Nestled between the New Forest and the famous seaside resort of Bournemouth, Christchurch is small gem of a town on the eastern extremity of Dorset and an ideal destination for a ‘Grand Day Out’ in Dorset, with something on offer for all the family.
A historic market and fishing town that traces its history back to the Doomsday Book and beyond, Christchurch has rich treasures of the past to explore. For a cultural itinerary, start at the Old Castle & Keep and its surrounding grounds, which saw action in one of the battles of the English Civil War as the Roundheads laid siege to the Cavaliers here. The Castle was stormed but the ruins remain and have been beautifully preserved by English Heritage. The Site is free to walk around and there are even some ye olde medieval stocks for you to experience what this more unusual of punishments must have been like!
A short walk from the Castle and you find yourself on the Mill Stream Walk. Watch the ducks and swans play amongst the lily-pads as you leisurely head towards the Old Town Quay where you will find the Place Mill itself, which these days offers up some fantastic local art exhibitions for you to peruse. The Town Quay has a Band Stand which comes alive during local music events, most notably the annual ‘Stompin on the Quomps’ Festival in July. Take a stroll along the waterfront to enjoy the ambience of riverside life along the River Stour.
From the Town Quay, you can treat the family to a boat trip around the magnificent Christchurch Harbour, the town’s greatest natural asset, where the Stour and the River Avon meet. The ferries chug their way across the water and down to Mudeford Sandbank where you can disembark to laze on the beach, climb the Headland, or marvel at the colourful Beach Huts that line the stretch.
Hop north across the entrance to the Harbour on another ferry and you find yourself on Mudeford Quay, which still retains its fishing village character, as evident in the many lobster pots and nets that you will see. Here you too can join in the action, with mackerel trips departing regularly from the Quay in high season. If you can’t find your sea legs don’t despair! Mudeford Quay offers some of the best crab fishing in the area. Just remember to be kind to whatever you catch and leave them to go back to their natural environment at the end of your visit.
Mudeford is also increasingly a centre for family water sports with all tastes being catered for in the more sheltered waters of the harbour, ideal for learning something new, such as windsurfing, kayaking, Paddle boarding as well as dinghy sailing.
If you prefer dry land, head back into Christchurch town where you can explore the High Street and its quirky shops and cafes at your leisure, set amongst the pretty cottages in the heart of town. Make your way down the High Street and you eventually encounter The Priory, Christchurch’s imposing and wonderfully restored landmark church. Originally built in the 11th Century and complete with an attractive courtyard and its own mythical legend of the ‘Miraculous Beam’, the grounds are well worth spending some time in to admire. The Priory even offers visitors a chance to ascend the clock tower where you can view the town and the coastline from the tallest point around!
To get your full dose of history, walk across the street from The Priory and you will encounter the Red House Museum, a former Victorian Workhouse, where you can step back in time and see what life was like for generations gone by.
Whatever your family is looking for on its ‘Grand Day Out’ the chances are Christchurch will be able to provide. Historic buildings, scenic surroundings and, of course, its spectacular harbour, combine to make Christchurch a special place on South Coast. Don’t take our word for it though, come and visit it for yourself!
Civic History of Christchurch
Christchurch (Twynham) was one of King Alfred's Royal Burghs in about 870 AD and remained a Royal possession until King Henry 1st bequeathed the Manor and lands to his cousin, Richard de Redvers, about the year 1100. It was he who provided part of the resources required to commence the building of the Priory Church.
The inhabitants of Christchurch received a Charter of Liberties from his son Baldwin, the 1st Earl of Devon and Lord of the Isle in or about the year 1150. This Charter, together with other Charters granted to them from time to time, was recited in a Royal Charter dated 25 August 1682. This Charter confirmed all and singular the privileges formerly enjoyed by the Burgesses and inhabitants and made them one Body Corporate by the style of the Mayor and Burgesses of the Town or Borough of Christchurch Twynham.
The Borough was re-incorporated by Royal Charter on 10 July 1886. This replaced the "old corporation" with a Municipal Borough with the corporate style of "the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Borough of Christchurch". As a result of this Charter of Incorporation, the new Town Council had full urban powers, the result being better roads, better sewerage and lighting.
In 1911 the boundaries were extended to include Mudeford and Jumpers and in 1932 further extended to include part of the Parish of Hurn and the Parish of Highcliffe.
The Borough remained in being until 31 March 1974 when following the Local Government Act of 1972, the District of Christchurch was established. The new District was granted the status of Borough by a Royal Charter granted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 27 February 1974, taking effect on 01 April that year. In consequence, the Chairman of the Council is the Mayor and the Vice-Chairman is the Deputy Mayor.
The new district comprised the existing Borough, with the addition of the Parishes of Hurn and Burton. The Act also provided for the whole of the new District to be in the County of Dorset, instead of Hampshire.
Following Local Government Review, Christchurch Borough Council ceased to exist, and the new Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Unitary Council was established on 1 April 2019 and the new Christchurch Town Council and Highcliffe and Walkford Parish Council were also established.
The Orders which created the Town Council can be viewed by clicking the links below. These illustrate the extent of the jurisdiction of the Town Council including its 5 electoral wards, as well as highlighting all the physical possessions the Town Council took custody of; from as small as a grandfather clock in the Old Town Hall, all the way through to land holdings such as Christchurch Quayside!
Historical Background to the Office of Mayor
The Office of Mayor was brought to this country by the Normans; the first English Mayor being the Mayor of London, appointed in 1189 by Richard I.
In Christchurch, the earliest apparently recorded name is that of John Leshelm who in 1297 became the Reeve. The oldest document held at the Civic Offices, which
refers to the office, is dated 1435 and refers to Richard Doget as Reeve.
During the Middle Ages, the Mayor, under whatever name he may have been known in his particular Borough, seems to have held a position similar in many ways to that of his modern successor. He was acknowledged as the "first citizen" of the Town, he had a Council (under differing names) to assist him, he was a "Custodian of the Peace" - the name for early Magistrates, and he would normally preside in the Borough's civil and criminal courts as well as the Court Leet if the Borough was Lord of the Manor.
A list of all the Mayors of the Borough from the year 1297 to 2018 is set out in the Roll of Mayors which hang in the Council Chamber at the Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole Council Civic Offices in Christchurch.
The tradition continues with a new Roll of Mayors board being installed in the Old Town Hall following the establishment of the new Christchurch Town Council on 1st April 2019.