Christchurch Castle and Norman House

Visiting Christchurch Castle

Christchurch Castle stands in ruins keeping its ancient vigil over the confluence of the Rivers Avon and Stour in Dorset, England. Initially a Norman motte and bailey construction, evidence points to a Saxon burh beneath it. Visitors may visit the castle for free. 

Parking

There is paid parking roughly 3 minutes away from the castle grounds, which English Heritage does not manage. There are many options for parking, but one of the nearest car parks is Wick Lane behind the Regent Centre off the

Price

There is paid parking roughly 3 minutes away from the castle grounds, which English Heritage does not manage. There are many options for parking, but one of the nearest car parks is Wick Lane behind the Regent Centre off the main High Street.

Opening

Christchurch Castle is open all year round during reasonable daylight hours.

Location and Access

Visitors will find Christchurch Castle by following signs from the A35. Wilts and Dorset and Yellow Buses operate a frequent service to and from Christchurch High Street, if you wish to use public transport. 

The physical address of the castle is:

High Street

Christchurch

Dorset

BH23 1AS

Grid reference SZ160927

Although the inner castle does not provide wheelchair access, a dirt path runs around the base of the keep suitable for wheelchairs. However, the climb up to the castle remains quite steep, so visitors should take care in inclement weather. 

The castle site is perfect for a walk along the side of the Avon River, where you may find many ducks that your children will love. The area is excellent for a family outing in sunny weather.

Know Before You Go

  • English Heritage does not allow drones flying over their heritage site.
  • Dogs on leash are permitted.
  • The climb to the castle is steep, visitors should take care while climbing.
  • Heritage does not permit children or adults to climb the castle walls.

History of Christchurch Castle

Christchurch Castle’s history has origins dating back to the 9th century. The priory added in 1043 led to the area being renamed Christchurch in 1177. The ruins show a fine example of an 11th-century timber and (later) masonry castle, which has been the scene of pivotal historical events.

Time Line


-879 AD 

Alfred the Great, the King of the West Saxons, fortified Twynham into a burh to protect his kingdom from the Danes. In all likelihood, the Saxon stronghold in Twyneham formed the base for the construction of Christchurch Castle. 

-1094

The occupants of the Twyneham Burrough established a priory in the southeast part of town, which prospered and led to the town taking on the name Christchurch.

-1106

The Norman Knight, Richard de Redvers, supported Henry I in a campaign against his rival Robert the Duke of Normandy. In return, the King granted de Redvers a sizable gift of land, including Christchurch.

-1107 (Motte and Bailey)

De Redvers built Christchurch Castle to form an administrative centre, and a means to control his lands. The initial castle was an earthwork and timber construction or motte and bailey with a surrounding ringworm built on the western central part of the burh. He also dug a new town ditch out of the infilled Saxon defences. 

-1147 (Political Attack)

After Richards death, his son Baldwin de Redvers inherited Christchurch Castle and estates. During the Anarchy, Baldwin supported Matilda's claim to the throne. This support provoked Walter de Pikney to attack Christchurch in his support of Matilda's rival and cousin, Stephen I.

De Redvers temporarily lost their possession of Christchurch but regained it later that year.

-1160 (Stone Construction)

Richard de Redvers, the 2nd Earl of Devon, rebuilt the timber and earthwork castle in stone and commenced building the Norman House (or Constable's house as it was later known). The Norman house provided the family with a luxury residence including a storeroom, solar, and a Norman fireplace and chimney in the east wall (still visible today).

-Circa 1200

The castle occupants upgraded their sanitary conditions, building a garderobe tower the mill stream. A garderobe was a type of toilet that typically jutted out of the sides of a castle with a hole in the base to let effluent drop into a pit, moat. The garderobe exists today in the Norman House. 

-1199–1216 (King’s Visit)

King John visited Christchurch Castle several times over his seventeen-year reign and stayed in the Norman house while sometimes holding court in the castle. Historians believe he enjoyed the surrounding forest due to his passion for hunting. 

-1269

Baldwin de Redvers, the 8th Earl of Devon, died without an heir, leaving the castle to his widow Margaret of Savoy. At her death in 1292, the castle passed to Baldwin's sister Isabella de Fortibus.

-1330

Edward III granted the castle to William Montagu, Earl of Salisbury and the castle passed on to each successive Earl until the Four Earl of Salisbury. The son of the latter died in a jousting accident. 

