Stowe Road Proposal
Poacher Cranfield

Newsletter 16: March 1999

From Finmere to Stowe

We have recently discovered plans to build an approach road to Stowe from Finmere.

Lord Temple, Richard Grenville, inherited Stowe in 1749. Building on the work of his uncle, Lord Cobham, Temple energetically reshaped the house and grounds. By his death in 1779, he had overseen the creation of one of the finest garden landscapes in Europe.

Lord Temple's magnificent estate needed good road connections. Visiting nobility and royalty would approach on perfectly straight roads lined with trees. As they rode closer to the estate, grand vistas would open revealing the glory of Stowe, the splendour of its temples and the opulence of the main house.

The approach from Buckingham was known as the Grand Avenue. It leads from the town centre via Chackmore to the Corinthian Arch. Once through the arch, visitors were treated to a panoramic view of the south front of the house.

From the southwest and Oxford, the approach was along The Course, the tree lined avenue from the Lodge on Brackley Road to the current entrance to Stowe. Thereafter, the Oxford Avenue continues over Oxford Water to the north front of the house.

The plan was to extend this approach to the turnpike road at Finmere. Local landowners and gentry built the first turnpike roads at the end of the seventeenth century. They were managed by local trusts and the costs of construction were recouped by tolls collected by pikemen. The Temples had helped finance the turnpike that passed Finmere. It ran from Bedford via Stony Stratford, Buckingham, Tingewick, Aynho and Banbury to Warmington in Warwickshire. The section that bypassed Finmere (the old B4031) was the first to be built in 1744.

A map in the Huntington Library, California shows that the Temple family planned to link the Turnpike to the Oxford Avenue. We show the proposed line of the road on the map to the right. The Huntington map in undated but is likely to date from the early nineteenth century. The road was probably not built because of the increasingly disastrous state of the family's finances as they strove to fight off bankruptcy (Newsletters 13–15).

Finmere would have been quite different if the road had been built. There would have been a lodge where the school now stands. A tree-lined avenue would have stretched north through Town Close and Finmere Grounds past Bacon's House. Subsequent development would also have been very different.

Sketch of the fields in Water Stratford and Finmere through which an extension of the line of the Road from Stratford Lodges would pass.

The Weather and the School

Next month's Newsletter will feature Finmere weather, including the 1661 hurricane, the 1766 ice storm and the 1998 flood. If you have memories or photographs of other tempestuous events, please contact Andy Boddington on 847587.

Finmere new school is 40 years old this year. We will be helping the school celebrate its anniversary with a newsletter on the old and new schools. Again, memories and photographs will be welcome.

Departure of the Cranfields

Thirteen years ago, Philip Willison and Anita Bilbo were preparing to write a new history of Finmere to update Blomfield's 1887 History. Sadly, Philip died and the history was put on hold. But the idea of a new history did not fade. During the summer of 1996, Barry Cranfield marshalled interest in the idea of a historical society. In August, about 15 people met on the lawn of the King's Head and Finmere and Little Tingewick Historical Society was born.

Barry and Carol Cranfield played an active part in the Society. Barry researched several articles, including archaeology (Newsletter 3) and the Cliffords (Newsletter 4). Carol delivered the newsletters and sold our new edition of Blomfield to villagers.

As many of you will know, Barry and Carol have moved to Suffolk. They will be sorely missed and we wish them well.

Departure of Cranfield

Hundred-and-fifty years ago, Cranfield was also a name to conjure with. But Cranfield was not welcome in Finmere or anywhere else in the district. Neither was his accomplice, Makepeace.

In 1844, the second Duke of Buckingham and Chandos was informed that poachers were operating on his land. On 21 April Thomas Beards, Steward of Stowe Estate, wrote:

Village and all the keepers are all aware that Cranfield has been in the neighbourhood, and are keeping a sharp look out for him.

Three weeks later, on 12 May, Beards wrote to reassure the Duke that Cranfield was being sought. He had not, however, been captured:

I believe Village and the other keepers are using every occasion to take poacher Cranfield and his associate Makepeace. They went from Buckingham towards Westbury last Wednesday morning, one turn off at the Welsh Lane [towards Biddenham], the other continued on the road. They met at Shalstone and went towards Tingewick. Young Bennett at Shalstone told me Cranfield had an air gun with him, but I cannot vouch for the truth of that statement.

Sadly, we hear no more from Beards about Cranfield and Makepeace. This is one of many records about Finmere and the local area preserved in the Huntington Library, California.

Not Much History Here Then!

In 1996, I had been in Finmere less than a year and knew little of its history. Nevertheless, I was appointed Chairman of the History Society at its inaugural meeting. A few weeks later, I was in conversation with a villager who has lived here all his life. His comment was: "Well, there's not much history here. Is there?" I confess I agreed with him.

I was, of course, quite wrong. Although Finmere has always been a small, quiet village, history certainly did not pass it by. There are several reasons for this abundance of history. The Rectors played an important role in Finmere life for centuries. Fortunately, many of them made notes about their activities in a notebook. This is now preserved in Oxford County Archives. The Reverend Blomfield made good use of this notebook in his History, just as we have made good use of Blomfield's text in our research. There are hundreds of other documents about Finmere in the Archives.

From the late seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century, the Dukes of Buckingham and their forbears owned Finmere. Amongst their archives in the Huntington Library, California, are several hundred more Finmere documents. I recently began to research these during a two-week study trip to the Huntington.

Information about Finmere is not just to be found in libraries and archives. Archaeological digs on the bypass, villagers' memories, photographs and deeds have all greatly added to our knowledge.

I was wrong. There is a lot of history here.

The New History

Our Millennium History will select the most interesting stories from this wealth of historical evidence. It will be well illustrated with photographs, drawings and maps. Each picture will be used to illustrate a story that tells of life in Finmere during the last one hundred and fifty years or so. Our history will both be entertaining and historically accurate.

With the aid of the Parish Council, we hope to be able to distribute a free copy of the History to every household in the village and sell copies further afield. It will be a unique Millennium souvenir for everyone to keep. We will publish more detailed plans for the Millennium History in a later newsletter.


Many people help produce and distribute our Newsletters, which are distributed free to houses in the village. Our thanks to them all. Our particular thanks to the Huntington Library, San Marino, California for their support during my recent visit and permission to reproduce the letters and maps. If you live outside the village and wish to receive Newsletters, please contact Andy Boddington.