Christchurch Visitor Guide
Christchurch in Dorset, a brief insight into its history.
Christchurch is situated between the Avon river, which runs from north of Salisbury, and the Stour river, which flows from north Dorset via Blandford Forum. The town was initially a Saxon settlement called Twyneham, from the Old English words ‘betweon eam’. This meant the settlement ‘between two rivers’.
During Saxon times the harbour was one of the most significant in England as it was reached without difficulty from the continent and boats could go into the harbour and journey up the river Avon all the way to Salisbury. The sheltered harbour and trouble-free access to neighbouring towns also made the area popular in later times with smugglers. This reached a peak at the ‘Battle of Mudeford’ in 1784 between Customs & Excise and the smugglers.
From 800AD the Great Priory Church occupied a key position near to the river, dominating a timber-walled town set out in a carefully planned grid. When the Normans arrived in the 11th century they decided to replace the Saxon church with a magnificent new building. The story goes that when erecting the present Priory one of the roof beams was cut too short. The carpenters did not know what to do, but when they came back the next day the beam had extended overnight to fit precisely. They credited this miracle to Jesus, also a carpenter, and the church and town became known as Christ's Church. The building avoided demolition when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in the 16th century.
Following the Norman Invasion, Christchurch Castle was built. This was at first a great earth mound topped by a timber tower. During the 11th and 12th centuries most of the timber castle buildings and defences were replaced by stone structures. This was when the large stone keep was erected. The only other surviving building from the castle courtyard block is the Great Chamber. It was the centre of a struggle during the Civil War when a Parliamentary force held the Castle and the Priory grounds against a siege by Royalist forces. The castle was demolished in 1652 after the Civil War.
The first stagecoaches began to run from Christchurch in 1640 and in 1662 a free grammar school was founded in the town, now Twynham School.
In the 18th century Christchurch industries included fishing, knitting silk stockings, glove making, brewing and making fusee chains (a very small chain that formed part of a watch mechanism). The town workhouse was built in 1764 and today it is the Redhouse Museum and Art Gallery in Quay Street.
In 1801, at the time of the first census, the population of Christchurch was 1,410. The first newspaper in the town, The Christchurch Times, began publication in 1855 and the railway reached Christchurch in 1862.
RAF Christchurch (also known as Christchurch Advanced Landing Ground) was a World War II airfield situated southeast of the A337/B3059 intersection in Somerford, Christchurch. It was a civil airfield with started in the 1920s, then was used during World War II by the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Force Ninth Air Force.
Disclaimer: The information in this Tourist Guide has been researched from a variety of sources including books, articles and online information. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information the reader should check any specific facts for themselves before making any decisions based upon the said information.
Christchurch Tourist Information Centre
49 High Street
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015