The story starts a year ago when an Orange County resident with the last name of Bonsall contacted the Bonsall Chamber of Commerce wanting to know how Bonsall, California got its name. Newly-hired executive administrator Penelope Richards-Clark did some research and found out that Bonsall was named in 1889 after a local resident, James Bonsall, a retired Methodist minister who developed a fruit tree nursery there.
Richards-Clark said, “The Orange County Mr. Bonsall then gave me his complete genealogy, dating back to King James and Bonsall UK where his family crest is in their church’s stained glass window.” She then found Bonsall UK on the Internet and contacted its respective Bonsall Historical Society in the person of board member Peter Fellows. She started a dialogue with him and is “very excited to create a relationship with Bonsall UK.”
Last summer, Richards-Clark learned that two longtime Bonsall residents, Dr. Derek and Margaret King, were planning a trip to England in October. She told them about Bonsall UK and they added it to their itinerary with the goal of being ambassadors from their hometown.
Derek King, a holistic chiropractor, muscle kinesiologist, and whole food nutritionist, and his travel agent wife, arrived in Bonsall UK late in the day on Oct. 21, 2013. King said that travelers cannot pass through the British hamlet without knowing it as they do with Bonsall USA, “you don’t find it unless you are looking for it.” The small town is in an out-of-the-way location on the side of a hill in an enclosed valley with a stream running through it.
As frequently happens, there were two other big events in town that night, so the Kings visited with just five residents (including Fellows) of the hamlet which has a population of 848. [In comparison, Bonsall USA has 4,000 residents.]
They met in one of the two local pubs which was full of people and smoky, but they enjoyed “amazing talk” on a wide variety of subjects, including politics, weather and economics. At evening’s end, they all hugged “like we had been friends forever,” King said.
According to Fellows, the first written record of the hamlet’s existence is “in Domesday Book of 1086 as ‘Bunteshale’, meaning ‘Bunt’s nook of land’ but we know nothing of the eponymous nook-owner nor the location of his bit of land. The early architecture was wooden and subsequently built over, so stone Bonsall is on top of wooden Bunteshale.”
Currently, the whole town of Bonsall UK would “fit in River Village” over here, King said. They have a roundabout there (at the village square which has a handful of buildings) and just two narrow streets off of it.
King described the area’s weather as “not much sunshine and lots of rain,” and the hillsides as having “many shades of green.” It was harvest time when he was there and many of the residents were at a potluck dinner sharing their produce which was farmed in a community planting area.
As for the residents’ occupations, Fellows said, “Agriculture remains important in the village with 11 dairy/beef farms but it is no longer a main source of employment. People in Bonsall have a very wide range of jobs, either employed in nearby towns and cities or self-employed and working in the village.”
Fellows added that 22 small businesses are located in an old textile mill and an estimated 50+ people operate businesses from their homes. The town website’s list of local businesses includes an accountant, two artists, a band, event management, photographer, garage construction, a tea room, four bed and breakfasts, and two website designers.
King described his visit as “a great experience; the people are very nice, very hospitable.” In comparison with his hometown, he said, “both are small towns filled with wonderful people,” otherwise they are very different in geography, weather, wealth, economy factor and in history.
In contrast, Bonsall USA is spread out in open valleys with a much drier, almost desert-like, climate. The area includes horse farms, a golf course, a wildlife center, a western-theme camp and numerous businesses.
On the chamber website, the history of Bonsall USA has it that James Bonsall “apparently was taking a load of lumber south through Gopher Canyon when his wagon broke down. He found the area so appealing, he purchased some acreage from a settler, built a home, and developed his nursery.” Many residents found Bonsall much the same way, happening upon the area, liking it, and staying.
On the other hand, the families of Bonsall UK have been living there for generations. Fellows will be writing an article for his village’s February newsletter, which is called ‘Mutterings,’ “to see what level of interest people in the village have in a link with our American cousins,” he said.
Richards-Clark is hopeful that they will be able to officially establish the two Bonsalls as sister cities. Some ideas she has in mind are creating “a house-swapping program for families to swap homes during summer months so we can learn and share about each other’s cultures and enjoy local sightseeing,” as well as a youth exchange program in which “high school kids could do an month exchange at a host family in each country.”
Richards-Clark has several British friends who love California sunshine, and her own children are eager to travel to Bonsall UK. So, she is optimistic about the future success of interaction between the two hamlets named Bonsall and the next chapter in their story.
More information on Bonsall UK can be found at www.bonsallvillage.org and www.bonsallhistory.org.uk while more information on Bonsall USA can be found at www.bonsallchamber.org.