THIS photographic postcard view of Common Acre by Terry Hunt was taken around 1928.

Historically there has been disagreement over whether the lower part that incorporates the almshouses was ever part of Common Acre itself or if it always comprised just the upper part, seen here beyond the line of railings. But a study of various documents can only conclude that it did indeed extend to East Street in early times and that the almshouses; the Pound - used to round up loose cattle until claimed by their owners; the Town Barn of 1534 and the houses that replaced it in 1636 - where dwellings remained until bulldozed as part of town development - were periodic encroachments over several centuries that the corporation allowed on the ancient site. And what really reinforced the division of the two areas was the construction of a link road from Adelaide Road to East Street, during the 1880s. This ran in front of the almshouses, as can be seen in the photograph, but has now been diverted behind them to meet the roundabout.

Despite a claim on the 1692 benefactions tablet in St Mary’s Church that Common Acre was given to the town by Katherine Hanson in 1570, there is ample evidence to show that it had always belonged to the Corporation of Andover and that the benefactions tablet is essentially wrong; Katherine Hanson never owned it.

Leases granted by the corporation to individuals date back to 1470, long before Katherine Hanson’s supposed gift, and clearly each successive tenant was required to permit the populace of the town to take their leisure there. It was in fact an integral part of the town received by the corporation from the king when Andover first became a borough in the 13th century.

Before 1835, all the charitable bequests were administered by the charity chamberlain, whereas everything else was the province of the town chamberlain. This was merely a convenient division of responsibilities between two treasurers and both roles were integral parts of the Corporation of Andover.

However, in that year, a real change in legal status came about when the new borough councils created by the Municipal Corporations Act were each required to cede all charitable bequests to a new local body of charity trustees who would be responsible for them. This was a separate legal entity - rather like a limited company - governed by national charity commissioners, who oversaw trustee activities and made legal decisions over what was acceptable practice. Included in the charitable assets transferred was Common Acre almost in its entirety, excepting only that part facing East Street on which dwellings had been erected some 200 years before.

Evidently the benefactions tablet had been relied upon for this decision and not the ancient leases in the Town Chest. In reality, Common Acre was not a charitable bequest but had always belonged to the corporation and should rightly have passed to the new council, and not to the charity trustees. An argument could be made that the almshouses were rightly transferred, as they almost certainly would have been paid for by the charity chamberlain, though the land on which they stood would still have been corporation land.

However, the deed was done and Common Acre has been the ‘property’ of the charity trustees ever since. The tithe survey map and apportionments book of 1848 records the entire stretch between Eastfield Road (where Acre Path begins) and the East Street houses as being owned by the charity trustees.

In 1972, the trustees wanted to build more almshouses on the upper part of Common Acre, arguing that it was hardly used for recreational uses. This was not acceptable to the charity commissioners in London who said that the term recreational use was capable of a wider interpretation than the trustees were giving it and therefore the application was refused.

Finally, some people in Andover decided to try to register Common Acre as a ‘village green in perpetuity’, a modern, legal classification that protects it from planners and developers. The charity trustees opposed the application on the advice of the charity commissioners but it came before the chief commons commissioner in Winchester in October 1973, and after some lengthy arguments revolving around its 500-year history as a place of recreation, the application to give it village green status was granted on the grounds that Andover inhabitants had evidently had a right to the land for time immemorial and that the charity trustees’ case that it was a charitable bequest made by Katherine Hanson was unsound; the lease evidence was stronger.

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