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Christchurch Castle, Dorset, UK

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Christchurch Castle ruin.

Christchurch Castle is located on a narrow area of land between the River Avon and the River Stour. It was originally known as Twynham1 Castle, but, like the town of Twynham itself, gradually changed its name to Christchurch between the 12th and 15th Centuries.

According to a legend similar to one at Godshill on the Isle of Wight, when a new church was built outside the town of Twynham, all the stones taken to the new church construction site during the day magically moved back to the site of the original church, allegedly through the work of God. It was in honour of this miracle that first the church and later the town of Twynham became known as Christchurch. The first recorded use of the name Christchurch was in 1125, although for many years over the following centuries the two names were used concurrently.

Christchurch Castle was originally part of Hampshire, but since 1974 it has been located within the county of Dorset2.

The Castle Remains

Much of the bailey3 is now a bowling green, although there would originally have been stable blocks and various other outbuildings, many of which would have been wooden. There are two substantial buildings surviving: the Keep and the Constable's Lodge.

The Constable's Lodge

The Constable's Lodge was built by Baldwin de Redvers in 1160-2, who used it as a convenient stopping point between his main castles of Carisbrooke and Exeter. As the de Redvers family were based mainly on the Isle of Wight, the castle was usually occupied by a bailiff or constable rather than the lord of the castle. Rather than the austere and defensive keep, it was more comfortable to stay in the Constable's Lodge in the bailey. The Constable's House was a well-equipped hall complete with a garderobe tower - a latrine over the river that emptied into the millstream – a rare luxury in those days. Most of the lodge consists of a rectangular hall, 67 feet by 23 feet. The east walls, which faced the outside of the castle and the stream, were thicker than the other walls to aid defence.

Entry to the lodge was originally to the first floor on the west wall, with a spiral staircase in the north-east corner. The eastern half of the lodge was used as a solar4 and private chamber, with a doorway to the latrine tower. The western side was used as the castle's Great Hall. This has a splendid rare Norman chimney, one of only five surviving in England, and high quality double round-headed window arches. Beneath the first floor was a basement used for storage, although the side facing the stream has a number of arrow loops. The sides facing the castle's interior did not need this extra protection.

The Keep

The keep is built on top of a natural mound on unworked soil. The keep was probably initially constructed of wood in the middle of the 12th Century. The stone walls date to the early 1300s, and were three storeys high. Two walls remain of the original stone oblong keep. These are almost ten feet thick.

The keep is not a square tower; unusually, the corners are chamfered off. Christchurch Castle was the only castle in the area to have a second moat between the bailey and the mound. Most of the stone for Christchurch Castle was quarried in Quarr on the Isle of Wight5, although some came from Purbeck.

History Of Christchurch Castle


In Saxon times it was realised that the area that the town of Christchurch occupies was perfect for a port, not only for its natural advantages, but also because of its close proximity to Winchester. Winchester was the old Saxon capital of Wessex, and later became capital of England. The two rivers, the Avon6 and Stour, provided the area with an effective moat.

In around 900 AD, King Alfred the Great nominated Twynham to be a royal burgh, one of a chain of defended settlements along the south coast of England between Kent and Cornwall. This was to defend Twynham from the threat of invading Danes. The burgh would have been a defended ditch alongside an earth bank topped with a timber palisade. This is now the site of the Saxon Square car park.

Early Norman times

As Twynham was a royal burgh, owned by the Kings of England, after the Norman Conquest it became the personal property of King William The Bastard7. During the reign of his son, William Rufus, the area of Twynham was given to Ranulf Flambard, who as Chief Justiciar was one of the most powerful men. William Rufus himself died not all that far away8, through an act of God in the shape of an arrow.

The name of Twynham Castle changed to Christchurch Castle because of the miracle of Twynham's church. Between 1093 and 1096, according to Sir William Dugdale, writing in his 1661 translation of Monasticon Anglicanum, Flambard 'desiring and designing to pull down the ... church of the Holy Trinity of Twynham to the ground and to build a better and more beautiful one' chose a new site for the parish church. This was apparently St Catherine's Hill, a mile away, but any building work on the new site according to the legend magically moved to the old site of the church. This may well have actually happened, although for political reasons. By replacing the church in Twynham with one of his own construction, Flambard was attempting to bring all money given in church offerings into his hands as well as gaining the right to toll all traffic on the rivers Avon and Stour.

