The Finmere Record

The Finmere Record


Who burgled Finmere Warren?


In the early hours of the 20th of November 1848, masked burglars broke into Finmere Warren Farm. Farmer George French woke as three men burst into his bedroom armed with a gun and batons. He was robbed of more than forty pounds. This was but one of several robberies in this area and, after the government and the Buckingham Detective Association offered a reward of £150, police apprehended the burglars. The trial of Joseph Buswell and John Marriott attracted widespread interest, and the respected Jackson’s Oxford Journal swept national news from its front page to lead with the story. Our staff reporter, Andy Boddington, and newspaper correspondents of the day, tell the story of the burglary.

Our account ends at Oxford Assizes, where a chimney sweep and labourer were convicted of the crime. Some have doubted the reliability of the scant identification evidence provided by two of the witnesses. They have changed their stories, it is said, to claim a much needed reward. But distinctive shoe marks found at the scene count against the men and the burglaries ended after their capture. Although some of our readers may question whether the men were fairly convicted, we do not doubt that the gentlemen of the Jury were correct to find these ruffians guilty.

Our Season of Feasts

Mixbury, Monday, 20 November 1848

October and November are jolly months in this part of the world. The harvest has been brought in, the new crops sown and our hard-working farmers can find time to relax. It is Feast time and each village celebrates in turn. On Monday, Mixbury was made cheerful with lines of stalls selling bread, meats, beer and the goods country dwellers much need for the winter. Spaces were set out for dancing to lively tunes played by fiddlers but, sadly, Mixbury no longer has a public house in consequence of the disapproval of the Rector, the Reverend William Jocelyn Palmer. The resourceful villagers, however, have converted the school into a temporary hostelry for their annual Feast.

Mr George French is tenant at Finmere Warren farm. On Monday, he was out rabbit shooting and, as darkness fell, he guided his horse the mile across the fields to Mixbury, arriving at about five o’clock. There, he spent the evening in the convivial company of fellow farmer, William Crawford. Mr French drank a few jugs of beer and two or three glasses of the diluted rum familiarly known as grog.

When he left Mixbury for home shortly before midnight, Mr French was in a jovial mood, but we can reveal that his life has not been particularly happy of late. His troubles began on the night of the 14th of July last when a violent storm swept the district. The Buckingham correspondent for Jackson’s Oxford Journal watched the storm:

A fearful storm of thunder passed over the town on Friday evening last. The hail, which accompanied it, was of large dimensions and the damage occasioned very serious … At Buckingham, a young woman was struck by lightening and instantly lost the sight of both eyes … Several sheep were struck at Finmere and Thornborough … The glass in the front of the house of Mr George French of Finmere Warren was almost all broken and his crops were seriously damaged.

We have heard that the hailstones in Buckingham were three and three-quarter inches in diameter.

It is said that Mr French has of late been worried about his farm, which had been owned by the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. The story of the Duke’s excessive spending is well known and few were surprised at him becoming insolvent earlier this year. As a consequence, Warren Farm was sold to Mr W.M. Warner of Oxford in August. We understand from letters we have seen that Mr French and Mr Warner are not friendly towards each other—the latter had hoped to move to Warren Farm, but Mr French will not move out for him.

A Season of Daring Burglaries

Buckingham, Monday, 20 November 1848

The entire Buckingham and Brackley neighbourhood is deeply worried about a spate of burglaries. There have recently been nine serious break-ins in this area, and much of the talk at Mixbury Feast was about the terrifying raid at Mr Prickett’s sheep farm at Chipshaw near Stowe, just two days earlier.

On that occasion, one of Mr Prickett’s sons had been revelling at Syresham and returned home at two in the morning. He was startled to find a light on in the house and two men beneath a window. As he called out to wake his father, another burglar appeared. The son ran to Dadford to raise the alarm, leaving behind a basket containing a goose he had won at a raffle.

