St Michael's Church

Newsletter 5: October 1997

Repairs and Expansion

In this newsletter, we look at episodes in the history of St Michael’s Church, including the church clock which celebrated its tricentenary on 29 September 1997. There has been a church in Finmere since at least the twelfth century, though no physical evidence of its first centuries survive. The present church is more recent and below we examine two periods in its development.

Troubled Times

Richard Horn was installed as Rector of Finmere in 1632. His forty-five year tenure in Finmere spanned the Civil War and was distinctly troubled. The war began in 1642 and, five years later, had a direct impact on Horn’s life.

In 1643, the royalists stationed soldiers at Finmere. Two years later, these soldiers were attacked by a surprise force of parliamentarians from the garrison at Newport Pagnell. The royalists fled but eventually surrendered at Fringford.

In 1647, the parliamentarians turned their attention to Finmere’s rector. The following is translated from Horn’s Latin notes in the Parish Registers:

A horrid war had now broken out … I have fared badly, having been driven from home by force of arms. I am now being sacrificed to a three-halfpenny fellow minister, Richard Warr. This miserable man behaves dreadfully towards me, but flourishes … I was compelled to depart, having been drained of everything and become almost destitute.

The much despised Presbyterian Richard Warr may have been a soldier in Cromwell’s army. Despite being ejected from his church, Horn continued to live in Finmere, He was probably restored to office when the Parliamentary army was disbanded in 1662.

A Decaying Church

The Civil War was another stage in centuries of neglect that had a devastating impact on the Church. On 29 May 1651, Horn noted:

The Church walls of Finmer propt with timber.

Thirteen years later, on 14 May 1664,  the Bishop of Oxford summoned Finmere’s unhappy churchwardens to explain why the church was in disrepair. The churchwardens:

Acknowledge[d] that their parish church in Finmere is in decay and ready to fall.

The majority of villagers rented their land and, the churchwardens argued, were too poor to pay for the repairs. Fortunately, after pressure from the Bishop on the landowners, remedial work finally got under way. A
stone in the church porch (now lost) commemorated the first phase of repairs:

John Arch-
er is my name.
I laid this ston
and rit the same

Horn retired a year later but the next Rector, Richard Ells, continued his repair work, including installation of the clock.

The interior of the church in 1766

  A Village Subscription

The clock cost £8 10s, a sum defrayed by voluntary subscriptions from 21 villagers, the Rector and the Lord of the Manor. The Lord at that time was Mr Purbeck Temple of Stowe who paid £2, as did the Rector. The farmer Mr Painton contributed £1 10s and the barrister, Mr John James of Finmere House, £1. Smaller farmers and craftsmen contributed between 5s and 1s. These included Gustavus Horne, son of the former Rector who donated 5s.

The clock was probably built by John Ford, clock and watch maker of Oxford.

Repairs and Expansion

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the Church was once again in need of repair. Finmere’s population had grown to a peak of 399 residents and there was need for extra space for worshippers. (Ironically, Finmere’s population subsequently fell and has only reached the mid-nineteenth century levels again in the past few years).

Reconstruction work was extensive. In 1841 the roof of the nave was extensively repaired at a cost of £70 3s 11d, raised through a special parish rate. In 1856, the south and east walls of the chancel were rebuilt at the expense of the Rector, Frederick Walker. Just two years later, the nave was extended with the addition of the north aisle, the roof was extended and the chancel arch rebuilt.

The restored church was reopened on 15 November 1858. Despite foul weather, two services presided over by the Bishop of Oxford and the Dean of Chichester drew large congregations and raised £93 14s 9d toward the cost of the rebuilding.

The Church in 1886

Reinstatement of the Clock

The clock had been taken down during the reconstruction of the nave and was reinstated in 1859. While it was out of service, Dr James Clarke improved the clock.

James Clarke was one of succession of doctors to live at Finmere House. By 1859, he had retired from practice and was busy building clocks. He made several long case clocks and repaired the clocks at Finmere church and Boycott Manor, Dadford. He was assisted by the village carpenter, William Bayliss, who was paid £10 for work on St Michael’s clock.

The Clock

The clock mechanism is set in a ‘bird cage’ case with brass finials on the corner posts. In 1996, Rector Ricky Yates arranged for the mechanism to be moved to the base of the tower. Once again, villagers contributed to the cost. The mechanism is now in a protective wood and glass cover but its workings can clearly be seen. One expert (DF Nettell, writing in Antiquarian Horology) suggests that this is not the original clock but dates from at least 50 years later. Certainly, the current clock reveals the extensive improvements made by James Clarke.

Clarke added a minute hand and increased the ‘going time’ to about five days. For those horologically inclined, Nettell’s detailed technical description of the clock is available from Andy Boddington.

Interior of the Church in 1886

Our Thanks

Many villagers help us compile FHS newsletters. Our particular thanks on this occasion to Eric Harkness for information about the clock.