The Anarchy

Before the castle was completed it was plunged into the Anarchy that swept up through England, and around Hampshire in particular between 1135-54. The Anarchy was a period of Civil War between the forces of King Stephen and Empress Matilda, also known as Maud.

A section of the site of the Saxon burgh was hastily converted into a castle by Baldwin de Redvers, taking advantage of a natural mound for use as a motte. In 1148, the castle was held by Walter de Pinkney on behalf of Empress Maud and then in 1153 it was captured by forces loyal to King Stephen, as were Exeter and Carisbrooke castles. Baldwin de Redvers escaped, and later recaptured Christchurch Castle. In 1154, Baldwin de Revers was pardoned, and King Henry II rewarded his loyalty to the cause of Matilda by appointing him Earl of Devon.

King John

In King John's 17-year reign between 1199-1216, he visited Christchurch Castle seven times, more than any other monarch. He stayed in the Constable's House, and held two courts at the castle.

King John's fondness for Christchurch Castle is believed to be because of its close proximity to the New Forest: hunting there was one of the king's favourite activities. Christchurch Castle itself was vulnerable to attack, but there was an advantage to staying there. Corfe Castle, one of the country's strongest, was only a short distance away, and so provided secure protection nearby. Christchurch Castle, being located between Winchester and Corfe Castle, was a natural stopping point.

The de Redvers

After the decline in importance of Winchester following the Anarchy and the rise in that of London, the importance of Christchurch as a satellite port of Winchester also dwindled.

Baldwin de Redvers, the 8th Earl of Devon, died childless in 12629. His sister, the widow Isabella de Fortibus, inherited much of her brother's estate at the age of 23. Baldwin's widow, Margaret of Savoy, inherited Twynham Castle until her death in 1292, when the castle was inherited by Isabella. Isabella was the richest woman in England, owning the Lordship of the Isle of Wight as well as vast tracts of land in Devon, Dorset and Hampshire, including the land she had inherited from her husband on his death. Living most of her life at Carisbrooke Castle10 on the Isle of Wight, she had more power than the King and ruled in all but name as Queen of the Isle of Wight. Nevertheless, Isabella took great interest in Christchurch even when it was still owned by Margaret of Savoy, and gave the priory at Christchurch vast swathes of land, both on the mainland and on the Isle of Wight.

King Edward I is believed to have repeatedly attempted to buy the lordship of the Isle of Wight from her, but Isabella de Fortibus refused. Both her children died young. Her son Thomas died at the age of 16 in 1269, and her eldest daughter Aveline died in 1274 at the age of 15, four years after her marriage to Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Lancaster and son of Henry III. However, when King Edward I heard that Isabella was on her deathbed, he rushed to Carisbrooke Castle and arrived just in time to hear Isabella grant the lordship of the Isle of Wight and all her other lands to none other than King Edward I, a statement witnessed by King Edward himself and no one else. Over the centuries many murder and conspiracy theories have been put forward.

A Royal Castle

In 1299, six years after Isabella's death, King Edward I gave Christchurch Castle to his second wife, Margaret, the daughter of King Philip III of France. In 1307 King Edward II ordered that Twynham Castle should be kept secure when he left on his trip to France to marry Isabella, daughter of Philip IV of France.

In 1330 the castle was given by King Edward III to William Montagu11, who was appointed Earl of Salisbury in 1337. His son William, the Second Earl, was one of the original Knights of the Garter in 1350. The Fourth Earl of Salisbury was one of Henry V's generals at the Battle of Agincourt, and died at the Siege of Orleans in 1428, with his only son having died in a jousting accident.

The title and castle then passed through the female line and were inherited by George Duke of Clarence's12 wife Isabel Neville, daughter of the Earl of Warwick. On the death of Isabel their son Edward, Earl of Lincoln and Warwick, inherited. His cousin King Henry VII executed Edward for treason in 1499, on the grounds that as a Plantagenet, Edward had a greater claim to the throne than he did.