The commotion awoke Mr Prickett, who seized the pitchfork he kept beside his bed for protection and made for the stairs. There he met another three men coming up towards him. Two were armed with guns. Mr Prickett threatened to run them though with the pitchfork and succeeded in holding them back while Mrs Prickett hid their money. But the men warned that they would blow Mr Prickett’s brains out if he did not give way, and he retreated to his room and scrambled out of the window. Left alone with the men, Mrs Prickett told them that her husband had gone to seek help and the men fled, one calling “Come along Austen. Come on. Be quick.” The men, all disguised with handkerchiefs over their faces, took flight with booty of just two pounds of butter and one penny piece.

Two of the men set after Mr Prickett but they could not catch him because, according to the Bucks Chronicle:

His paces measured no less than four feet and a half. To aid his misfortunes, however, during his flight he stumbled and fell, but in relating his adventure, he said that he might truly say, “he did not stop to get up again, for he ran on his hands and knees till he found himself at last on his legs; but he didn’t know how.”

Possibly this tale was related at the local hostelry.

Burglaries in 1848 with dates where known
Burglary of Mr Stuchbury of Bears Green not shown

Audacious Robbery at Finmere Warren

Finmere, Tuesday, 21 November 1848

We have received several reports of a terrifying break-in at Finmere Warren. The farmer, Mr French, arrived home from Mixbury Feast after midnight and, mindful of the recent break-ins and the talk at the Feast, he carefully checked the doors and shutters before he retired to bed. His terrier was set on guard outside.

The burglars arrived little more than an hour after Mr French retired but he did not hear them. The dog did not bark; it was eating some meat brought by the intruders.

The thieves had first tried to force an entry through the windows of two empty rooms on the first floor, making use of a ladder found against a nearby hayrick. But after taking out panes of glass, they found they could not prise the windows open. Instead, one of the burglars forced the grating from the cellar window and stole upstairs to open two of the outer doors. As many as five accomplices entered to search the building.

Three of the men climbed the back stairs and noisily approached the master bedroom. Their racket woke Mr French but, before he could get out of bed, they had opened his bedroom door. In the flickering light of a candle held by one of the intruders, French saw three men in great coats. Two held batons, the third Mr French’s gun. The candleholder wore a hat and had covered his face with a handkerchief—we believe this man to have been John Marriott. While his companions searched the room, Marriott approached French in his bed, saying, “Hallo Master, we want some money.” “Then you shall have some,” French replied, pleading that he had little. He offered three or four sovereigns and some silver from a purse in his trousers pocket.

The masked Marriott was not satisfied and he waved towards a chest of drawers, one of which was locked. Mr French was determined not to give them any more money and claimed that he did not have a key. Another man, with a blackened face, drew a chisel from his pocket and broke open the locked drawer. There he found £40 in bank notes in a pocket book and some gold. We believe this man to have been Joseph Buswell.

Buswell, holding a candle, and another man, pointing a gun, went to the housekeeper’s room. Buswell demanded money from the terrified Mary Irons, “Missus, we want your money,” and she handed over the little cash she had. The two men searched her room for five minutes, demanding to know if she had anything in her trunk. She persuaded them that it contained only clothes and they left.

The burglars were still not satisfied with their plunder. Armed with the gun, Buswell went back to Mr French’s bedroom and demanded to know where the silver was kept. The farmer was now stubborn and, ignoring the danger, he replied angrily that they had stolen enough. Buswell aimed the gun and threatened to make him tell, but none of the burglars used their weapons. Buswell went back to the housekeeper’s room, again seeking the silver but left empty handed.

A Brazen Escape

Finmere, Tuesday, 21 November 1848

We learn that on leaving Mr French’s farm, the robbers took a roast chicken, ham and decanter of wine from the larder. Knowing they were armed, and that Finmere Warren was too remote for anyone to visit early in the morning, they sat on the lawn of the house and calmly drank the wine. Repleted, they tossed the decanter into a hedge and threw the gun into a field as they made their get-away with more than forty pounds in hand.

This shameless and frightening raid was identical in nearly all respects to the raid on Mr Prickett’s farm, as a correspondent to the Bucks Chronicle noted:

There is no doubt but that it was the same party as those who went to Mr Prickett’s, as the number, appearance, foot-marks, expressions, &c., were all similar, if not exactly the same.

