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Bonsall Parish Church, St. James
St. James' Church
Bonsall, DBY - St. James' Church. View of East end and spire.

St. James' Church was described by Adam in 1840 as " an ancient structure with a square tower, terminated by a spire, and stands on shelving above the Dale,-viewed from which it has a striking effect, and is a fit subject for the pencil."... "The Rev. C. Greville is the present Rector of Bonsall[1]".

Almost a hundred years later the village and its church were mentioned in a local guide:

is an interesting old village, prettily situated in a limestone valley. The Church, built on a rock overlooking the village, was restored and enlarged in 1863, as much as possible of the ancient structure being retained[2]".

It may have been desirable for artists to sketch the church in 1840 but it was lucky the church didn't collapse. The 1863 restoration was vital.

The architect was Mr. Christian, of London, "and the work appears to have been most carefully executed under his supervision"[3] and the contractors and builders were Messrs. Frances & Fox of Cromford. On 14 April 1862 the minister addressed the builders, their workmen and many villagers to marked the beginning of the restoration.[4].

In 1877 Charles Cox wrote about the 1863 restoration:
"The church, which is dedicated to St. James, consists of a chancel, nave with north and south aisles, south porch, and tower surmounted by a spire at the west end. The building is now in good repair and admirable condition throughout, having been restored about thirteen years ago from a grievous state of decay. ... It appears that every care has been taken during this restoration to preserve as much as possible of the old fabric, and the general features of the church are the same as they have been for upwards of five centuries. The enlargement was made by lengthening the aisles at the west end, so that they are now continued almost square with the west wall of the tower"[5].

Bonsall Church, North East

Once the restoration work was completed the church was re-opened for divine service on 4th August 1863. A newspaper report of the service makes it painfully clear how bad things had been. "This old building had been suffered to fall into a most unparalleled state of dilapidation through long continued neglect. The possibility of the parishioners assembling in it for the observances of public worship, with any degree of comfort, was entirely out of the question[6]". Not only had the building been damp, with water standing under the floor of the nave and aisles, but also the galleries above the aisles were rotten and only supported by wooden props. "In fact a most beautiful and interesting church had been completely disfigured as was possible without entire destruction[6] ".

When Miss Price married in 1871 it was reported that "the church is a very handsome building with a spire of unusual elegance, and is now in excellent condition, having been thoroughly restored chiefly through the great exertions of J. Broxup Coates Esq., of the Chestnuts, Bonsall, a gentleman who took the lead in the efforts made to render the festivities of Tuesday last a success [i.e.the village's rejoicing at the marriage]. Mr. Coates has been churchwarden for about 11 years, and took the responsibility of the expense of the restoration upon his own shoulders until the needful funds could be raised". It was a fitting tribute as it wasn't all plain sailing as the scheme met with some opposition, but money was raised by public subscription.

A stone over the church doorway reads:

"This church was re-opened for divine service by the Right Revd. the Lord Bishop of the Diocese, August 4th, 1863, having been restored and enlarged by public subscription for the sum of £1968 12s. 1d. At the same time the chancel was restored by the rector at a cost of £340 18s. 6d. inclusive of allowance for the dilapidation; total cost £1968 12s. 1d. The pulpit was given by Robert Clay, Esq., the reading desk and Communion table by the Revd. Samuel Prince, the chairs by the Revd. G. Bagot, M.A., the clock by Mrs. Elizabeth Ashworth.
  "Evan Christian, Esq., Architect.
"William Francis } Contractors.
"Solomon Fox }
"Rev. Isaac Bickerstaff, B.D. Rector.
"J. Broxup Coates, Esq. } Churchwardens."
"R. Clay, Esq. }[5]

Cox (1877) added that "we have been favoured with a sight of a sketch of the church previous to the alterations, in the possession of Mr. Coates, which gives a good idea of certain of the debased modern windows that then disfigured the building, such as those at the east end of the south aisle. This sketch also shows that there was formerly an exterior staircase on the south side to reach one of the galleries which blocked up the interior"[5].

Memorials of early sepulture were discovered amongst the masonry during the restoration 1862/3; they had been used as building material in earlier times, which was not uncommon[7]. This was probably when Mr. William Marsh, the high bailiff of the County Court for over thirty years, took the carving of a medieval lead miner to Wirksworth to save it from destruction[8]. Wirksworth was the centre of the lead mining industry for the area.

The remainding memorials were taken to the garden of The Cascades, then the home of J. B. Coates, where they were safely stored for some years and where Cox and whoever was with him "were courteously allowed to inspect them" about 1874/5. Cox suggested that "the most suitable place for them was as near as possible to the place the remains were deposited"[7] although he does not say that he mentioned this to Mr. Coates at the time. They were eventually taken back to the church.

Inside the church, against the south wall of the chancel, is a brass plate in a wooden frame bearing this inscription:-
"In memoriam Henrici Hopkinson, generosi quondam Hospitii Lincolniensis, Jurisperiti, qui ex uxore sua Dorothea (filia Anthonii Ailsopp, de Allsopp in le Dale Armigeri) tres filios sus cepit, Anthonium, Gulielmum, et Johannem, et obii quarto die Decembris anno Domini 1634.

