HOW T’OWD MAN CAME TO WIRKSWORTH
In examining what we know about this stone, the true facts are hard to distinguish from informed speculation. It is agreed that various pieces of carved stone, including T’Owd Man, were discovered during the restoration of the church of St James the Apostle, Bonsall in 1862-63. They date mainly from the thirteenth century and are likely to have been taken from an earlier church and re-used in the fabric of the fourteenth century building, possibly in the foundations. At that stage there is no indication that any of these stones was singled out as special.
However, local people are in no doubt that T’Owd Man was uncovered and removed from Bonsall church during its restoration and taken eventually to Wirksworth St Mary’s a few years later. The stone is now incorporated in the west wall of the south transept. We have to rely on hearsay for the details.
According to Rev. J.C.Cox in his ‘Notes on the Churches of Derbyshire’ published in 1875, these stones were removed for safe-keeping by the Churchwarden, Mr John Broxup Coates and placed in his garden at Nether Green House, Bonsall. Mr Coates clearly took his duties very seriously and had worked very hard to organise the church restoration, being largely responsible for collecting the necessary subscriptions. Three grave slabs were subsequently returned to the church and are still there. T’Owd Man, however, was taken to Wirksworth.
Significantly, Reverend Cox also says that a Mr William Marsh, who came originally from Bonsall, brought T’Owd Man to Wirksworth. Cox was told this by George Marsden, Churchwarden and Chairman of the St Mary’s Restoration Committee, whom Rev. Cox describes as having ensured the stone’s survival. There is no reason to doubt the integrity of what Reverend Cox says, and he was writing very soon after the events. By coincidence St Mary’s was also undergoing restoration just a few years later, between 1870 and 1874. As at Bonsall, several early carved stone fragments were unearthed but at Wirksworth it was decided to incorporate them into the interior walls of the newly restored building. We are led to understand that it was due to George Marsden that T’Owd Man was placed in the wall at the same time.
So we now have two names: William Marsh and George Marsden. How were they connected? William Marsh was born in 1800 in Bonsall and was buried in Wirksworth in 1870. Most of his life was spent in Wirksworth: he is listed in 1835 as a grocer and tea dealer in Greenhill. He and his wife had seven children there and the business was continued by his son Joseph. By 1857 William had become ‘High Bailiff’ of the County Court, which included Alfreton, Ashbourne, Bakewell and Chapel-en-le-Frith. He also served as a member of St Mary’s Church Vestry. He would have been well known in the town and well-respected.
George Marsden was a much younger man, born in 1834, and first appears as a clerk working with his father, an auctioneer at 2 St John St. He later had his own business as a Bookseller and Stationer in the Market Place. Marsden served for a number of years as Churchwarden at St Mary’s and his letters to Sir George Gilbert Scott about the church restoration are on record. As Chairman of the Restoration Committee he would have been the very person to supply information to Reverend Cox when he was researching his ‘Notes on Derbyshire Churches’.
So all we can say with certainty is that William Marsh had family connections in Bonsall and would have had access to the stone, although we do not know on whose authority he was allowed to move it, whereas Marsden would certainly have had the authority to organise the placing of T’Owd Man in its present position. The two men were respectable members of the community, both members of St Mary’s congregation, and would have known each other well. We shall probable never know the true story, but the carving has survived due to the actions of these two men, at a time when it might have been lost to posterity.
- J.C Cox ‘Notes on the Churches of Derbyshire’ 1875
- Adrian Henstock ‘Peak District Mines Historical Society: Mining History Vol 14 No. 2 Winter 1999
- Wirksworth Parish Magazine1868-1875 D3287/50/2
- White’s Directory 1857
- Harrison’s Directory 1860
- Census returns for Wirksworth 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871
- Parish records St Mary’s Church, Wirksworth and St James, Bonsall
Diana Webber 2018