When does the story of the village begin ? One answer could be that it starts before the dawn of recorded history, with the movements of land and oceans which formed the geological structure of the area. The chalklands of southern England were once the bed of a shallow sea, until some movement of the earth’s crust raised them above sea level. Thereafter the great sheets of ice which advanced and retreated during the Ice Ages smoothed out the contours of the hills and large glaciers scooped out the wide valleys.
In those valleys forests grew, eventually covering most of the land. Wild beasts roamed these forests, and our earliest known local artefact is a mammoth tooth, now in the Andover Museum, which was excavated in the car park of the Poplar Farm Inn (See Map).
In due course man came to the valley, not yet living in settlements but tracking the wild life to be found by the river. These roaming tribes would hunt or trap bear, deer, or even the fierce and unpredictable wild boar. Men were not the only predators; packs of wolves would also have been seeking food. By 3000 BC the human hunters were working flints into useful tools such as hand held axes and spearheads. Some of these were discovered on land north of Cattle Lane, close to its junction with Red Post Lane (See Map).
Gradually, about 1000 BC, man learn’t to till the soil with a simple wooden plough, and began to grow grain, probably barley. Around this time the great hill forts such as Danebury and Bury Hill were constructed. It is now thought that they were only used in times of war, as the lack of easily accessible water would have precluded their use as permanent dwelling places. The arrival of strange tribes from across the channel would have been the cause of spasmodic periods of fighting. One such tribe, the Atrebates, brought with them a heavier type of plough, which was drawn by up to eight oxen. With this it was possible to cultivate the heavier but more fertile lands of the river valleys. Clearance of the forests began, field boundaries began to take shape, and hedges were planted. The gerneal layout would have remained the same until the Enclosure Acts of the 1770’s.
So, the Romans came, bringing their own language, laws and customs, which in time were assimilated by the native Britons. The local Roman villa is thought to have been built about AD 300. The remains were discovered in 1854 by the Rev. Samuel Best, in a field known as Minster Field; this is up the Dunkirt Valley beyond the neck of the woods, on the left (See Map). Mosaic pavements and other artefacts were discovered, and a piece of the mosaic about 6 feet square, is on show in the Romano-British room at the British Museum. The villa and its various outbuildings occupied an area of seven acres, and were probably built on the site of an earlier farmstead. When Rev. Best had completed his excavations the site was covered again with soil and hidden from view.
Within 100 years of the construction of the villa the roman troops were being withdrawn from Britain, thus leaving the country open to invasion by Saxons, jutes and Danes. Although bitter fighting took place in many parts of the country northern Hampshire seems to have been relatively peaceful. By the year 500 Cerdic the Saxon had taken over the area. His armies were involved in various wars, but the Saxons held southern England for the next 300 years, and in times of peace craftsmen flourished and trade was carried on with European neighbours. Winchester was among those cities which were minting coins, and Christianity had returned.
From 830 the Viking invasions were becoming a serious menace to the peace of Britain. Eventually a strong British general emerged in the person of King Alfred, 849-99, who coordinated the defenses of southern England. By 886 Alfred ruled over the whole of Wessex. (This was about half of England, the rest, occupied by the Vikings, being known as the Danelaw.) Alfred died in 899 and was succeeded by his son, Edward the Elder c.870-924. King Edward granted 15 hides of land at Anna to the New Minster at Winchester, which later moved and became known as Hyde Abbey. This was confirmed by a Charter of 903, which referred to the manor as containing 5 hides (a hide was the area of arable land which could be cultivated in one day by a plough and a team of oxen), and a church. About this time Little Ann, comprising 5 hides, was granted to the Abbey of Wherwell.
The abbeys continued to hold their respective lands through the troubled times that followed. Of the Danish invaders in southern Eng-land the best known is Canute. In 1016 he was defeated by Edmund Ironside in the battle of Sceorstan, which took place in an area bordered by Danebury, Grateley and Sarson. Canute fled to a ‘safe place’ which was almost certainly Longstock, where his ships were anchored. However when Edmund died the following year Canute became king of all England. The next mention of the parish occurs in the Domesday Survey of 1086. By then Abbotts Ann was only paying taxes on 8 hides of land, but it had three mills, and Little Ann had two. Of these sites only two are now known the Upper Mill, Monxton, which is within Abbotts Ann parish, and the Lower Mill in Mill Lane. (see map)
In 1291 the value of Little Ann was set at £9.3.4d (US$15.6) and that of Abbotts Ann at £15.8.8d (US$25.9). This may have altered when the Black Death swept the country. It is recorded that the Incumbent died of it in 1349 and so, presumably, did many of the villagers. In 1540 there came a change of ownership. Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and Little Ann was granted to Thomas West, 9th Lord de La Warr. Abbotts Ann went to William Paulet. Lord St. John, later Earl of Wiltshire and Marquess of Winchester. St. John’s Cross and St. John’s House (now Abbotts Hill House) take their names from this family. It seems unlikely that these changes had much impact on the life of the village, although in 1603 a Warrant was granted by the Lord Marquise of Winchester and Lady Lucie his Wife “to their tenants of Abbotts Ann to cut and carry away the Bushes upon the South Downes.” It appears that a sizeable area of land was to be cleared of scrub and enclosed by hedges, and brought into general use.
The Civil War touched briefly on the area. In 1644 the Royalist army of Charles I advanced from Salisbury to attack the Parliamentarians under General Waller, who were holding Andover. The Roundheads advanced from Andover to the line of Cattle Lane, intending to hold the river crossing, but on seeing the strength of the Royalist army decided to fall back to Basingstoke A few skirmishes were probably fought across the river.
At that time the people in the rural areas were still very superstitious, as is evinced by the discovery of ‘witch pots’ or ‘Bellarmine jugs’ in the village. In 1977 the then owner of ‘Longthatch’ decided to give himself extra headroom by lowering his floor. Buried beneath the hearth he found a 17th century jug on which was moulded a hideous face. A few years later four more such jugs three intact and one broken were discovered when the foundations for the telephone exchange and the houses on the north-west edge of the village were being excavated. The legend goes that Bellarmine was the name of a powerful and dogmatic continental cardinal, who was so disliked that ugly face masks in his image were applied to stoneware jugs to symbolise deep hatred. The pottery, however, was so good that it found a ready market in England. The evil associations of the face mask induced villagers here to use them to keep away witches and hobgoblins. As everyone knew, witches, when flying around at night, always entered houses by coming down the chimney. So the proper place for an anti-witch device was under the hearthstone. This was even more effective if filled with unpleasant things, bent pins, written curses, frogs legs and urine. The existence of Cardinal Bellarmine and the witches may be impossible to prove, but the jugs found in Abbotts Ann did contain bent pins and a chemical deposit since identified as urine. The jugs themselves may now be seen in the Andover Museum.