A Barrester, a Bachelor of Arte,
A practiser that chose the better parte;
That pleaded more for just defence than gain,
That for the poore and common good took pain,
That councelled peace, for hee did plainly see Too much decrease by suites that trivial bee;

That knewe the lawe, yet soe lov'd neighborhoode,
Noe man did know him sue, or to be sued;
He's burried here, his soule in heaven doth rest,
Without all feare; for peacemakers are blest.
Amici Amantes debentes, et dolentes amoris hoc monumentum possuerunt."

The Hopkinsons, of Bonsall, were at one time a family of some substance. They held a considerable estate, both freehold and copyhold, in the parish as early as the reign of Henry V. Dorothy, the wife of Henry Hopkinson, was one of the nine children of Anthony Allsopp by his wife Jane, daughter of Richard Smith, of Combebridge, Stafford[5].


The final image, below, shows the south eastern side of the church. Two gravestones in this part of the churchyard commemorate two former Rectors. Rev. Mr. Edward, along with his wife and five children, all appear to have died on the same date in 1696. A few years later, in 1707, Reverend Godard Knighton died, aged 34, and was buried at Bonsall. His daughter is in the same grave.

Other surnames on the headstones in this area are Barns, Burton, Eaton, Ells, Frost, Gent, Harding (with Clay and Rains), Lunn, Needham, Sheldon and Smedley[9] .

Undated card

"The registers, now extant, only commence in the year 1719"[5].

Elsewhere on this web site:

Bonsall in Kelly's 1891 Directory
Pigot's 1828-9 Directory, with Matlock, Matlock Bath and Darley includes Bonsall names
Pigot's 1831 Directory, with Matlock and Matlock Bath, includes Bonsall names
Pigot's Directory, 1842, also with Matlock and Matlock Bath, includes Bonsall names
Bonsall: Poems about the village

There are several memorials to the Clay family in this churchyard:
Our Genealogy includes a photo of Robert Clay's Bonsall memorial and an image of the family crest

Other Derbyshire churches where the Clay family worshipped, were christened, married, buried or otherwise associated with, can be seen by clicking on the images below:

Ault Hucknall



North Wingfield



1. Coloured photograph © Andy Andrews.
2. Bonsall Church (about 1877), Heliotype from photograph by R. Keene, by H. M. Wright and Co.. Plate XVIII, Cox [5].
3. "Bonsall Church, Matlock". Valentine Series, No.17503. Printed in Great Britain. Posted 18 Jul 1914 at Matlock Bath. Message not relevant to image. Postcard first published in 1892.
4. "Bonsall Church". Cotswold Publishing Co Ltd., Wotton-under-Edge, Glos. Unused. No date.
All images © Ann Andrews collection.
Written and research by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.


[1] Adam, W. (1840) "The Gem of the Peak" London; Longman & Co., Paternoster Row

[2] Ward Lock & Co's "Matlock, Dovedale, Bakewell and South Derbyshire", Illustrated Guide Books of England and Wales (1932-3), pp.33-34.

[3] "Derbyshire Times", 21 January 1871. Wedding Festivities at Bonsall. Marriage of Miss Price With The Reverend R. W. Bardsley. The comments about the church were referring to the 1863 repairs and alterations that were largely due to the efforts of John Broxup Coates, who had been appointed as a church warden.

[4] "The Derby Mercury", 16 Apr 1862. The Restoration of the Church.

[5] Cox, J Charles (1877) "Notes on the Churches of Derbyshire Vol II, the hundreds of the High Peak and Wirksworth" Chesterfield: Palmer and Edmunds, London: Bemrose and Sons, 10 Paternoster Buildings; and Derby, p.419. However, Derbyshire FHS state that Bonsall's

[6] "The Derby Mercury", 12 August, 1863. Re-Opening of Bonsall Church. Mr. Coates is distantly related to the web mistress.

[7] "Derbyshire Times", 22 May 1875. Notes on the Churches of Derbyshire. Vol. No.XVL Bonsall. Cox's book was serialised in the "Derbyshire Times", hence the publication in the newspaper some two years before the book itself was published. As Cox wrote "we feel sure that that gentleman will agree with us" about returning the old memorials to the church, which is not the same as saying "we spoke to the Churchwarden about this matter and suggested that the best place for them was back at the church", it implies that he did not mention the idea whilst he was there and a guest of Mr. Coates.

[8] Cox, J Charles (1877), as above, but under Wirksworth. In a footnote Cox records that "The preservation of this curious piece of sculpture is due to Mr. George Marsden, of Wirksworth, the indefatigable Hon. Secretary of the Restoration Committee". Mr. Marsden was an Auctioneer and printer in the town. An image of the lead miner can be seen on Lead Mining in Matlock & Matlock Bath.

[9] Further information on these surnames can be obtained by either visiting the graveyard, or from the publications of Derbyshire Family History Society who transcribed the church and churchyard Inscriptions 1994.

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