It seems to me that a lot of my writing is about coincidences, collisions and near-misses. A recent visit to a small church in Hampshire made me think about this and the many different ways that give me some sort of connection to this church. Some of these connections are tenuous to say the least
The church in question is St Mary the Virgin at Abbotts Ann, a pretty village just outside of Andover. My parents-in-law (I don’t think I’ve ever referred to them in that way before!) lived there.
Although they were not church goers, they loved the church and its beautiful setting; their names are recorded on a memorial stone in the peaceful churchyard.
Some forty years ago I went to St Mary’s for the wedding of my sister-in-law on a bitingly cold March day. A couple of years later I was working for a small company in Bath and one of my colleagues was the son of the Rector who had conducted the ceremony. Going further back in time, I had an uncle who played the organ in St Mary’s, I believe in the 1920s. The poor man had a heart attack and died while playing the organ at the church in Goodworth Clatford, just a few miles away. Recently I was talking to a friend in Verwood who told me that her cousin is (probably was) a churchwarden at St Mary’s. When she told me his name I recognised it as someone my in-laws knew.
Enough of all this! Of much more interest in this Grade 1 listed building is the continuation of the medieval tradition of Virgins’ Crowns or Maidens’ Garlands. I’m going to quote from the informative leaflet that I picked up in the church on my recent visit.
‘The Virgins’ Crowns were made of black and white paper rosettes on a framework of hazel wood with the collar, gloves or handkerchief of someone recently deceased. Relatives could request a garland if the dead maiden had been born, baptized and lived in the parish and dies unmarried. Males qualified if they met the criteria.’
Many of the males were boys, but not all. I wonder whether it was disease or accident that caused the deaths of Robert and James Perrett. Maybe brothers or cousins, they were aged 30 and 33 respectively when they died in 1842.
The last funeral with garlands took place in 1973. I wonder if there will be any more. Changing social mores, and vastly increased mobility have probably spelt the end of this tradition. Meanwhile the crowns hang in varying states of decrepitude, custom does not allow any that fall to be replaced. In this picture you can see the crown of Lily Annetts, whose funeral was in 1973.
There is more information about this custom on the church’s excellent website.https://www.abbottsann.com/amenitiesservices/church/
So to get back to where this blog post started, how important are coincidences in my writing? There are times when they are just too remote to be plausible and run the risk of undermining what could be a good plot. Conversely a chance meeting, an overheard conversation, the discovery of a lost acquaintance or relation, even an unusual surname or forename that links people and places can inspire me. Not sure if I can use any of my fragile connections to this church, but it was a great place to visit.