We suspect that the thieves had some knowledge of Finmere Warren, as they only tried to force entry into empty rooms and did not try Mr French’s window. They also easily identified the housekeeper’s room, a task otherwise made difficult, according to the Bucks Herald, by the “peculiar construction of the chambers.”

Merriment at the Fair

Deddington, Wednesday, 22 November 1848

The day after the robbery, Buswell and Marriott were reported to be enjoying themselves at Deddington fair. This popular market is known as the “Pudding Pie Fair,” after the pies baked in a hard crust that are made in large numbers for the occasion.

Between nine and ten in the morning, the suspects arrived at the Unicorn, where William Kilbee served them with several pints of beer. The men paid in turns, Buswell with a sovereign. Later, they strolled through crowds that were buying and selling cattle, Welsh sheep and Irish horses. At the King’s Arms Tap, Sarah East served them several times. On one of these occasions, Buswell took off a shoe and did something to its tip and later he danced around the bar.

At Last a Call for Action!

Buckingham, Saturday, 25 November 1848

These burglaries have much terrified everyone in our area and we are pleased that action is at last to be taken. The following notice has been placed about the area:

Whereas, several daring burglaries have been lately committed in Finmere, Water Stratford, and the surrounding district, the farmers and others residing in the neighbourhood, are requested to meet at the
at two o’clock on Saturday, the 25th day of November instant, to consider the proper steps necessary to be taken for the detection and conviction of the offenders.

Mr Philip Box, Radcliffe

Detective Association Formed

Buckingham, Saturday, 25 November 1848

We are pleased to report that the meeting at the White Hart was very fully and respectfully attended. Sir Harry Verney was in the chair. Under his guidance, a great number of the influential gentry and farmers of this area formed themselves into an association for three years that some call the “Buckingham Detective Association” and others the “Protection Society.” The one hundred members include Sir Harry Verney, the Marquis of Chandos, J.H.S. Harrison, Esq. of Shelswell and Mr R. Paxton of Willaston, the latter two having been recently robbed. We are not informed if Mr French attended the meeting and is a member.

At the end of the meeting, the Association ordered a reward of £100 for the detection and conviction of the burglars, to be paid by its members.

The Finmere Record respectfully thanks its sponsor, the Red Lion
(shown on the right of this picture which was taken a hundred years ago).

Her Majesty’s Pardon Offered

Buckingham, Saturday, 2 December 1848

Further to our report on the Detective Association, we can announce that Her Majesty’s free pardon and an extra reward of £50 will be granted to any accomplice who will give evidence that leads to the conviction of the men who broke into the house of Mr French. A reporter at the Bucks Chronicle has seen the letter:


29 Nov. 1848


I am directed by Secretary of State Sir George Grey to acknowledge … your letter … relative to the burglary which was committed on the premises of Mr French … and I am to inform you that in this case a reward of fifty pounds will be paid by the government (in addition to the reward of one hundred pounds offered on the spot) to any person who shall give such information and evidence as shall lead to the discovery and conviction of the offender or offenders. And Sir George Grey will advise the grant of Her Majesty’s gracious pardon to any accomplice who shall give such information and evidence as shall lead to the same results.

I am, sir, your obedient servant

H. Waddington

We are not aware that any clue has yet been obtained about the parties that raided Mr French but we hope that the above reward will soon find out their hiding places.

The Warren Intruders Captured

Bicester, Monday, 31 December 1848

Although we had previously understood that neither French nor his housekeeper could identify the burglars, we are now informed that Mary Irons has recognized one of the intruders. She suspects Joseph Buswell, who had swept the chimneys at Finmere Warren in April and had called at the house looking for a job a month before the burglary.

On the 9th of December, three weeks after the robbery, Mary invited Buswell, who lives at Brackley, to come to the farm to discuss work. He visited three days later and, although he avoided looking directly at Mary, she recognised his face and his voice.

Mr French reported this to the police in Bicester and warrants for the arrest of three men were granted. These were placed in the hands of Mr James Goble, constable of Bicester and Mr George Morgan, constable of King’s Sutton. Mr Morgan arrested Buswell on 15 December, along with George Paxton, a jobbing brewer from Brackley who has brewed for Mr French.

