A Christmas and New Year Miscellany

Newsletter 7: December 1997

Happy Christmas and New Year!

For the festive season, we bring you a miscellany of notes about past life in Finmere and Little Tingewick. We will continue to explore these and other topics in newsletters throughout 1998.

Hedgerows and Hedgehogs

The Deer Park.

 In AD1207, King John ordered his chief forester to build a hunting lodge at Finmere. This was probably about 80 acres in size and we now think it lay between Gravel farm and Widmore to the south of the village.

The Warren.

 The Warren, a farm west of Finmere village, gets its name from an artificial rabbit warren. This was constructed in 1339 — long before rabbits became a pest — to breed rabbits for food.

Open fields.

 The medieval village, deer park and warren were set in three ‘open fields’: South Field (to the south of the village), Mill Field (to the north) and Field next Fulwell (to the west). These were made up of narrow strips of ploughland known as ridge and furrow: some of these can still clearly be seen near Hill Leys farm. The open fields were ‘inclosed’ by hedges to form the now familiar rectangular fields in 1667.

Hedgehogs and Sparrows.

One effect of inclosure was to increase rents and it became more important to protect stock and crops. A systematic plan was instituted to kill all vermin thought to be a danger to crops, cows, sheep, and poultry. The Churchwardens kept a notebook in which they normally noted payments for Bred and Wine and oyle for ye Clock. It was also used to record frequent payments to villagers for killing vermin.

The notebook reveals that villagers netted hundreds of Sparows each year. In 1731 the Churchwardens paid 2 pence per duson for them. Four pence was paid for an old heg hog and 2 pence for young one. Between one and twelve foxes were killed each year, even though packs of hounds were kept at Tusmore and Bucknell. The price for a dead fox, or a fock’s hed, was one shilling.

In 1731, the Churchwardens handed out 12s 10½ in rewards for dead vermin from a total expenditure of £2 18s 10½.

Village Notes

Capability Brown.

Lancelot (Capability) Brown moved to Stowe in 1740 where he worked under William Kent and rose to become head gardener. His earliest venture in Oxfordshire was the design for the grounds of Finmere Rectory drawn up some time during the 1740s. Here, by careful grouping of trees, he was able to create “the effect of a long perspective and considerable space … where there was really little.”

Stone House, painted above in 1886, was originally known as Lepper’s House after the Lepper family.

Chinnals Close is named after the field on which the houses were built. The field was probably named after its early owners. The Chennell family (also spelt Chenels, Cheynell, Channel) appear in parish records from 1663 to 1776. A Thomas Cheynell, christened on 14 October 1689, was paid 5 shillings for looking after the church clock in 1731. He was a churchwarden at his death in 1761. Another Thomas Channel died in 1776, the last mention of the family in the parish registers.

Emigrants. We reported in Newsletter 2 that some Finmere residents emigrated to America to escape poverty. These included the Paxton family. The Paxtons from Finmere and Marsh Gibbon set up home in Pennsylvania — where they now spell their name, Paxson. We have traced their descendants who have established a family history Internet site at:

user.mc.net/~cherokee/paxpage/paxson.htm (This was no longer available in November 2003)

Unlucky Publican

Robert Greaves was landlord of the Kings Head during the mid-nineteenth century and also a brickmaker. The Rector, William Jocelyn Palmer, appreciatively described him as:

a respectable and sober housekeeper, a constant attendant at church and a frequent Communicant.

Palmer’s admiration did not, however, last for long.

Robert Greaves was born in Finmere in 1805. In his twenty-third year, he married eighteen year old Elizabeth Petty in St Michael’s Church. They had five children before Elizabeth’s early death in 1847. Robert’s next actions were to draw Palmer’s anger.

On 16 May 1848, just ten months after his wife’s death, forty-three year old Robert married Emma Northover, aged twenty. The wedding was not held in Finmere but in St Pancras Old Church, Camden, apparently to hide an embarrassing fact. The truth was, however, soon discovered.

Emma was Emma Petty, the niece of Greave’s late wife. Palmer acerbically condemned the marriage:

[This] was in fact no marriage at all, either by the Ecclesiastical or by the Civil Law … the impediments were well known, but were intended to be got the better of by the form of marriage obtained under the disgraceful circumstance of fraud and perjury.

Palmer’s point was that it was then illegal to marry a deceased wife’s relative. [It is ironic that it was Palmer’s son, Roundell, who eventually made such marriages legal in 1883.] Palmer took action by refusing the couple Communion. The Greaves, in any event, no longer attended church, not wishing to suffer Palmer’s “repeated admonitions.”

Robert and Emma had three children during Palmer’s residency and his ire spilled over into his records of their christenings:

There has been issue of this connection, which may be seen in the Parish Register in various forms. The last entry (1852) is supposed to be the most correct.

The Register entries, including one crossed out, were:

1 March 1849. Thomas Henry Petty, son of Emma Petty, alias Northover, alias Neville, alias Greaves, single.

18 May 1851. Charles Frances Petty, otherwise Greaves, son of Emma Petty.

17 October 1852. Mary Emma Petty, illegitimate daughter of Emma Petty, living as wife with Robert Greaves, victualler.

17 October 1852. Mary Emma Greaves, illegitimate daughter of Robert and Emma.

After Palmer’s death in 1853, Emma and Robert’s lives proved easier. There was no adverse comment by Rector Frederick Walker on the birth of their fourth child, Edward, in 1854. Emma died three years later, aged just 29. She is buried in the churchyard and her gravestone at last recognises her marriage:

In memory of Emma
Wife of Robert Greaves


Unlucky Rectors

Sorrow!  Was Richard Horn (1632-77) Finmere’s unluckiest Rector? In 1647, Horn was ejected from his position by Oliver Cromwell’s troops and forced to live in poverty. He was reinstated by 18 February, 1661, when a “tempestuous hurricane from the west” destroyed most of the Rectory. He rebuilt it, but on 5 July 1668 it burnt down. He moaned:

Oh! Sorrow! Here now the great House of the Priest has fallen by a fire overcoming it.

Did he take it with him? Many Finmere Rectors were wealthy. Robert Holt, however, was born to a poor family in the north-west. He won scholarships to Brasenose College, Oxford and when he was appointed Rector of Finmere in 1790, he must have celebrated his success. He was not, however, financially successful. At his death twelve years later, at the early age of forty-two, he was destitute. Moreover, nearly seven year’s funds from the Ells’ apprentice charity were missing, a total of £14 3s 6d.

Unlucky Farmers

Aliens or vandals? Finmere’s first crop-circle was spotted on Gravel Farm on 9 August 1997. It is a curious formation of three large linked circles combined with four small circles. Those with Internet access will find a picture of the crop circle at:


Unlucky Historians

Burnt history. From the seventeenth century onward, the notes and letters of Finmere’s Rectors provide a major source of information about the village. We were aware that Dorethea — wife of William Jocelyn Palmer (Rector of Mixbury from 1802-52 and Finmere from 1814-53) — had written about village life in many letters to her eleven children. We had hopes of finding these letters until we visited Lambeth Palace Library to study the autobiography of one of her six sons, Roundell Palmer. He wrote:

My mother’s letters were generally about the common events, interesting at the time of the passing day, and were written for the time only:- it was her habit to tell us to burn them, and she was obeyed.

Roundell Palmer became Lord Chancellor of England and was subsequently ennobled as the first Earl of Selbourne.

Our particular thanks to Lambeth Palace Library, Dallas City Library, Oxfordshire Archives and Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre for information used in this newsletter.