William Bagshawe was born in the village of Litton on January 17, 1627-28. He was educated at country schools and under Mr Rowlandson's ministry at Bakewell and Mr Bourne of Ashover he "absorbed very deep religious impressions". He later attended Cambridge University where he took his BA Degree in 1646. William possessed a strong desire to enter the ministry, although some of his friends tried to dissuade him and suggested he should follow some other occupation. He ignored this advice and preached his first sermon at Wormhill, where he remained for three months. In 1649 he moved to Attercliffe, Sheffield, as he felt the need for a wider experience and became assistant minister to Mr James Fisher (who was also subsequently to be ejected from Sheffield Parish Church and founded Upper Chapel).
On New Years Day 1650-1, he was ordained by the presbytery at Chesterfield by the laying on of hands. In the following summer he married Agnes daughter of Peter Barker of Darley. Early in the year 1652 he was appointed as Vicar of Glossop where he worked happily for the next ten and a half years and would have continued to do so if not for the passing of the second Act of Uniformity in 1662, which resulted in the ejection of 1700 of the Clergy of the Church of England. He was one of many who refused to conform and lost the work he loved most, his home and his living. However, it seems that Bagshawe was prepared to risk further persecution as he could not bring himself to give up his work completely and went from village to village and house to house preaching the word to anyone who would listen.
During the reign of Charles II and James II, the rejected ministers suffered a great deal of persecution and it is said that in the reign of Charles II alone, 8,000 non-conformists died in prison. Because of William's choice of the ministry despite friends' advice, he was partially disinherited by his family. After the Great Ejection, he was in constant fear of fines and imprisonment and so was obliged to act with great caution. Every Sunday morning and afternoon he attended the parish church at Chapel en-le-Frith, but in the evening he held service privately in his own home and elsewhere. After the Declaration of Indulgence in 1672 (which repealed earlier Acts against non-conformists) he took out a licence to preach and then began the most important work in his life. Travelling mostly on horse-back through the valleys of the wild peak country, he visited the people of Glossop once a month and as a result of his previous work founded no less than nine congregations among the scattered villages of Great Hucklow, Bradwell, Chelmorton, Ashford, Charlesworth, Stoney Middleton, Chinley, Tideswell and Bank End.
As a result of the "Toleration Act" of 1689, all dissenting preachers were required to take the oaths and subscribe all the articles of religion (excepting 34th, 35th and 36th) before Quarter Sessions or otherwise be liable to prosecution under the Conventicle and Uniformity Acts of Charles II. William Bagshawe took these oaths in 1689. He lived at the new family home at Ford Hall for the rest of his life, but the Hall at Great Hucklow belonging to his brother John became his temporary residence during the time when he was establishing congregations in that area. The "Toleration Act of 1689" also required the registration of meeting places, and the records show that the Hall at Great Hucklow was one of these, having been registered by his brother John Bagshawe in 1689 (meeting places at this time were almost all dwelling houses). The Great Hucklow congregation was officially established in 1696, which was probably by no coincidence the same year that John Bagshawe became High Sheriff of the county.
Concerning his private life, the Apostle of the Peak is said to have kept a constant guard on his heart at all times and to have attained such a degree of grace that few arrive at. As a son he was most dutiful to his parents; as a master he was kind and considerate; as a husband he was loving and affectionate and as a father he was anxious for the moral and spiritual welfare of his children. In personal appearance and manner he is said to have been most saintly, and his earnest and reverent ways were said to have laid a restraint on his adversaries. There is a story of two informers who went to disturb him, but who later confessed that his countenance struck terror into them, and one of them before he died often sent to him for his pardon and prayers.
William Bagshawe published several volumes of practical divinity, mostly the substance of sermons, and a treatise of great interest entitled "De Spiritualibus Pecci: notes or notices concerning the work of God and some that have been workers together with him in the High Peak".
The bulk of his journeys were performed on horseback, and we can easily imagine what a difficult task this would be at certain seasons of the year, in fact there are frequent references to these difficulties and dangers in his diary, and he states how on one occasion he and a T. Barber were lost in a mist between Castleton and Bradwell. In this connection there is a remark in the diary that is quite applicable to our own times as it was to those of the Apostle of the Peak, in so far as they apply to the congregations. He says (February 16th, 1696)
" Serious ministers must and do break through cold and rain when many of their congregation think themselves excused."
For the last winter of his life he was confined to his own house, but even then he did not cease his ministry, for he conducted services there. His last sermon was on March 22nd, 1701-2 and on the next Sunday he was unable to leave his bed. On the Wednesday evening, April 1st 1702, he asked for a hymn to be sung, and he attempted to join every line of it, a prayer followed to which he responded with a fervent "Amen", then fell into a sleep and appeared to breath without pain and passed away. He was buried in the Chancel of Chapel en le Frith Parish Church on April 5th 1702 even though his wish had been that he should not be buried in a place styled "consecrated".
