the lead industry.  He leased mineral rights in the Low Peak which entitled him to one thirteenth of all the ore that was mined, together with six pence per load of five hundredweight sold from the miners to the merchants.  In addition he had, by the early seventeen hundreds, purchased the right to collect lead tithes from a number of parishes in the High Peak, a purchase which entitled him to the ancient title of Barmaster at the lead mine Court.  He seems to have been just as aggressive in his collection of these taxes as he was in the collection of the 'ship money', and this can have done little for his popularity amongst the miners.  To many of the miners of the High Peak he was hated as an outsider, who taxed them excessively.  To the miners of the Low Peak, which included Bonsall, he was probably seen as an upstart intent on extending his wealth and power, to the detriment of their own ancient privileges.

It is highly unlikely, therefore, that many Bonsall miners would have willingly marched off to war in 1642, irrespective of which side they favoured.  Surviving production records from the Wirksworth area would seem to suggest the opposite by showing that there was a significant increase in lead-mining activity in the years immediately following the outbreak of war
7, hardly an indication that the industry suffered any particular disruption.

The Interregnum (1649-60)

In the years immediately following the Civil War, when England was governed first by Parliament, and then by Oliver Cromwell followed by his son, Richard, the remnants of traditional Church ceremony and organisation were swept away to be replaced by a church which followed a puritan or presbyterian model.  As early as 1645 and 1646 the Long Parliament had passed the key legislation defining the structure of the presbyterian settlement, which was to be put into effect during the Commonwealth.  At the lowest level elders were to be elected by the minister and those communicants within the parish who had taken the new Covenant, who were of age, and who were not servants.

These elders then appointed representatives from within the parish to sit in a Classical Assembly or Classis, which was to meet once a month, and which was to be responsible for the establishment of Presbyterianism within a particular area, and for the enforcement of Church discipline.  In this respect the new church represented a 'bottom-up' approach, and was radically different to a church in which the monarch appointed the bishops, who in their turn appointed the lesser clergy.  How far this new church was welcomed by ordinary people is a matter of conjecture.  They may have felt they had a greater say in its administration, but they might not have felt happy about the severe restrictions on singing, dancing and the celebration of feast days that it introduced.  We are perhaps fortunate in this area, however, in that one of the few partially-surviving Classis Minute Books, that of Wirksworth, gives us some idea as to the way the religious lives of people in Bonsall were affected during the Interregnum.

Between 1652 and 1658 the Wirksworth Minute Book records ninety-seven meetings of the Classis
8, and at thirty-nine of these the minister for Bonsall, Edward Poole, was present.  At the first meeting we have evidence of, on the eighteenth of May 1652, that 'Mr. Edward Pole, pastor of the Church at Bonteshall, prached this classical meeting & his Sermon being orthodox & reasonable had therefore the thanks of the Classis &c.'9.  The same meeting also records that Pole had no Congregational Elder at Bonsall, perhaps an indication that the villagers were not totally accepting of the new arrangements and were unwilling to come forward to fill significant positions.  Because of this Pole was not able to administer Communion, so the Classis confirmed an order of a previous meeting to assign two members of the Classis to help him whenever he wanted.  Pole also preached at five other meetings, acted as Moderator at another three. And on November 20th 1655, '(according to former order) exhibited the Thesis to the Classis, & proved against the Socinians, that God may be known by the diligent contemplation of the creature.' 10

Pole was clearly an influential member of the Classis, and as such he made sure that Bonsall was included in some of the more important events of the presbyterian calendar.  Part of the duties of the Classis included the designation of one of the villages in the area to be the site of the monthly fast, at which visiting preachers would give 'lectures' or sermons, often to two or three hundred people.  In April 1652 and February 1656 Bonsall was chosen as the venue.  Although we have no indication as to how many people from the village attended or were involved, we can be sure that the Fast Day would have been a significant occasion, as it would attract people from the whole area covered by the Classis; from as far apart as Hognaston on the one hand and Crich on the other.   It was this kind of pastoral presence, it has been claimed,
11 that created the basis for the kind of local support for presbyterianism that would endure through to the Restoration.  If this is the case then we might be reasonably confident that Bonsall would at least have accepted if not have welcomed the religious changes that took place during the Commonwealth.

The Restoration (1660 onwards)

In fact it does not seem to be the case that puritanism or presbyterianism survived long beyond the Restoration of the King Charles II in 1660.  In 1675 the Bishops and other leading churchmen were becoming concerned by the refusal of the king's brother, the Duke of York, to attend the services of the Established Church.  They decided that they needed precise information about the number of people who belonged to the church, together with some idea as to the number of Roman Catholics and Non-Conformists that there were in the country.  As part of the exercise the Archbishop of Canterbury instructed the Bishop of Lincoln to visit his lands in the Midlands, and to get this information from the local clergy.  Despite the fact that Edward Po(o)le was still the minister, the returns for Bonsall show that out of an adult population of  614 there were no Catholics and only two Non-Conformists.  At the same time the presentment of convicted Catholic recusants to the Derby Assizes of 1682, covering the whole of the county, contain the names of no-one from the village.  It would seem clear that the villagers of Bonsall shied away from religious extremes.

