This sunny, idyllic view of St Mary’s was taken a few years after the southern part of the churchyard was cleared and the Garden of Remembrance laid out. In such a peaceful setting, who could doubt that all was well? But the fabric of the building was gradually crumbling through erosion and a new vicar, appointed in 1967, was quickly coming to the view that the building was not fit for purpose. His aim was to pull it down.

Money was constantly having to be raised to finance repairs but it came as a shock to the town in January 1971 when the Parochial Church Council voted by 20 votes to eight to accept both the advice and the offer from the Winchester Diocesan Pastoral Committee to demolish the church and replace it with a new building, better suited to modern worship. It was estimated that repairs would cost £50,000, whereas, if Andover agreed to demolish its church, the diocese would grant more than half that amount towards a new building. However, if the town did not take the advice of the committee, the diocese would be unwilling to contribute towards what it considered to be short-sighted repairs.

Public opposition to this plan was immediate. A public meeting was held in the Guildhall to debate the matter and a newly-formed action committee put the arguments for restoration. The committee, under the stewardship of Major John Gouriet, stressed the architectural merits of the church and resolved to appeal for funds - an initial £7,000 to effect immediate repairs. Most critical was the safety of the tower.

Opinion around the town was stirring up and those who made their views known, overwhelmingly preferred restoration. At the beginning of June, another meeting of the church council debated the matter again and this time there was a reversal of opinion. Members did not want to divide the town and, taking note of the mood, now voted by 18 votes to 11 in favour of keeping the old building and decided to apply for a faculty to carry out immediate repairs. However, the vicar, the Rev Peter Chandler, was wholly against it and regretted the change of policy; his allegiance was to his bishop and to his God, not to a building which had outlasted its use. He advocated a modern worship centre that could be used for a multitude of purposes.

In April 1973, members of the local church now prepared to employ a tactic that had been used before in another situation at another time: an election for seven places on the church council were all filled by those in favour of restoration, as were four of five seats on the Deanery Synod. Mr Chandler was now openly critical and warned, ‘unless we raise our sights beyond mere matters of buildings, people at large will turn away in boredom and disgust – and I for one could not blame them.’ Others castigated the vicar for stirring up division in the parish and refusing to work towards the clearly-expressed views of his congregation.

In August, an Oxford company interviewed 50 people in Andover, which showed that although 86 per cent of local people wanted the church restored, only about £25,000 would be raised through appeal and although this was the first target, much more would be needed later on to complete the project. The findings doubted that enough money could ever be raised voluntarily, as was hoped for by the restoration committee. Mr Chandler declared restoration was now a ‘dead duck’ and that it was all a waste of money. Better to restart discussions with the diocesan pastoral committee over possible forms of development of St Mary’s before it was too late. He urged the town to boycott the £25,000 appeal.

Despite the view of the vicar, the appeal was launched by the mayor, Cllr Martin Loveridge, from the window of the Guildhall by means of a loudspeaker, who said that contributors would be recorded and volunteers were needed to go around every house in the borough.

But it was not just about raising sufficient money. Legal permission to repair the church required a judgment from the diocesan court. To this end, a petition by the Parochial Church Council finally went to the Diocesan Consistory Court in Winchester, where the diocesan chancellor (the bishop’s chief legal officer), Prof Arthur Phillips, listened to argument and counter-argument on 23 April 1974. Mr Chandler was the main protagonist against the petition who thought it impossible that any public appeal would be successful.

A positive outcome for the petition was granted a week later, the judge concluding that the people of the town should be given the chance to restore their church. It was to be a long road but ultimately a successful one. Mr Chandler eventually accepted the will of his parishioners but there were other extraordinary episodes along the way. However, he was eventually made an honorary canon and remained in post until his early death in 1985 at the age of 64.