Christchurch Priory
Christchurch Priory
Andrew Mathewson

During the Iron Age, the area between the rivers Avon and Stour were settled and the town of Christchurch was born. From Saxon times, the Great Priory Church occupied a prime position close to the river, dominating a timber-walled town arranged in a grid system.

Following the Norman Invasion, Christchurch castle was built. This was originally a great earth mound surmounted 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, the remains of which can still be seen was built. The only other surviving building from the castle courtyard complex is the Great Chamber. This Norman house, dating from the middle of the 12th century, has the oldest Norman chimney left in England. It must have been the height of luxury in its day and was built for bailiff of Christchurch, a very powerful man.

The New Forest Perfumery and café was once the Court Leet, the local court. Some stocks can be seen close by at the entrance to the castle, reminding one of the type of punishment once meted out. Another form of punishment was the Ducking Stool, appropriately found in Ducking Stool Lane. The present stool is a 20th century replica. These forms of punishment were only discontinued in the 19th century.

The 13th century Place Mill continued working until 1908. In 1981 the Borough Council restored the building and reopened it as a craft centre. It is now open during the summer to display the work of local artists and craftsman. It also contains a collection of milling artefacts.

The first church in is recorded at the start of the 8th century in ‘Twynham’, the early name for the settlement. This is later recorded as the Monastery of Holy Trinity of Thuinam in the Domesday Book. A story tells that a new church was to have been built on St Catherine’s Hill but, each time building materials were taken up the hill they were mysteriously moved overnight. Eventually the builders got the message and built the church where their supplies had been found again – on the site of the present priory. This Saxon church did not survive and the present building was constructed at the end of the 11th century. Christchurch today is dominated by the priory.

One great view of the town is from the Quomps, an area of lush grassland, ringed by a path, part of which runs along the banks of the River Stour. Christchurch has many facilities for visitors, including a great variety of cafés, restaurants and bars. It even has a night club.

The Redhouse Museum and Art Gallery in Quay Street has exhibitions including local history, natural history, archaeology and geology. Entrance is free to residents but a small charge is made for visitors. There is a new wildlife garden, showing how to introduce wildlife into your own garden, together with an original walled herb garden. The building was originally the town workhouse.