Finmere: A Ten Minute History


Finmere is an Anglo-Saxon name that means either "woodpecker by the pond" or "boggy area with a pond."

In old documents, Finmere is often written as Fenmore, Finmore or Finmoor.


The earliest evidence of human activity in Finmere dates to the Bronze Age, about 4000 years ago. Ring ditches, which once surrounded burial mounds, were found in the gravel quarry at Foxley Fields. Nearby, Iron Age settlement was discovered during construction of the bypass. In Roman times, a road from Alchester (Bicester) to Towcester passed through the parish and is preserved in the line of the former A421 and Mere Lane.

Bronze Age: From about 2,400 BC to about 800 BC.
Iron Age: From about 800 BC to AD 43.
Roman: From AD 43 to AD 410.


Finmere was divided into two estates, the largest held by Wulfward, thegn to Queen Edith.

Thegn: Nobleman landowner obliged to serve the monarch in battle.


After William's conquest in 1066, English estates were divided amongst wealthy Frenchmen. Wulfward's Finmere estate was given to Geoffrey, Bishop of Countance; the other estate was given to Odo, Bishop of Bayeux. Both estates were farmed by a tenant named Robert.

Although the ownership of estates changed at the conquest, it did not make much difference to Finmere where the struggle against famine and disease continued as before.


The estates in Finmere changed ownership too frequently to mention. The medieval village 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). The fields were divided into narrow strips of plough land, now known as ridge and furrow. Some of the strips can still be seen near Hill Leys farm.

Warren: A warren was rough land reserved for breeding rabbits, an important source of food. The right to kill rabbits was usually restricted to the landowner and his agents. Finmere Warren later became Warren farm.

Henry VIII

After changing ownership too frequently to mention, Finmere ended up in the hands of Henry VIII. He then gave it to four of his five Queens. To:

  • Catherine of Aragon in 1509
  • to Jane Seymour in 1536
  • to Anne of Cleves in 1540
  • to Catherine Howard in 1541

None of his Queens lived in Finmere and it is very unlikely any of them visited the village. In fact, no Royals have ever lived here.

Henry divorced Catherine of Aragon in 1533 and married Ann Boleyn. She was beheaded in 1536 and Henry married Jane Seymour who died in 1537. He married Anne of Cleves and divorced her in 1540 to marry Catherine Howard, who was beheaded in 1542.


The medieval open fields were ‘inclosed’ by hedges to form the now familiar rectangular fields in 1667. This made farming more efficient, but rents doubled and unemployment increased. In 1765, 21 families qualified for relief from poverty. In 1826 most of the village was receiving poor relief; only 19 of 90 men were in employment.

'Inclosure' is often referred to by the more familiar word 'enclosure'.


After the increase in rents and it became more important to protect stock and crops. A systematic plan was instituted by the churchwardens to kill all vermin thought to be a danger to crops, cows, sheep, and poultry. Villagers netted hundreds of Sparows each year. In 1731 the churchwardens paid two pence per duson for them. Four pence was paid for an old heg hog and two pence for young heg hog. Between one and twelve foxes were killed each year; the price paid for a fock’s hed, was one shilling.

The spellings in italics are those used in the Churchwardens Account Book.

The Civil War

Buckingham and the surrounding villages were frequently caught in the ebb and flow of the Civil War. In 1643, Cromwell marched on Buckingham and destroyed the Royal base at Hillesden. Afterwards, Royal troops in the area appeared to be disorganised with Cavaliers at Tingewick and Finmere robbing passers-by. A year later, Captain Andrewes, an officer in Cromwell's army, learnt about a party of Cavaliers at Finmere. He quickly rode to the village and ordered an immediate charge. Taken by surprise the King’s men fled south across the open fields. They were overtaken at Fringford, where they surrendered.

Cromwell's troops were also called Parliamentarians or Roundheads. The King's troops were Cavaliers.

Dukes of Buckingham and Chandos

The Temple family first bought land in Finmere in 1602. By 1753, they owned most of the parish. In 1822, Richard Temple was created the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. Although they were greedy and eventually bankrupted themselves, the Dukes managed Finmere well. It was let to tenant farmers and managed from Stowe by estate stewards. After the bankruptcy of the Dukes, some of the parish was sold to Merton College, Oxford.

On 9 May, 1848, the first Duke and his son were asked to provide an estimate of their debts. They owed at least £1,094,000, worth at least £70 million today.


Smallpox was a terrible disease that killed as many as one third of people that caught it. Those that survived were left badly scarred, or "pocked." Edward Jenner demonstrated an effective vaccine in 1797. Finmere was one of the first villages to be protected by the new vaccine in 1799.

Finmere Rector, Robert Holt, vaccinated the parishioners. Despite his good works, he died bankrupt at the early age of 42.


Poverty remained a problem and, in 1831, parish money was used to help families emigrate. The first family to leave for New York was the Paxton family; they had been here since the fifteenth century and had been important farmers. In 1844, Thomas Smith and others emigrated. It appears that they intended to go to New York but landed at Quebec, and were very annoyed about it. 

We know about Thomas Smith landing in Quebec from a letter preserved in the Huntington Library, California. The library has hundreds of documents about Finmere. The documents were once owned by the Dukes of Buckingham.


The lack of local employment led to a fall in Finmere's population. In 1851, there were 399 people in the parish and, in 1931, just 187 . There was a similar decline in agricultural workers; 63 of 77 families worked on the land in 1831. Only a few families are farmers today.

Due to the war, the government did  was not conduct a census in 1941.


Population information from the National Census

New Growth

The village grew after the Second World War, most rapidly in the 1970s when Chinnals Close and many other houses were built. There are more than 400 people in Finmere again, though most commute to distant workplaces rather than work in the village. Cherwell District Council has decided that there will be no significant increase in the size of Finmere in the foreseeable future.