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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.

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"[3].

On 14 April 1862 the minister addressed the builders, their workmen and many villagers to marked the beginning of the restoration. The contractors and builders were Messrs. Frances & Fox of Cromford[4].

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[5]". 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[5] ". The 1863 repairs and alterations were largely due to the efforts of John Broxup Coates, who had been appointed as a church warden. It wasn't all plain sailing and the scheme met with some opposition but money was raised by public subscription.

"The registers, now extant, only commence in the year 1719"[3] .


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[6] .

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 [3].
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] 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 stae that Bonsall's registers date from 1634.

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

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

[6] 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.

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

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

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