Pole Position

On Edward's death, Christchurch was inherited by Edward's sister and last of the Plantagenet line, Lady Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury. Henry VII had her married off to Sir Richard Pole, a man whose family origins were as rich wool merchants. Though wealthy, they were not of noble stock, and Henry VII hoped that this marriage to an upstart would prevent Margaret, the last of the royal Plantagenet line, and any children she would have, from being a threat to his throne, won by right of conquest.

Despite this, after Henry VIII appointed her as godmother and governess to his daughter Mary, later Queen Mary I, Margaret was executed for treason by Henry VIII in 154113.

Margaret Pole is not believed to have spent much time at Christchurch Castle, preferring Warblington Manor, a house between Christchurch and Southampton. Indeed, before her death in 1541, Christchurch Castle was described as being in poor state and used as a pound for cattle.

On the execution of Lady Margaret, Christchurch Castle became the property of the Crown once again. As an old-fashioned castle, it was quietly kept and allowed to fall gradually into decay, until in 1601, the castle was granted to the Arundel family.

Civil War

In the English Civil War, Christchurch Castle was held for the King by Colonel Sir John Mills, Governor of Christchurch, from 1642 until 1646. Christchurch was surrounded by Parliamentarian towns including Poole, Wareham and Southampton. Only Corfe Castle nearby similarly supporting King Charles I. Initially it was possible to keep Christchurch Castle supplied by sea from Portsmouth, where George Goring, Governor of Portsmouth, was a strong Royalist supporter.

For the first four years of the war, sheltered behind the New Forest, Christchurch Castle was of little importance, being in poor repair and having only a small number of cannon. In August and September 1643, a battle occurred in nearby Lymington, and Corfe Castle was besieged unsuccessfully by Parliamentary forces.

In 1646, Christchurch Castle was captured without a fight by Parliamentary troops under Sir William Waller, who led a surprise raid and captured 400 prisoners. Christchurch was still a Royalist stronghold, and there were two attempts to recapture the castle for the Royalist cause. First, in early January 1645, Lord Goring attempted to lead a force of Cavalier cavalry to Christchurch, and the Parliamentarian leader, Major Lower, evacuated his men to Hurst Castle and escaped. Although Goring reached Christchurch Castle he did not then have enough men or equipment to hold it, so he was forced to withdraw. On 15 January, 1645, Lord Goring returned with 1,000 men, enough to defeat the 200 Parliament troops who had been building up a strong defensive position in the meantime, both in the castle and the town. The Royalists managed to force the Parliamentarians out of the town of Christchurch and into the castle, as well as the priory next to it, and soon the castle was besieged by Royalists. However, larger Parliamentarian forces in nearby Poole and Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight were thought to be on their way, so after a fierce three-day battle the Royalist forces again retreated.

For his defence of Christchurch against an army five times the size of his, Major Lower was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and appointed Governor of Winchester.

In 1646 the Civil War was over, and the castle still held its cannon. Yet, in May 1650, fearing the possibility of Royalist supporters again capturing Christchurch, Oliver Cromwell ordered the castle to be slighted, or demolished. The Governor of Southampton finally removed all the castle's cannon in July 1651, taking them to the Parliament stronghold of Poole. In 1652 the castle was demolished, leaving the keep – the ruin we see today. The keep's north and south walls were pulled down, the walls of the bailey demolished and the defensive ditch filled in. The Constable's Hall became used as a source of stone for other buildings in the area.

The Castle Today

Since the Civil War, the castle has been neglected, and allowed to stand as a picturesque ruin in the heart of Christchurch. In 1974, as part of the national county border changes, Christchurch was transferred from being inside Hampshire to being on the very edge of the county of Dorset.

Christchurch Castle is now free to visit, with its remains looked after by English Heritage.