-1428

George Duke of Clarence's wife, Isabel Neville, inherited the title and castle as it passed through the female line.

-1499 

Edward, Earl of Warwick and Lincoln, Isabel's son, was executed by King Henry VII. The castle passed to Edwards Sister, Lady Mary Pole, Countess of Salisbury and last of the Plantagenet line.

-1541

Henry executed Margaret for treason, but historical documents refer to the caste being in a poor state of repair. The castle reverted once more to the crown until granted to the Arundel family.

-1642–51 (English Civil War)

Christchurch formed part of the Royalist stronghold under Colonel John Mills command. Although the castle was an impoverished military stronghold, the position helped keep Christchurch supplied by sea by Portsmouth, another Royalist stronghold. In a state of poor repair and with few cannons, the castle fell without fighting the parliamentary troops.

-1645 

The Royalists retaliated by retaking the town, but the Parliamentary garrison held the keep. Royalists attempted a siege but retreated when they retreated in fear due to a rumour of an approaching enemy force. 

-(Slighted) 

Under Oliver Cromwell's orders, troops slighted Christchurch Castle, and demolished the north and south walls of the keep and filled in the defensive ditch. Townspeople further plundered the site of stone and what was left we see today.

Christchurch Castle Occupants

Although many famous figures took ownership of Christchurch castle, it is unlikely that the later owners took residence once the castle began to fall into a state of disrepair. However, they may likely have visited the castle or stayed there infrequently.  

12th Century Occupants

  • 1107: The Norman Knight, Richard de Redvers built Christchurch Castle to form an administrative centre and residence.  
  • 1147: Baldwin de Redvers inherited Christchurch Castle and estates, and Richard de pickney briefly claims ownership during the Anarchy. 
  • 1160: Richard de Redvers, the 2nd Earl of Devon, occupied the Christchurch castle, began stone construction and built a luxurious residence in the Norman House.

13th Century Occupants

  • In the mid-1200s: Baldwin de Redvers, the 8th Earl of Devon, occupied the castle. He died without an heir, leaving the castle to his widow Margaret of Savoy. At her death in 1292, the castle passed to Baldwin's sister Isabella de Fortibus.
  • 1269: Baldwin died without an heir and left the castle to his widow Margaret of Savoy
  • 1292: Margaret died and left the castle to her sister in law Isabella de Fortibus.
  •  Baldwin's sister
  • 1298: Edward I gave the castle to his second wife, Margaret

14th Century Occupants

  • 1307: Edward II gave orders for his men to keep the castle secure when he left for France to marry Isabella, daughter of Phillip IV of France
  • 1330: William Montagu, Earl of Salisbury, occupied the castle, and his heirs inherited the castle until the Fourth Earl of Salisbury died without an heir.

15th Century occupants

  • 1428: Isabella Neville inherited the castle from her husband George, Duke of Clarence
  • 1499: Isabella's son Edward, Earl of Warwick and Lincoln, took ownership of the castle until his execution by the King. Lady Mary Pole, Countess of Salisbury, his sister, assumed ownership.

Images of Christchurch Castle

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Christchurch Castle and Norman House Christchurch Castle and Norman House Christchurch Castle and Norman House Christchurch Castle and Norman House

Images Supplied and licensed from Shutterstock Standard Licence Package

Christchurch Castle Facts

  • Between 1199-1216, King John regularly visited the castle several times where resided in the Norman House, and held court in the castle.At the time the castle site was surrounded by prime hunting grounds, and King John was an avid hunter.
  • Castle occupants upgraded their sanitary system in the Constable’s House. The garderobe was an early form of toilet that allowed users to deposit their waste into (in this case) the mill stream.
  • The monastery found nearby the castle, was founded by Edward the Confessor in 1043, and was the reason why the town and castle were named “Christchurch.”
  • The monastery nearby, founded by Edward the Confessor in 1043, resulted in the town being given the name of Christchurch in 1177.

Christchurch Castle Q&A

How Big Is Christchurch Castle?

The 12th-century motte was 50m (164ft) in diameter and approximately 5m (16ft) metres in height and likely supported a wooden tower. The original motte was enlarged to the present size to allow for the building of a stone keep after 1300 AD. The early 12th-century keep was three storeys high and had walls 2.7m (9ft ) thick.

The bailey stood to the northeast of the motte and originally was defined by banks and walls.

