Abbots Ann

Situated in the heart of the beautiful Test Valley, the parish of Abbotts Ann includes areas around the village itself, namely Little Ann, Little Park, Abbotts Ann Down and an area of Anna Valley. Located less than three miles from the market town of Andover and a short drive away from the historic centres of Salisbury and Winchester, Abbotts Ann is a thriving community with an award-winning village shop, church, state of the art primary school, nursery school and two pubs. The village also has the Eagle public house, with the Poplar Farm Inn, in the neighbouring hamlet of Little Ann.

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The village name Ann was derived from the Celtic river name 'Anne' meaning 'Ash Tree Stream' (now known as the Pillhill Brook). The first settlements in the area can be traced back to 50BC when the Atrebates cleared the forests and cultivated the land. During Roman rule the village prospered, and at the end of Dunkirt Lane a large Roman villa was built. Mosaics taken from this villa are now in the British Museum.

First mentioned as Anna when reportedly granted to the New Minster of Winchester by King Edward the Elder, it was later recorded in the Domesday Book as an area containing 8 hides and 3 mills. The long, narrow and roughly rectangular boundary is characteristic of West Hampshire chalk land parishes. Defined in Saxon times, or possibly earlier, this shape ensured that Abbotts Ann had its share of river, down land and richer waterside meadows. Before the Norman invasion the land was granted to the abbey of Hyde and became known as Ann Abbatis ("estate on the River Anne belonging to the abbot"). Little Ann was granted to the abbey of Wherwell. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries the estates passed back into secular hands.

In 1806, Robert Tasker settled in Abbotts Ann and later took over the blacksmith's business. Tasker and his brother developed the first iron plough,[citation needed] which become so popular that they set up the Waterloo Ironworks in Anna Valley to cope with the demand. In 1831, Robert Tasker built the Abbotts Ann school on its previous site in the village, and leased it to the Revd. Samuel Best, the Rector of Abbotts Ann. Built 39 years before education became compulsory, the school was one of the first in England to take children of all denominations. The school's name is Abbotts Ann C of E Primary School, and it has since moved to a new site which is surrounded by the countryside of Abbotts Ann.

Between 1915 and 1924 the Red Rice Estate, which included Abbotts Ann and much of the surrounding countryside, was sold. In 1934 the Government bought Little Park for the new Land Settlement Association, creating the largest influx of population into the village since AD500. The settlers came mainly from northern England and Wales, and those who stayed on made a permanent contribution to the village.

St Mary the Virgin, Abbotts Ann

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The presence of a church in Abbots Ann is first recorded in a charter granted by Edward the Elder in 901. By the 14th century a second, "more substantial", church had been erected on this site. In 1710 Thomas "Diamond" Pitt, the grandfather and great-grandfather of the Prime Ministers William Pitt the Elder and William Pitt the Younger, purchased the estate of Abbots Ann, the manor house and the church. In 1716 Pitt – who had made a huge fortune from his sale of a 410 carat (82g) diamond, purchased for £20,400 (equivalent to £3,335,250 in 2019) and sold to the French regent, Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, for £135,000 (equivalent to £20,683,830 in 2019)  – paid for the demolition of the existing church and the construction of the present parish church of St Mary the Virgin, Abbotts Ann.

Virgins' crowns

The church has one of the largest collections of virgins' crowns in existence, and Abbots Ann is the only parish in England which perpetuates the custom of awarding them. The crowns "may be requested by the relatives of the deceased person, who must have been born, baptised, confirmed and have died, unmarried, in the parish, and must have been of unblemished reputation." The crown is made of hazelwood and decorated with paper rosettes, with five paper gloves or gauntlets attached to it to "represent a challenge thrown down to anyone to asperse the character of the deceased." A Virgin's Crown, dated 1953, hangs in the church. At the funeral the crown is "suspended from a small white wand and carried by two girls aged between twelve and sixteen and dressed in white with folded handkerchiefs on their heads at the head of the funeral procession, laid on the coffin in the church and afterwards in the churchyard until the body is committed to the ground." It is then hung from a hook in the church gallery "so that all entering church on the following Sunday may pass under it." If unchallenged after 3 weeks, the crown is hung from a hook near the ceiling of the church, with an escutcheon recording the name and date.

The oldest crown dates from 1740, and the most recent from 1973. Writing in 1992, local historian and author Pamela J. King observed that "With today's increasingly mobile population very few people are likely to spend all their lives in one parish and this ancient custom may disappear."