WHEN Andover’s Norman church was demolished in the 1840-45 period, this archway over the church door was saved at the instigation of Turner Poulter Clarke (1804-97), a civil engineer, surveyor and councillor who was to become mayor of the town five times. He had it placed at the High Street entrance to the churchyard where it has remained ever since.

It is the most visible remains of the old church today, although still in situ is part of the floor of old St Mary’s beneath the present nave, with its ledger memorial stones still lying there on top of the raw chalk. Many of these were to worthies of the town who were buried inside their place of worship. Because the ground level had risen some eight feet over the time between the building of the Norman church and the Victorian one, it made sense to arch over the old floor in order to provide a crypt for the new. Space was provided for the future interment of coffins on shelves but this common practice was banned by Act of Parliament in 1855.

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Up in the present bell tower are six working bells, five dated 1758-59 and the other dating from 1784. All of these came from the old church although their history there had not been a long one. In Andover Museum are some fragments of carved wood and stone that were recovered more by chance than by judgment, although there is also a small bell in a wooden frame, a complete artefact.

The merits of destroying a building of great antiquity and replacing it with a Victorian Gothic edifice are much more difficult to justify today than they were then. Evidence from the time suggests that there was no great outcry for preservation but the local populace would have had little say in the matter. The vicar of the time was able to write after a Vestry meeting that the proposal had been accepted unanimously, as ‘twenty-five of the most respectable ratepayers in the town [were] present.’ And indeed, as Dr William Goddard, former headmaster of Winchester College, whose house was the present Parker Bullen building in Newbury Street, had offered to finance the whole operation, this was a huge incentive to go ahead with the project. Familiar persuasion tactics were to the fore: it was said that the old church was unsafe; however, the tales of a ‘tottering ruin’ proved rather exaggerated as it took explosives to demolish it.

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What else remains of the old building? Martin Coppen, in his book Andover’s Norman Church, 1080-1840 (AHAS 2015), mentions the clock dial from the tower, that featured in the auction catalogue of September 1853 for the furniture and effects of Thomas Hawkins who was a draper at 5 Bridge Street. Somebody must have bought it but where is it now?

Quite by chance I came across a report of September 1907 in the Andover Advertiser which told of a visitor to Andover whose earlier family had lived here for generations and who recalled that the furnishings of the old church were sold in the market place at the time of demolition. The landlord of the Angel Inn bought the fine oak communion table and placed it in the bar, while brewer and ex-mayor John Poore bought ten large tablets on which were inscribed the commandments. These he presented to the church at Amport. Mr Page, the stone mason, bought the font ‘while different townsmen secured other portions of the furnish of the old church.’ In 1907, the table was still in the bar of the Angel as the visitor went to see it. Is it still in the Angel, its origin forgotten or has it now gone? Bert Earney did not mention it in 1952 when he wrote Inns of Andover, so perhaps both the story and the table had then already been lost.  

If you are interested in local history, why not join Andover History and Archaeology Society? Details can be found at andoverlocalhistoryarchaeology.uk