If the difference between a village and a town is the existence of a market, then it is hard to say exactly where Bonsall stands. Certainly it has a very handsome market cross, set high on 13 steps, but no documentary evidence to prove a regular market. A charter submitted in 1670 was turned down.
Bonsall’s general past is easier to put together and anyone who shares my surname will forgive a short history lesson on the Buntings. Our family tree was rooted here 1,300 years ago by a Saxon thane named Bunt, rewarded for military service with a piece of land hereabouts. By Norman times Bunteshale, meaning ‘Bunt’s corner of land’, was a settled hamlet. Spelt Bonteshall into the 1600s, the place name evolved into the simpler Bonsall and, amazingly, Bunting descendants inhabit ‘their’ village to this day.
A General Musters Return from Elizabethan times lists a respectable little force of landowners ready to bear arms for their country: ‘In the towneship of Bonsal harnes and weapons in redynes for one archer. Able men wtout harnes in ye same towne. Archers ij. Billmen v.’
Bonsall had been exploited for lead since probably Saxon times and land passed in and out of Crown ownership until 1633, when 40 tenants successfully claimed rights as copyholders. Change was in the air and during the Commonwealth Cromwell’s Parliamentary Commissioners called on the Bonsall parson. They found him ‘an able man of good conversasion’ with a flock which even complied, albeit only twice, with a decree ordering monthly one-day fasts from food, ‘bodily delights, rich apparel, ornaments and such like’. No doubt the villagers heartily welcomed the Restoration, for their King’s Head Inn of 1677 honours the Merry Monarch himself, Charles II.
Bonsall actually had its own ‘royal’ family by the surname of Prince. An old story tells how a former resident had been mocked for his country ways, until he described his home town as the seat of worthy Princes, where every man’s home was reached over a marble bridge. True enough, for until Miss Prince paid for Bonsall Brook to be culverted in 1871, it ran alongside the main street, bridged by white limestone slabs in front of each cottage.
Geologists know Bonsall for its minerals, igneous rocks, and the lava channel formed millions of years ago by volcanic activity around Ember Lane Neck. Lead miners had enjoyed the added reward of silver deposits at Ball Eye mine. Bonsall’s industrial history is unusually varied; other natural riches have included calamine, barytes and white chert, all exploited by 19th-century industry. Almost 150 framework knitters worked from their cottages or from workshops such as those which survive near the market place and in The Dale.
Bonsall presents a compact and friendly community in spite of appearances, where one half of its residents spend their days looking up to, or down upon, the rest… a split-level village of split-level houses and farmland, plus a split-level church and graveyard.
And the wonderful summertime well dressings are famous far and wide.