71. St Mary the Virgin, Abbotts Ann
This fine church just south west of Andover lies hidden away behind trees surrounded by a large churchyard. It was completely rebuilt in 1716 by Thomas Pitt, a former Governor of Madras, who purchased the estate and Manor House after retiring from india having amassed a large fortune. The bells in the sturdy red brick tower, dated 1607, survive from the original church, as does the brass in the floor of the chancel to Elizabeth Johnson, wife of the incumbent John Johnson who died in 1613.
The inside of the church with its fine wooden balcony supported by oak pillars at the west end and white plastered ceiling is not particularly outstanding. The round headed windows are mostly of plain glass. The small octagonal wooden font is unusual however, standing on a slender pedestal and crowned with a lid bearing a central acorn encircled by smaller carved acorns. Some of the original 18th century boxed pews also survive.
The east window dating from the mid Victorian period is unusual in that it was presented to the church by past and present village school pupils in gratitude for the 40 year ministry of the Revd the Honourable Samuel Best. A full list of all subscribers can be seen on a scroll hanging near the west door.
Two features make this church of special interest. Hanging high on the nave walls are two rows of Virgin Crowns which perpetuate a medieval custom which has died out in other parish churches. The crown of hazelnut is awarded upon the death of an unmarried person of unblemished character born in the village, christened and confirmed in the church. The crown is carried in front of the coffin at the funeral procession by two young virgins of the parish dressed in white. It is then hung up on the gallery after the service. After three weeks if there is no challenge it is placed on a bracket near the ceiling along with a small escutcheon bearing the name and date. There it remains until it decays and perishes with the passing of time.
The earliest one remaining is that of John Morrant dated 1740 and the most recent that of Lily Myra Annetts, aged 73 who died in 1979. The youngest is that of Betsy Walls aged 6 (1850) and the oldest Charlotte Aller aged 77 (1911).
Finally the embroidered kneelers are worthy of close scrutiny. Made by the ladies of the parish under the leadership of the Rector's wife 49 of them commemorate those awarded the Virgin Crowns. The kneelers at the Communion Rails are also very fine. Based on Philippians 2 v 5-11 the symbols depict the humiliation (crown of thorns), the death (a cross) and the triumph (a crown of glory) of our Saviour Jesus Christ. The embroidered cushions in the choir stalls and around the organ loft illustrate a third theme of considerable interest and historical value. They commemorate by name and date all the Rectors since the sixteenth century showing in addition the crests of their school and college. This is something I've never seen in any other church and so much more interesting than a mere list of names on a board.
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