Posted 01 March 2012 - 10:32 PM
Some people receive grants. Some finance themselves. A lot of the self-financers work and study part-time, giving them 5-6 rather than 3-4 years to complete their thesis. Others, such as myself, are mature students with savings to support them during their research. Many of the full-time students will have part-time jobs in bars, supermarkets etc and some will do some paid tutoring of undergraduates. Students may receive funding to cover fees, subsistence and research expenses, but there are also awards that cover just expenses of trips to archives.
Grants may be offered for somebody researching a particular topic that's thought to need study, but obtaining finance is generally dependent on the grade of your Master's and undergraduate degrees than your topic. You have to do something that hasn't been done before, which is leading to theses studying a narrow area in great detail.