In his will dated 17th October 1701 he bequeathed small sums to the poor of Litton, Glossop and Wormhill; and 35 shillings yearly secured by a rent charge on certain land in Wormhill, "to and for the encouraging of serious preaching and preachers, who may not, according to some late laws, officiate in the most public places".
Both William and his wife Agnes (who died shortly before him in 1701) were buried in the chancel of Chapel in the Frith, and surprisingly a small brass plaque in the floor of the chancel records his wife's interment but not his own. Perhaps as some attempt to right this omission, the Bagshawe family had a memorial plaque placed in the church in 1880 to the Memory of the "Apostle of the Peak". It had been the wish of William Bagshawe, Esq. who died in 1756 that this monument should be erected to his grandfather and all other relations who had been interred in the Church. But for some reasons or other the intentions as specified in his will had not been carried out.
It was left until W.H.G. Bagshawe, Esq., of Ford Hall performed the dutiful act to perpetuate the Memory of The Apostle of the Peak. The design of the memorial was prepared by Mr Edwin Smith of Sheffield and is in the Italian style. The principle materials employed are Sicilian marble and alabaster and the cost was £250 in 1880, the lengthy inscription can be read below;
"To make known and to keep in men's memories the worthy deeds of a former inhabitant of this parish, William Bagshaw, namely the Apostle of the Peak, this inscribed stone is erected in compliance with the will of his grandson hereafter mentioned. He was the eldest son of William Bagshaw, Esq., of Abney, Litton, Hucklow, and Ford; was born at Litton January 17th, 1628; educated at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge; ordained a minister of the church of England when it was Presbyterian; exercised his office at Wormhill, at Sheffield, and in the neighbouring parish of Glossop, of which he was for eleven years the vicar. After the restoration of Episcopacy, being unable to comply with the terms of the celebrated Act of 1662, he resigned his ecclesiastical preferment and retired to Ford Hall, his patrimonial inheritance. But though he ceased to be a minister of the Established Church, he did not allow himself to be divested of his character of a minister of the word of God. Like the Apostles Peter and John (Acts v. 42) he ceased not to teach and to preach both at his own house and from house to house. Nor did he labour in vain. Throughout the wild regions a spiritual awakening such as had never before been seen followed his exhortations, and multitudes were led to accept from his lips the offer of eternal life. Free grace through a crucified Redeemer was the theme which produced so mighty a result, for although Mr Bagshaw was very anxious to press moral duties, yet he was far more solicitous to unfold the mystery of the gospel, and to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ, being fully satisfied that unless men be washed in His blood, clothed with His righteousness, and animated by His spirit, their highest attainments and most splendid performances will leave them short of heaven. For forty years this parish was the centre of his evangelical efforts, which embraced the whole of North Derbyshire. At length, the infirmities of age obliged him gradually to transfer to others the oversight of the numerous congregations which he had gathered, and on the 1st April 1702, he fell asleep in Jesus, resting his hopes on that imputed righteousness of which he had so often preached. His remains were interred in the chancel of this church. Also in memory of Agnes, his wife, the daughter of Peter Barker, of Darley, in this county, baptised April 19th 1626; married June 11th, 1651; died June 1st, 1701. Also John Bagshaw, their eldest son, born Jan. 8th, 1654. Also Samuel Bagshaw, Esq.,. of Ford Hall their second and only surviving son - "an accomplished gentleman, a good scholar, and a pious Christian" - born December 31, 1656; died December 8, 1706. Also Sarah, wife of the above-named Samuel Bagshaw, Esq., of Holmes Hall, near Leeds; by Faith, daughter of Colonel Spencer, of Attercliffe Hall, near Sheffield; born January 26, 1662; married April 30, 1685; buried April 29, 1763. Also William Bagshaw, Esq., of Ford Hall, the eldest son of Samuel Bagshaw Esq., and grandson of the Apostle of the Peak; for many years on the commission of the peace, and deputy lieutenant for this county; baptised May 4 1686; died November 26, 1756. Also of Mary, wife of William Bagshaw, Esq., aforesaid, and daughter of John Wingfield, Esq., of Hazleborough Hall, in this county; by Mary, sister of Sir Samuel Clarke, of West Bromwich, in the county of Stafford; born February 20, 1682; married October 26, 1727; died January 15, 1754. All the above mentioned members of the Bagshaw family are interred in the chancel of this church. In giving this brief biography of the venerable "Apostle of the Peak," it may be truly said of him that the memory of the good is blessed."
Extracts on William Bagshawe taken from 'The History of the Old Chapel Great Hucklow 1696-1996' compiled by Yvonne Miller 1995, ISBN 0 9527554 1 6
The minister at the Independent Chapel at Chinley believes that Bagshawe had a chapel where marked and that he lived nearby. There is a Bagshaw Hall not far away; perhaps he lived there. He founded the Independent Chapel at Chinley and is probably buried somewhere there.