The History of Christchurch
Christchurch began with the name was Tweoxneam, which means between two rivers and described the original Saxon settlement’s location on a triangle of land that was indeed between two rivers. This position made the settlement relatively easy to defend and so early in the 10th century, when England was being harassed by the Danes, Christchurch was made a burgh or fortified settlement. The natural defence offered by the two rivers was augmented by a ditch, mound and wooden palisade on the open side. The name Christchurch came in to use when after a church was built there in the 11th century. The Domesday Book records a population of around 170 for Christchurch.
Around the year of 1094 the Normans established a priory at Christchurch. A leper hostel in the Middle Ages, dedicated to St Mary Magdalene, is also known to have existed. The Norman Lord of the manor of Christchurch built a castle there in about 1150. In the Middle Ages Christchurch had a weekly market and, by the 12th century, it also had the rights to hold an annual fair. Later, the town was allowed two annual fairs per year. The town’s position by two rivers and the English Channel meant it was also a fishing port in the Middle Ages. The Dissolution forced the closure of the priory by Henry VIII in 1539 but the leper hostel, by that time in use as a hospital, was allowed to continue its vital work.
Christchurch began the Civil War under Royalists control but a Parliamentary army captured the town in April 1644. Royalists tried on two occasions to recapture Christchurch. The second raid pushed the Parliamentarians back into the castle and the priory until the Royalists retreated on hearing Parliamentary reinforcements were coming. After the Civil War, in 1652, the castle suffered the same fate as so many in the country and was demolished. A free grammar school was established in Christchurch in 1662.
By the 18th century fishing was still important to Christchurch and the town also built an economy upon the knitting silk stockings, glove making and making fusee chains - a fine chain used in watch making. By 1801, when Britain completed its first census, the population of Christchurch was just 1,410 and it was not famous as a particularly well-to-do town. Despite this, the town struggled on, reaching a population of 1,922 by 1841 and then rising much faster to reach 3,064 by 1871. A gasworks was built in the town in 1853 and this helped Christchurch develop gas street lighting. A piped water supply was installed in 1895 and, by the census of in 1901, the population of Christchurch stood at 4,204. The council began laying sewers in the town in 1902 but the opening of an electricity generating station in 1903 didn’t herald an immediate change to electric lighting, it was many years before these completely replaced gaslights in Christchurch. Trams started in Christchurch during the year of 1905 and ran until1936 when they were replaced by trolley buses which themselves ran until 1969.
It was decided to construct an airfield at Christchurch in 1934 and Airspeed opened an aircraft factory nearby in 1941. The factory closed in 1962 but by then the airfield had started to attract industry to the region. Plessey came to Christchurch in 1979 and helped lay the foundations for a small but sophisticated aerospace and technology industry there. The Airfield industrial estate was built to accommodate some of these businesses in the early 1980s. Today it is a very prosperous town, residents enjoy a great location and sailing is still very important to Christchurch. It now has a population of around 40,000.