The northeast bailey holds the well preserved great hall, built around 1160 AD. The hall aligns southwest and spans 18.5m (60ft) by 7m (23ft). This structure was once likely the primary residence of the castle which later became the Constable's House. 

What Kind of Castle Is Christchurch?

Christchurch Castle is described as a certain Timber castle and also as a certain Masonry Castle. Builders replaced The original earthworks and timber (or motte and bailey) with stone after 1300 AD. The castle functioned to protect the feudal family and Lord of the manor and provide a military base to enforce their control of the area.  

What Remains of Christchurch Castle?

Not much of the original castle has survived, and the bailey is now home to a bowling green and gardens. Initially, the area would be filled with buildings, but there are no visible remains. Parliamentarians filled ditches after the English Civil War, but parts of the Keep still stand, and the chamber block now named the Constable's House.

Much of the masonry of the Constable's House remains as well as one of only five remaining examples of a Norman chimney. The house also holds a fine example of a garderobe tower added in the early 1300s, which provided the occupants with an early form of toilet.

Was Christchurch Church the Scene of Any Battles?

Christchurch Castle was involved in the Anarchy, a civil war in England that revolved around a dispute between Empress Matilda and her cousin Stephen of Blois for succession to Henry I crown. Baldwin de Redvers supported Matilda and incited Stephen supporters to attack Christchurch Castle. Albeit briefly, the castle was captured and then regained it the same year.

In the English civil war, Parliamentarians captured Christchurch Castle and later destroyed the castle and filled in the ditches. The castle was the scene of fierce fighting as the Royalists struggled to regain the castle. The Royalists aborted the siege, and the castle remained in parliamentarian hands until Crowell ordered the castle slighted. 

Location of Castle

Christchurch Castle is an early 12th-century castle, and occupied the site of an earlier Saxon burh. The original earthen mound or motte was enlarged after 1300 to accommodate a stone tower or keep. The castle remained in the same location from its earliest timber and earthworks construction and extended by subsequent masonry additions.

The castle lies on the Saxon site of Twyneham, translated as 'the place between two rivers'.

This location strategically overlooked the confluence of Rivers Avon and Stour, which were integral transport routes. The perfect placement of the castle on a raised triangle of land between two rivers also afforded the defence of water on three sides.   

With the vital anchorage of Christchurch harbour downstream, the castle allowed trading access to larger seagoing vessels that occupants could transfer to river barges for transport and trade. Archaeological evidence suggests that the castle location had been used for its strategic placement, much earlier than the 12th-century castle.

Other Places To Visit Near Castle

Christchurch Priory

Christchurch priory has a history deeply interwoven with that of Christchurch Castle. Standing for over 1300 years, it is one of the longest standing parish churches in Dorset. Its tower stands at 37m high (120ft) and 91m (311ft) in length; it is one of the largest of 21 English Anglican churches. 

It is home to the legend of the miraculous beam in the early 12th century. Legend tells of the priory carpenters when a large beam hoisted into place was too short to fit. They left the site upset and happy for home. 

When they returned, one carpenter, a quiet man who ate and worked alone, was missing, and the beam suddenly fit. They believed it was Jesus himself who intervened. This 'miracle' was behind the fact that Twyneham's name changed to Christchurch. One may still find the miraculous beam in the priory ambulatory. 

Highcliffe Castle 

The beautiful clifftop Highcliffe Castle, built between 1831 and 1835, is a lovely example of romantic and picturesque architecture famous in the era. The design incorporates carved medieval stonework salvaged from the ruined Benedectine abbey and the Grande Maison des Andelys from Normandy in France.

The site is a popular wedding venue in its setting in a tranquil nature reserve. The grounds are open to the public daily until 6.30 PM with paid parking.

Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum Christchurch

The spectacular Russell-Cotes Museum and Gallery is housed in a beautiful Grade II listed building on the top of East Cliff in Bournemouth. With beautiful gardens, art and the collected artefacts of the Victorians Sir Merton and lady Annie Russel Cotes. 

Adventure Wonderland 

Adventure Wonderland is an award-winning theme park with an eclectic range of rides and attractions for the young and young at heart. Rides include the family favourites such as 

  • Turbo teacups
  • Wild Bills Runaway train
  • Jungle falls 
  • Battle boats 
  • Shetland world's pones
  • Hedge maze