THE other day, I had reason to visit the charming 12th century, St Michael’s church at Knights Enham. Largely because of the extension of Andover into the area of Saxon Fields, the church has now been incorporated into the parish of Andover, which can now boast four Anglican churches within its boundaries.

The church at Knights Enham is by far the oldest of the four but has suffered over the centuries because the number of its parishioners has been both small and poor. Even in 1891 there were fewer than 200 inhabitants and that small number was double that of 50 years before, at the time of the census of 1841. Now it is nearer 13,000, owing much to the Saxon Fields development that has recently grown up.

Much of St Michael’s history is lost to us; for instance, what is the significance of the marks of archways around and adjacent to the front porch? Are they the last vestiges of memorial chapels to some long-dead worthies, but completely removed at some later date? Was there another church on the site that preceded it? Investigation in the churchyard suggests some earlier foundations but this may be something to do with the mass burial of bodies during the Black Death in 1349 or some other deadly plague during subsequent centuries.

Inside, the walls are scattered with memorials to members of the Dewar, Alves and Earle families. The Dewars lived at Doles, now Bourne Park, the Alveses at Enham House and the Earles at Enham Place, a large house, now demolished which Henry Earle bought from the Dewars in 1817.

Of these three more affluent families who lived at Knights Enham, it was the Dewars who made the most impact. The first local Dewar was George, who was Scottish and inherited wealth from his wife, Christina Panton. Starting with a cottage, he gradually bought both the Enham and Hurstbourne Tarrant estates. He died in 1786 and his son David was a great benefactor of the village whose efforts are recorded on a plaque in the church. He first endowed a school, giving £26 10s per annum for the employment of a schoolmaster and schoolmistress to educate 10 boys and 15 girls in reading, writing and arithmetic, as well as (presumably for the girls only) needlework.

On his early death in 1794, he left a further £25 per annum to be distributed to the poor of Knights Enham, as well as the surrounding hamlets – all at the discretion of the rector. Four more generations of Dewars left their mark on the village but the final one left many years ago for Gloucestershire and the whereabouts of the family now is unknown.

Two painted lozenge-shaped plaques of coats-of-arms and known as hatchments, hang from high up on the south wall. These are evidently Dewar arms, first displayed in the house of a deceased person during the period of mourning and then removed to the church. One is for George Dewar who died in 1786 and the other for Albemarle Dewar who died in 1862.

Other parts of the church are of great antiquity: the porch, though added, is 17th century, as are the communion rails and the moulded rood beam. Thought to be 15th century is the nave roof with castellated wall plates and a very early 13th century stone head is mounted above the vestry door, while earlier still is the Norman stone font that was found outside the church in 1800 and brought back inside after being restored. It may have been made in the West Country. The pictorial stained-glass windows include examples by notable exponents of the art – Alexander Gibbs, P H Newman and A R Barker, all taking angels as a theme and largely dating to the mid-19th century.

Of great interest are the four wall paintings of religious texts, including the Lord’s Prayer, that have been applied directly to the interior walls. They are thought to date before 1600, enabling those who could read English but could not access a prayer book to take part in a service. Not long before, all religious texts would have been in Latin and so these might be considered an early example of Protestant enlightenment. Unfortunately, they are suffering badly from what are probably the ill effects of prolonged damp. Happily, permission has been granted to have them restored and to renovate other artefacts in the church that require work, though it will all cost a considerable amount of money for which various ideas to fund-raise are being taken forward.

The church is usually open and well worth a visit. Many will have seen the direction signs to a 12th-century church as they enter and exit Andover along the A343 but never taken the opportunity. It really is a little gem.