There are, of course, at least three reasons why Bonsall could have made such a return.  One is that the minister might be trying to ingratiate himself with the church rulers, and was giving a false return to make him look good.  A second reason might be that he was out for an easy life, and would exaggerate the number of Conformists and undersell the number of Non-Conformists in the hope that he would escape the interest of the authorities.
A more likely explanation, however, is that the people of Bonsall were not really all that concerned about the organisation of their Church as long as it provided them with the pastoral care they needed, and as long as the government did not interfere too radically in their religious practises.  It is perhaps indicative of this attitude that there is no record of anyone from Bonsall being fined for non-attendance at church in the whole of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  In spite of the extreme swings in religion that took place between Henry VIII's Reformation in 1534, and the Restoration of the King Charles II the religious life of the village seems to have continued largely unaffected, adapting itself to the current government, while maintaining traditional customs and practises. (see Chap. Religion, Churches and Chapels)

The People of the Village

Within the historical context described in the first part of this chapter, the people of Bonsall lived, worked, married, brought up families, made friends and enemies, and died. For the first time, too, existing State documents enable us to build up some kind of picture as to whom these people were, how they lived their lives and how they interacted with each other.  In spite of their incompleteness, tax returns, parish registers, and wills/inventories help us to see the circles within which people married, the size of their families, the age to which people could expect to live, the work they did, the property they owned and the social and economic hierarchy that existed in the village by the end of the seventeenth century. 

Tax Assessments

Tax demands had been made on the people of Bonsall throughout the seventeenth century, and one of these that makes actual mention of people who lived in Bonsall was a tax  levied by King Charles I in 1627 12.  Because of religious differences King Charles I was eager to rule without recourse to Parliament.  This meant that if he wanted money he would have to  resort to 'loans' from the country.  Each County would be assigned an amount of money it  would 'lend' to the King, and a collector would be appointed.  In 1627 Robert Willymott was  appointed to collect just such a loan from the people of Derbyshire, and, not surprisingly he  concentrated on those people within the towns and villages that he though could afford to pay.

In Bonsall the following people contributed:

                         Anne Hopkinson                                  xls.(40 shillings)

                        William Buckley (parson)                    xxs.

                        Edward Wolley                                   xxs.

                        Mary ffearne                                       xxs.

                        Thomas Marple                                   xxs.

                        George Hardinge                                xls.

                        Anthony Hardinge                              xls.

                        John Harding                                       xls.

John Harding's name was in italics, a possible indication, Burton claims, that it was not on the collector's original list, but was added later.  Burton also claims that some people  in Derbyshire refused to pay, that 'Persuasions, threats and force were used throughout the  county to extort the loan'
13, and that people were not slow 'in offering resistance to the illegal oppressions of King Charles I', an indication of his probable bias against the King.

In 1627 then King Charles I attempted to raise a 'free gift' to supplement his finances, and only eight families in Bonsall were obliged to contribute.  These, without doubt, must have represented the most well-off families in Bonsall in 1627, although there is also evidence that a larger group than this had economic ambitions.  Traditionally the copyholders of the manors of Bonsall and Upper Bonsall had paid a feudal rent to the monarch in return for being able to pasture their cattle and sheep upon the common land.  This rent, of £3..18s..6d was divided between them according to the amount of land each copyholder held.  In 1620, during the reign of James I, thirty-eight copyholders had put their names to a decree confirming the lands that they held, together with the agreement to pasture the common land. Amongst them were William Buckley, Thomas Marple and Edward Wolley, an indication that there was no significant economic difference between them and the freeholders who had to pay King Charles' 'tax' in 1627.  Five years later, in 1632, Charles, to bolster his finances, sold the manors to Henry, Earl of Dover.  The copyholders had probably silently resented paying the feudal rent to the monarch.  They certainly resented paying it to an absentee landlord of a lesser status, and in 1633 they came together to purchase the manor from Dover.  This purchase seems to have been unique in Derbyshire, and indicative of an independence of spirit, and of a political and economic will which marked out the Bonsall copyholders.

The most comprehensive of the seventeenth century tax assessments for the village is that of the Hearth Tax Assessments of 1662-70. (see Chap. 1, The Growth of the Village, pp. )  The Hearth Tax or Chimney Tax as it was popularly called was introduced after the Restoration in 1662, and was withdrawn after the Glorious Revolution in 1689, only to be replaced a few years later by the equally hated Window Tax.  It was levied 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 to those on whom it fell the tax seemed to be a direct levy like the Poll Tax. 

