Christchurch | Chineland
Thursday 25th July 2024



Christchurch Harbour

At the eastern end of ‘Chineland’ is the pretty historic town of Christchurch. Its unique location, at the confluence of the rivers Stour and Avon together with its own large natural harbour, gives Christchurch an incredibly healthy feel and it is a favourite destination for visitors, residents and yachtsmen alike.

Founded in the 7th century the town was originally named Twynham but became known as Christchurch following the construction of the priory in 1094. The town developed into an important trading port and was fortified in the 9th century. Further defences were added in the 12th century with the construction of a castle which was destroyed by the Cromwell during the English Civil War. During the 18th and 19th centuries smuggling flourished in Christchurch and became one of the town’s most lucrative industries. The town was heavily fortified during Second World War as a precaution against an expected invasion.


Fishing on the Avon

Some time in the early 12th century, a castle was built within the town. Originally a wooden fort built by Richard de Redvers, first cousin to King Henry I, it was rebuilt in stone by Baldwin de Redvers to resist King Stephen during the civil war with the Empress Matilda. The castle again saw action during the Civil War of 1642-1651 when occupied by the Parliamentarians. Christchurch changed hands a number of times: originally under Roylist control, it was captured by Sir William Waller’ss Parliamentary army in 1644. Lord Goring briefly retook the town in 1645 but was obliged to withdraw and returned with a larger force days later and laid siege to the castle. However, the Parliamentarians withstood the siege and maintained their hold on the town. Fearing such a powerful stronghold might once again fall into Royalist hands, Cromwell ordered the castle to be destroyed in 1652.


Priory Nave

Although the fishing industry thrived in Christchurch, the importance of the harbour declined as it became inaccessible to vessels of a large draught. In 1665 Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, bought the Lordship of the Manor of Christchurch. As part of his plans to improve trade in the town, he attempted to resolve the problems with the harbour entrance by cutting a new one through the sandspit at the foot of Hengistbury Head. However, upon completion the new entrance repeatedly silted up and in 1703 a large storm damaged a groyne which blocked the entrance entirely. Over the following 150 years alternative schemes were proposed but none were ever taken up.


Convent Walk

The Grade I listed Christchurch Castle is of Norman origin and once dominated the town but now lies in ruins and only a couple of the keep walls remain. A castle has stood in Christchurch since approximately 924 AD when Edward the Elder fortified the town with a wooden fort. After the Norman conquest in 1066 the castle’s defences were strengthened with a ditch and bailey surrounded by a wooden palisade. The wooden fort was replaced; at first with another wooden structure and then a stone keep which was constructed in the 12th century. Within the curtain wall of the castle stands the Constable’s House, a Grade I listed Norman dwelling. Much of the building’s stonework remains, including a rare example of a Norman chimney (one of only five in the country) and the privy which extends out across the mill stream.


Bandstand on Harbour Park

Christchurch Priory which now dominates the town was once a monastery and was given to the town for use as a parish church by Henry VIII after the dissolution1540. It is the longest parish church in England with a nave over 311 feet (95 m) long. The nave and transepts are Norman with heavy columns and round arches, whereas the lady chapel is from the 14th century and more perpendicular in style. The great choir is even later, having been rebuilt in the 16th century. The Priory is noted for the legend of its Miraculous Beam which attracts pilgrims from all over the world.Within the Priory grounds stands Priory House, a Grade II listed mansion built in 1777 by Gustavus Brander. The Priory is in active use for worship and forms part of the Church of England Diocese of Winchester.
More recent times.

Today Christchurch continues to be the same popular tourist destination it has always been – its harbour, beaches, nature reserves and historic buildings attracting some 1.5 million visitors a year. It is also a popular destination for retirees and has one of the oldest populations in the country with 30 per cent of residents aged over 65. It is particularly known for its award winning Food and Wine Festival which takes place annually in May. Nearby is the attractive fishing village of Mudeford where you can take a ferry ride over to Mudeford Sandbank and Highcliffe which is renowned for its castle.

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