Finmere St Michael's: A Ten Minute History

Origins

The earliest reference to St Michael’s Finmere dates to the twelfth century (1189), though there may have been a church here before then. During the Middle Ages, it was typically unpretentious village church, with its nave and chancel overlooked by a squat tower.

 

Priests and Rectors

Until 1560, its priests were appointed by the Abbey of St Augustine, Bristol, though the reason for this arrangement is no longer known. The priests visited the village infrequently and the church was often in disrepair. More recently, St Michael’s has been in the care of good rectors and patrons who have dedicated themselves to improving the church fabric, the standard of worship and the quality of life in the village.

A Rector is a priest appointed to a benefice and has a right to the tithes of the parishioners. See our list of St Michael's rectors and priests.

Disrepair

When Bishop Atwater of Lincoln held a visitation of the churches in his diocese in 1520, Finmere church was in a poor state:

The chancel is out of repair. Two women live in the rector’s house. The seats of the church are broken. A girl acts as a server to the rector at mass except on festivals. The rector puts beasts in the churchyard and they make it fowl.

During the Civil War, the church deteriorated to the verge of collapse. On 29 May 1651, Rector Richard Horn noted:

The Church walls of Finmer propt with timber.

A visitation is an inspection during which rectors were expected to provide information on church attendance, Sunday and day schools, etc.

The Civil War in England was from 1642-46, though conflict continued elsewhere in Britain until 1651.

Repairs

Repairs started in 1666. 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
1666

 

Richard Horn

Richard Horn (1632-77) was Finmere’s unluckiest Rector. In 1647, He was ejected from his position by a Presbyterian minister friendly to Cromwell:

A horrid war had now broken out ... I have fared badly, having been driven from home by force of arms, and am now being sacrificed to a three-halfpenny fellow fellow, Richard Warr. He, dreadful to me ... flourishes ... I [have] become almost destitute.

Horn was reinstated in 1660 but on 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.

The Presbyterian Church rejected government by bishops and were governed by ministers and elders. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, it became a major non-conformist church.

The Clock

Horn's successor,  Richard Ells, continued repair work, including installation of the clock in 1697. The clock cost £8 10s, raised by subscriptions from 21 villagers, the Rector, and the Lord of the Manor, Mr Purbeck Temple of Stowe. It was probably built by John Ford, clock and watch maker of Oxford. The clock was refurbished and a minute hand added by Dr James Clarke in 1859. The clock mechanism was moved to the base of the tower in 1996.
In 2011 the clock mechanism was refurbished with 2 electric motors added to automate the winding mechanism of the weights.

See  here  for more details

Flagon & Paten gift

In 1758, a John Pollard Esq. made a gift to the church of a Flagon and Paten in French Plate. No further records of the gift exist until the Flagon and Paten were discovered in the bottom of a cupboard in the Vestry, in 2004.
After valuation, the Flagon and Paten were transferred (for safe keeping and display) to Christ Church Cathedral.

See  here  for more details 

Church Organ

The church organ was manufactured and installed somewhere between 1799 and 1822 and is currently listed on the National Pipe Organ Register.

See  here  for more details 

William Jocelyn Palmer

In 1814, William Jocelyn Palmer, already Rector of Mixbury, was appointed Rector of Finmere. Palmer was a “grave good man, who exercised supreme parental and patriarchal authority throughout the parish.” He brought with him a period of stability to the church and was Rector for 53 years.

Palmer made many efforts to reduce poverty, including letting cottages and allotments at reduced rent. He also subsidised fuel and a clothing club.

There was a sterner side to Palmer. It was expected that parishioners attend church and non-conformism was not tolerated. Those that crossed him felt the cut of his tongue, particularly in his later years. He had long-standing dispute with the landlord of the Kings Head, who was barred from the church after illegally marrying the niece of his deceased wife.

 

Nineteenth Century Reconstruction

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the Church was once again in need of repair, and also of expansion. Finmere’s population had grown to a peak of 399 residents and there was need for extra space for worshippers. The reconstruction work was extensive. In 1841 the roof of the nave was extensively repaired at a cost of £70 3s 11d (about £3,900 today), 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. Two years later, the nave was extended with the addition of the north aisle which could accommodate an extra eighty-eight parishioners. The chancel arch was also rebuilt. The aisle was designed by G.S. Street and was supported with a grant from the Incorporated Society for Promoting the Enlargement, Building and Repairing of Churches and Chapels.

The restored church was reopened on 15 November 1858. Despite foul weather, two services presided over by the Bishop of Oxford  drew large congregations and raised £93 14s 9d toward the cost of the rebuilding (about £6,100 today).

The alterations have been effected in excellent taste, and are in complete architectural keeping with the older portions of the edifice, reflecting great credit on the architect. Buckingham Advertiser and Winslow and Brackley Record, 20 November 1858.

Ironically, Finmere’s population fell after the rebuilding and has only reached the mid-nineteenth century levels again in the past few years.

Seymour Ashwell

The Reverend Seymour Ashwell was rector for thirty-five years (1866-1902). He took an active part in improving conditions in the village, helping with education of village children and the decor of the church. He made many improvements to the church including:

  • 1868: vestry constructed
  • 1869: organ purchased from Messrs Bevington for £25
  • 1879: window in south nave in memory of his father William Ashwell
  • 1884: glass for a memorial window at the west end portraying the Annunciation
  • 1884: new glass in the east window depicting the Ascension
  • 1895: a figure of St Michael, carved by Mr Hitch of London, placed over the entrance in the porch.

Ashwell also decorated the church with his own carvings.

Carvings by Seymour Ashwell in St Michael’s Church

Pulpit. 1874. Carved to designs by Swingen Harris.
Font Cover. 1879
Reredos. 1881. Carved to the designs of Swingen Harris.
Tower Screen. 1884.
Choir stalls. Ends carved between July 1886 and 1891.
Nave stalls. Carving of stall ends begun in 1891.

The Growing Benefice

In 1931, Finmere was united with Mixbury as a single living. In an Order at the Court of Buckingham Palace in 1983, Finmere with Mixbury was united with Cottisford, Hardwick with Tusmore, and Newton Purcell with Shelswell to create a new benefice. In 1995, the benefice was extended to include Stratton Audley, Godington, Fringford, Hethe and Stoke Lyne.

A benefice provides a income for the clergyman. Initially this was paid through tithes (one-tenth of produce), then through a church rate and, after 1868, from contributions from worshippers and central church funds.