The next day, the Reverend Matthews, magistrate at Bicester, committed Buswell to trial at the Oxford Assizes. Paxton, who was identified solely by his voice, was remanded in custody of the police.

On the 23rd of December, Mr Morgan apprehended John Marriott, a labourer of Brackley and on the 30th, magistrates Henry Payton Esq. and the Reverend Lowe again considered the case. Buswell claimed that he had been at Croton [Croughton] feast on the night of the robbery, Marriott that he had been at his father’s house. While he denied that he had taken part in the raid, Buswell more than once asked if he would be pardoned if he gave the names of the raiders but he was given no assurance on this. Both Marriott and Buswell were remanded in custody to await trial at Oxford. Paxton was released on his own bail of £50. We understand that charges against him will shortly be dropped.

The Burglary Threat is Receding

Buckingham, Saturday, 16 December 1848

Burglaries have of late been heard little of around Buckingham, at least not those of a serious character. We attribute this in a great measure to the formation of a detection society in the town and to the spirited manner in which its committee have reacted. Since the formation of the society, the members have not, as far as we know, suffered from burglarious marauders.

The Trial before Mr Justice Colt

Oxford, Wednesday, 6 March 1849

After two months in Oxford Gaol, the men were tried at the Oxford Lent Assizes. Mr Cripps conducted the prosecution and Mr Williams acted for the defence.

In cross-examining Mr French, Mr Williams noted inconsistencies in his evidence. Was he drunk after the feast? French asserted “No” and William Crawford was called as a witness to support this. After the robbery, French had told the police that he did not know who had committed it. How then was Buswell identified?

Mary Irons explained that she had recognised Buswell from his earlier visits and that she had called him back after the robbery to identify him. Neither she, nor French, said why this action was not taken immediately after the raid or why they had not aired their suspicions then. Mary denied ever having said that she had not recognised Buswell. French said that he found three footprints that matched Buswell’s shoe after the raid.

Williams ended his cross-examination of French with an accusation. Perhaps, he suggested, French had taken action to claim the £150 reward from the Association? Mr Cripps re-examined French who denied interest in the reward. Indeed, he had waited for a fortnight after the reward was offered before sending for Buswell.

Mr Williams addressed the Jury. The case rested on identity, which had not been proven. The burglars were seen for only a few minutes in the dead of night by a flickering candle. One man had his face blackened and the other wore a handkerchief over his face. The stolen property had not been found on them or traced to them. Buswell had said that the sovereign he had spent at Deddington had been from £9 he received for soot sold to a Mr Gardner, a point not challenged by Mr Cripps. There was so much uncertainty in the case that the jury should give the defendants the benefit of the doubt.

Mr Justice Colt summed up carefully, drawing attention to the evidence for and against the defendants, and he left the Jury to draw their own conclusions.

The Grand Jury of gentlemen magistrates could not at first agree and requested permission to retire for private deliberation. When they returned twenty minutes later, the foreman declared both defendants guilty.

The Judge sternly remarked on the terrible nature of the crime. A gang of ruffians had invaded a home in the dead of night and were bent on plundering by violent means. He did not doubt that Buswell and Marriott were part of that gang. If the law did not make an example of such desperate characters, there would be no security for life or property.

Under these circumstances, Mr Justice Colt felt it to be his duty to sentence Buswell and Marriott to be transported to Australia for the term of 20 years.

We do not yet know if Mr French will claim the reward from the Buckingham Detective Association. We hope that the Association will remain effective in preventing burglaries for some years to come.

This is the first in an occasional series of the Finmere Record.

Editorial Notes. This edition of The Finmere Record is based on contemporary, occasionally inconsistent, newspaper reports in Jackson’s Oxford Journal, The Bucks Herald, The Bucks Chronicle, The Bucks Gazette and The Bucks Advertiser and Aylesbury News. Letters in the Huntington Library shed light on the relationship between French and Warner. Some details of the Mixbury feast are based on feasts in nearby villages. The Finmere Record wishes to thank the Centre for Oxfordshire Studies, Buckinghamshire Reference Library and the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.