Christchurch blue plaque walk
PUBLISHED: 10:06 16 January 2018 | UPDATED: 10:06 16 January 2018
Explore the history of Christchurch through its fascinating range of buildings on this easy town stroll
Christchurch was settled by Saxon invaders around the 6th and 7th centuries, mostly around the present Priory site. It appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles as ‘Tweoxneam’ meaning ‘settlement between the waters’. This walk, taking in some of the town’s Millennium Plaques, reveals something of the subsequent history of Christchurch since that initial settlement by the Saxons.
• Distance: 1 mile (1.5 km)
• Time: 1½ hours
• Exertion: Very little
• Start: Place Mill, Christchurch Quay (Grid Ref: Z160923)
• Map: OS Landranger Sheet 195
• Public Transport: Yellow Buses 21, 33 to High Street
• Dogs: On leads at all times during this urban walk
• Refreshments: Numerous pubs, cafés and take-aways around town
1. Starting from Place Mill, leaving the mill stream, go through the brick wall into the car park.
The stone single-storey building down to your left is a 16th-century outbuilding of the Priory which escaped demolition in Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Pass right Priory House gardens. This lovely Georgian house was built by antiquarian Gustavus Brander in the early-1760s on the foundations of the Priory’s monastery. The grounds cover remains of other Priory buildings.
Past right Priory Porter’s Lodge into Quay Road, visit the Priory. Before the Normans arrived, there was a wooden church here with nine chapels for 24 secular canons. In 1094, the wooden buildings were demolished and the Priory started by Ranulf Flambard, later Bishop of Durham, to a cruciform plan with a central tower. Wealthy patrons gave land to the Priory, and the income ensured a cathedral-like parish church, completed over five centuries. A legend tells of a mysterious carpenter who drew no wages and ate no food. He suddenly disappeared after a beam which had been cut too short miraculously became the correct length overnight. It is now high above the Lady Chapel’s south wall.
Around 1150, the Priory’s monks became Augustinian canons, continuing until 1539 when Henry VIII ordered the convent buildings to be demolished. There was a school in the Priory from 1140 which continued until 1539. A free grammar school was established in St Michael’s loft above the Lady Chapel from 1662 until the early-1800s when a National School opened in High Street.
2. Return to Quay Road and continue. The left brick building is the old Parish Workhouse. From around 1800 child workers made the tiny fusée chains used in watch-making here. In 1886 it was sold to the Druitt family whose descendant antiquarian Herbert Druitt gave the house and his collection for the Red House Museum which opened in 1951. Leaving Quay Road, turn right up Church Lane to Church Street. The facing bend in the road is where houses were demolished to accommodate the castle’s moat.
Turn left then right into Castle Street. Opposite is Ye Olde George Inn.Mentioned in 1652 as the George and Dragon, the present building’s wide gateway to the stable yard indicates its importance as an 18th-century coaching inn on the Portsmouth route.
3. Continue along Castle Street. Reach the black-and-white ‘Old Perfumery’. The remaining section of the old manor court house, and probably the oldest building in Christchurch.
Notice the King’s Arms Hotel further on your left.This 1801 Georgian building replaced the 1670 King’s Arms Inn. Turn into the path after the perfumery. Climb the Norman castle’s motte. A wooden keep was built on an earth motte around 1100 by Richard de Redvers. Then, about 1300, the present substantial stone keep was constructed on the existing motte. The outer bailey, surrounded by a moat, enclosed the whole area between the motte and the millstream, including the Constable’s House. The old castle was attacked in 1148 during disputes over the succession of King Steven or Empress Matilda, and de Redvers fled from Steven into Devon. During the Civil War, the later castle was held for the king but, when the war ended in 1645, Parliament ordered the castle‘s destruction, duly carried out in 1651.
4. Now visit the Lord of the Manor’s Constable’s House. Built in 1160, mostly from Purbeck marble, as salubrious accommodation for important visitors to the castle. Edward I, King John and Henry VIII stayed here. One of the most complete 12th-century halls in England, accommodation was all on the upper floor, but the staircase is long gone.
Look past the garderobe, or toilet, overhanging the millstream, to medieval Town Bridge over the River Avon.
With its five rounded arches, it was already here in 1331 when the Archbishop of Canterbury granted ‘indulgencies’ for donations for its maintenance.
5. Return past Ye Old George and turn along High Street. Pass the Ship Inn on your right.Mentioned in a sale in 1688 when Richard Pawson sold it to James Stevens.
Look down right Millhams Lane to Christchurch Christian Centre. Built as the Independent Church in 1866, it replaced the 1730 barn used as the Dissenters’ meeting house, rebelling against the puritanism which followed Cromwell’s republic.
Reach the right brick and stone Town Hall. Built in 1746 at High Street and Castle Street junction, with market stalls underneath, it was rebuilt here in 1860. Now retrace your steps to Place Mill where you started.
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