Newsletter 2. April 1997

Great Central Railway

The Great Central Railway was the last main line to be built and the first to be closed. Opened in 1899, it linked Sheffield and the northern industrial towns to London (Marylebone) and the south coast — and, it was hoped, the continent via a channel tunnel! Finmere station (for Buckingham) was a mile from the village at Newton Purcell and two hours from London.

The photograph below (supplied by Jenny Woodworth) was taken around the turn of the century and may show the first stationmaster, John Stenton.

The railway fell victim to Beeching in the 1960s. Finmere station was closed in 1963 and the line in 1966. A recent attempt to revive the line as a goods railway from the midlands to the continent via the Channel Tunnel was rejected by Parliament.

King John’s Hunting Lodge

Wealthy commuters used the railway service, including the residents of Finmere House — one of the earliest and largest houses in the village.

We think that this house may stand on the site of a medieval hunting lodge. This was built in AD1207 at the orders of King John by his chief forester, Hugh de Neville. The King paid the modest sum of £40 to build the lodge which was accompanied by a deer park, probably about 80 acres in size.

We hope to confirm the site of the lodge and the park after further research. [It is in Quainton, not Finmere!]

Reluctant Churchgoers

It was once expected that everyone attended church. In 1738, Thomas Long, the Rector wrote to Dr Thomas Senker of the Diocese of Oxford:

There is a married Gentlewoman lately come into the parish who very rarely comes to Church (I think but once in 4 Months) but I believe rather out of Indolence and Sloth than out of any dislike of the publick Service. I have already talkd with her and shall continue to use the most prudent Methods I can think of to bring her to Reform this Practice ...

There is a very old Man likewise in my Parish, who, tho he comes pretty constantly to Church in the forenoon, yet it is always when the Service is half over, nor has he once, that I can recollect [received] the Sacrament … All this he does out of Scruple and Prejudice having been brought up amongst Dissenters. I have taken some pains with him but to no purpose.


Thomas Long was Rector from 1734-71. Poverty was a problem in his time and throughout the nineteenth century.

In 1768 Diocesan records show that there were 219 people living in about 40 households. Three years earlier, a list of the poor on the Stowe estate in Finmere catalogues 21 families poor enough to receive faggots for heating and poles of land on which to grow food. Half of the village was in need of poor relief. In 1821, 23 people applied for relief to purchase bread following a price rise.

Finmere landowners, including the Duke of Buckingham and the Rector, set up several schemes for poor relief. From at least 1818, the village operated a ‘roundsmen system’ where men and boys on relief worked on the highways or in the Duke’s woods. In 1820 there were 33 men on the rounds but unemployment increased rapidly. In 1826 most of the village was on relief with only 19 of 90 men in employment. Many relief schemes were tried, including low rent allotments on the poor plot and apprenticeships.

A Falling Population

None of these schemes was particularly effective at relieving poverty and in 1831 money from the rates was used to help families emigrate. The first family to leave for New York was the Paxton family who had been here since the fifteenth century and had been important farmers. Only some of the Paxtons left in 1831, however, as there were 25 Paxtons in Finmere at the time of the 1851 census.

Rachel Paxton was the village sub-postmistress from 1891 or earlier until at least 1915. Letters through Buckingham arrived at 8am and were dispatched at 1.10pm and 5pm. By 1895 there was a second post with a delivery of letters at 1.00pm.

The village was smaller in Rachel’s day. It had grown steadily throughout the medieval period from 19 tenants and their families in 1086 to reach 221 people in 1768. In 1851 the population peaked at 399 residents but after this it fell. In 1891, Rachel’s Post Office served a smaller population of just 283 people. It dropped further still to reach a low of 187 in 1931 (see below). Since that time it has risen to 364 (1991) and is still growing.

Not many families will have emigrated to America, perhaps as a few as five. Others will have left the village to seek work in rapidly expanding towns such as Banbury which more than doubled its size in the nineteenth century.

A Finmere Party

This photograph was provided by Ron Wakelin. Can anyone tell us about the occasion and provide the names of those shown?

Help Needed

This is the second in an occasional series of newsletters about Finmere’s history. If you have information about the history of the village, especially old photographs and documents, please let us know.