Other historic sites in the area include:

The White Company

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was the world-famous writer best known for creating Sherlock Holmes but was fondest of his historical novels, as well as The Lost World. He is often considered to be one of Britain's greatest novelists. In one of his personal favourite novels, The White Company, written in 1891, he wrote about Christchurch Castle in its heyday. Set in 1336, Twynham Castle is the home of the hero, Sir Nigel Loring14, who is the castle's constable and leader of the White Company, a band of adventurers. This is how the castle is described in Chapter XI of that novel.

'Black was the mouth of Twynham Castle, though a pair of torches burning at the further end of the gateway cast a red glare over the outer bailey ... It appeared to be as great and as stout a fortress as could be built by the hands of man.

Erected by Sir Baldwin de Redvers in the old fighting days of the twelfth century, when men thought much of war and little of comfort, Castle Twynham had been designed as a stronghold pure and simple, unlike those later and more magnificent structures where warlike strength had been combined with the magnificence of a palace.

...[Twynham Castle] still frowned above the smooth-flowing waters of the Avon, very much as the stern race of early Anglo-Normans had designed it. There were the broad outer and inner bailies, not paved, but sown with grass to nourish the sheep and cattle which might be driven in on sign of danger. All round were high, turreted walls, with at the corner a bare square-faced keep, gaunt and windowless, rearing up from a lofty mound, which made it almost inaccessible to an assailant. Against the bailey walls were rows of frail wooden houses and leaning sheds, which gave shelter to the archers and men-at-arms who formed the garrison.

...[At] the east end of the courtyard, where a broad flight of steps led up to the doorway of the main hall, the outer wall of which is washed by the waters of the Avon. As designed at first, no dwelling had been allotted to the lord of the castle and his family but the dark and dismal basement story of the keep. A more civilised or more effeminate generation, however, had refused to be pent up in such a cellar, and the hall with its neighbouring chamber had been added for their accommodation
1Twyn means a small hill and ham means a hamlet or village.2This was part of the 1972 Local Government Act which came into force in 1974. Three towns on the South Coast, Poole in Dorset, and Bournemouth and Christchurch in Hampshire, had expanded to become an interconnected urban district. It was decided to move the Dorset border to include Bournemouth and Christchurch to encompass these towns within one county.3A bailey is a castle courtyard enclosed by a wall, palisade or earthworks, often the defended area below the motte in motte-and-bailey castles. It ia also known as a ward. For more definitions of castle terms, see the Castle Glossary.4A solar is a castle's private room, reserved for the lord of the castle. It is normally situated on an upper floor of the castle and positioned to fully enjoy the sun.5Quarr was named after its famous quarry, from which stone for several castles and abbeys throughout Southern England was quarried.6The word 'Avon' originally meant 'river' and, as a consequence, there are several rivers in England called the Avon.7William The Bastard has been known since Victorian times as William The Conqueror; 'bastard' was not originally the insult that it is considered today. He reigned 1066-87.8William Rufus is reputed to have died at the spot now known as Rufus Stone, in the New Forest.9Baldwin de Redvers was poisoned by his brother-in-law in Savoy.10The only other woman to be Constable of Carisbrooke Castle was Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.11Also known as William Montacute. He was famously appointed Marshal of England, conquered the Isle of Man from Scotland, and was even crowned the Isle of Man's king.12George, Duke of Clarence, was the third son of Richard, Duke of York, who died at the battle of Wakefield. His eldest brother became King Edward IV, his second eldest brother Edmund also died at the Battle of Wakefield outside Sandal Castle and his youngest brother became King Richard III. George was murdered in the Tower of London in 1477.13Margaret Pole was executed in place of her son, Reginald Pole, who fled England after the abolition of Catholicism and published pamphlets criticising Henry VIII. Reginald Pole was created Cardinal by the Pope as a reward for his anti-Protestant work. Henry VIII, as he was unable to execute Reginald Pole who was in exile in Italy, first imprisoned his mother the 67-year-old Margaret Pole and then executed her instead. Reginald Pole later returned to England after the death of Henry VIII to become Archbishop of Canterbury. As a priest he was forbidden to marry, and so on his death, the Plantagenet line that had ruled England since King Henry II died with him.14The character of Sir Nigel Loring would later reappear in the prequel novel, Sir Nigel, written in 1906.

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