What the Hearth Tax Assessments seem to reveal is that Bonsall was not a particularly wealthy village.  Of the hundred and twenty dwellings eligible for the tax only eight had more than two hearths, and the vast majority had only one.  Of the eight families that contributed to King Charles' tax in 1627 the Hopkinsons, Hardinges, Hardings, Fearnes and Marples appear in the Hearth Tax assessments as having two or more hearths, while the Buckley family is assessed at only one hearth, and the Wolley family name has disappeared altogether.  Mr.Edward Poole, the minister, is assessed with five hearths, and Robert Brittayne, George Bowne and John Abell, with four hearths each, appear for the first time.  Perhaps this is evidence of some limited social mobility in the middle decades of the seventeenth century.  There is also some evidence to suggest that the village enjoyed a degree of self-sufficiency and that at least one shopkeeper, Henry Hill (see also Parish Registers, below), was fairly well off.  In 1670 he was assessed as having three hearths and he also seems to have had an eye for money-making schemes'.  The lack of any coin less than one penny in denomination led to some traders issuing their own tokens, usually for a halfpence or a farthing, which could only be exchanged for their own commodities.

Hill, a butcher, produced a particularly distinctive one stamped with a butcher's knife and cleaver on the obverse side, 15 and including the motto 'Henry Hill of Bonsall, Butcher, 1671' around the rims of the two sides of the coin.  On the reverse side Hill proudly proclaims that this is 'his halfpenny'.  The knife and cleaver were clearly symbols of Hill's trade, and the cleaver is of an era when butchers slaughtered their own, having a blunt point on its back edge to poleaxe his animals.   Jewitt claims that Hill only introduced his tokens in response to another Bonsall butcher, John Balme.  This seems highly likely, particularly as Balme was not sufficiently wealthy to be included in the Hearth Tax assessments of 1670, and must have been regarded by Hill as his inferior, as well as a business competitor, and he could not afford to be outdone by him. John Dryden, a Bonsall grocer, also had his own token that boasted the Grocers' Arms in a shield on the obverse side, with his initials I.D on the reverse.  Seventeenth century Bonsall does not seem to have been short of economic acumen.

In Derbyshire the unpopularity of the Hearth Tax did not give rise to the kind of demonstrations that Chimney Officer was killed in a riot.  It was widely regarded as being oppressive, Petty Constables having happened in other parts of the country.  In Dorset, for example, Edwards describes how one the power to enter houses to check on the accuracy of the assessments, and it was only the Revolution of 1688 that finally brought an end to it.  Ironically, by this time, the tax was beginning to realise its full potential under improved administration.  In Derbyshire the sheriffs managed to collect about 98% of what was assessed, a very high figure when compared to the 80% for the country as a whole.  Only a few years after its removal it was found necessary to introduce the equally odious Window Tax.

Parish Registers

Although Queen Elizabeth I had ordered parish registers to be kept in books which were to be dated back to the beginning of her reign in 1558, it is only after 1634 that any Bonsall registers survive, and it is only after 1657 that they become in any way comprehensive. Even then sections of the registers, particularly at the bottom of pages, and in the margins, can be very difficult to decipher.  What they can do, however, is to begin to give us some idea as to the factors that determined the lives of warm-blooded people, who, like us, lived, loved, breathed, worked and grieved as part of the continuous but ever-changing cycle of life.  In order to do this, particular attention has been paid to those people.
 1   Andy Wood, 'Beyond Post-revisionism', The Historical Journal, 40, I (1997), p.30.
 2   Jill Dias, 'Lead, Society and Politics in Derbyshire before the Civil War', Midland History (1981), p.41.
 3  Dias, p.45.
 4   Wood, p.79.
 5   British Library, Harleian MS, 6833, f.67, detailed in The Reliquary, vol.XIV (1873-4), p.67.
 6   Gladwyn Turbutt, A History of Derbyshire (Cardiff: Merton Priory Press, 1999), p.1042.
 7   Andy Wood, 'Beyond post-revisionism', The Historical Journal, 40, I (1997), pp.23-40.
 8   Jo March, Interregnum Presbyterianism in the Provinces: The Functioning of the Wirksworth Classis, 1652-1658 (Unpublished MA Thesis: University of Warwick, 1999)
 9  J.C.Cox, 'Minute Book of the Wirksworth Classis', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal, vol.II (1880), p.156.
10 J.C.Cox, p.190.
11 Jo March, p.48.
12 Listed in Jowitt R. Burton, 'Hundred of Appletree and Wapentake of Wirksworth - Ayd to His Majesty King Charles I, 1627',Derbyshire Archaeological Journal, vol. XXI, (1899), pp.69-83.
13 Burton, p.83.
14 Not to mention sharp practices.  In the Manor Court Record for 1665, Hill was fined 6d. for the erection or encroachment of 'his shop at Crosse', a fine which became the equivalent for Hill of an
     annual rent, but which gave him a prime site in the village.
15 Llewellyn Jewitt, The Reliquary, vol.