Silent Stones: A marker, A Kings Throne, The hill where people came to swear oaths, settle disputes and receive court judgements.
Perhaps the most mysterious site in the Bournemouth-Christchurch area is the site known as St Catherine’s Hill. Few today know why it is so named: after a chapel that once stood there, built sometime back when the church was the major local landowner, with its administrative centre Christchurch Priory.
Off the tourist track, this 35-hectare hill Christchurch, the lower Avon Valley and the New Forest to the east and, to the west, what is now Bournemouth. Today it is a Town Common Nature Reserve, a place where local people go to exercise their dogs or horses, or just have a pleasant walk along the bridleways and footpaths that criss-cross the hill through its heather and birch and conifer woodland cover.
However, it remains a slightly strange place, its pre-20th C. history largely unknown. Although only 45 metres high, its steepness, fortunately, has precluded normal industrial or residential development. The only modern additions are a pair of microwave towers and two concrete monstrosities – water reservoirs painted with graffiti of werewolves etc. However, there remains no sign of any ancient native Neolithic, Bronze or Iron Age hillfort atop what would have been a natural stronghold. There is a set of low earthworks in one area – the Council website says, “Bronze age settlers and Iron Age farmers may have built the enclosure just to the south west of the radio mast.” In addition, nearby are the banks of a Roman fort believed to have held a small garrison operating a two-way signal station? The Council website also says the hill “has most likely been used as a look-out and beacon since prehistoric times.” This is probably because it is the highest ground for miles, and because beacons were put there in Tudor and Napoleonic times.
Yet there is a defensive ditch that could hold the populace and their herds in time of attack encircled no evidence that in pre-Roman times it. (Maiden Castle hillfort for example could hold an estimated 4,000 people.) This is despite the facts the steep-sided 160-foot high hill would have been easier to defend than many places that did have hillforts, stood at a strategic spot than most, and was almost the only sizable hill in the area. It commanded a view of the area just inland of Hengistbury Head and Christchurch Harbour, which archaeologist Prof Sir Barry Cunliffe has argued was Britain’s busiest Iron Age port, the path and river route inland leading north up the River Avon to the interior of Wessex. The ancient route passed Stonehenge, which had an avenue leading to the Avon near the spot where Amesbury Abbey was later built, and may well date back to the days when Stonehenge was in use. All we know about the hill’s human usage pre-1900 is from a few archaeological notes, a couple of references in church records, and a much-cited local legend. The evidence of this could be interpreted to mean that it was not fortified as a military site as it was a sacred one.
Tucktonia: was a late 1970s theme park located on Stour Road, Christchurch, Dorset, England. Arthur Askey officially opened it on 23 May 1976. It originally occupied 4 acres of the 21-acre Tuckton Park Leisure Complex. The park was closed down in 1986.
The park was best known for its large model village layout, which included a representation of London.The 7.25-inch narrow gauge ride-on steam train and some additional fixtures and fittings, were moved to the Moors Valley Railway in the Moors Valley Country Park near Ringwood, Hampshire.
It is rumoured that just prior to the closure of the park, the owners wanted to build a roller coaster at the rear of the site, but were refused permission by the local council. Following the refusal, the park closed shortly afterwards.
Bekonscot Model Village in Buckinghamshire provided much inspiration for the designers, one of whom had his office near Bekonscot and was a frequent visitor. KLF Ltd, who later went on to design similar models at Brittania Park (known as “The American Adventure” theme park by the time of its demise in 2006, built the bulk of the models. Tucktonia was the brainchild of former double British Formula 3 champion Harry Stiller who in 2006 still lived in the area.
The entire model village was believed destroyed when the park closed. However one model survives… this being Buckingham Palace, which was acquired, restored and put on display at the Wimborne Model Town, Wimborne Minster in 2002, and moved to Merrivale Model Village, Great Yarmouth in 2006.
There are numerous unsubstantiated rumours that the models were not destroyed after the closure of the park – the main one being that they were instead placed into storage within a barn where they remained until 2001, when the building burnt down.
BBC Television’s Multi-Coloured Swap Shop show broadcast live from the park on one occasion.
The park’s model London was used extensively in the obscure 1976 King Kong spoof Queen Kong.
The Priest Hole
The Priests Hole: Ye Olde George Inn, Castle Street, Christchurch, Dorset, U.K
Some years ago, a priest hole was found during renovation, and inside was a torn, old-fashioned shirt along with shoes and a heap of bones. Licensees over the years have seen plates slowly turning on tables and one particular Victorian print keeps crashing off the wall.
Wine bottles that have been put on separate tables soon finish up gathered together on one table. In addition, it is said a grey lady walks the premises
This 14th century coaching inn in Castle Street boasts an eventful past that includes a priest hole used during Henry VIII’s reformation and access to medieval tunnels that run from the pub to the castle. It was also the scene of a fateful love story played out against the turbulent background of the English Civil War when the alehouse was a popular watering hole for Royalist soldiers.
Margaret Moore, the daughter of the inn’s landlord, fell in love with a Royalist soldier called Rupert. He was performing his duties as a soldier under Lord Goring whilst the Royalists held Christchurch Castle. In 1644 as the castle was being besieged, Lord Goring retreated but Margaret and Rupert were able to use the secret tunnel between the pub and the castle to continue their love affair.
Margaret fell pregnant by Rupert, much to the disgust of her father Henry, a staunch Parliamentary supporter. Unwilling to taint the family name, he bricked up his daughter and grandson in the cheese pantry leaving them to starve to death. It is said that, in the dead of night, you can hear a new born child crying in the darkness and Margaret scratching at the bricks in an attempt to get out.
Fusee Chain: In the 15th Century a horologist invented a wheel (know as a fusee) – that could be used in small time pieces to keep accurate time.
These tiny chains were mass-produced in Christchurch. The industry started in Christchurch around 1784 by Robert Harvey Cox.
Tools required to make the chain links were punches, dies, miniature anvils and hammers, plus a variety of shaping files. It was precise skill to make the chains. Both the dies and links were so small as to be almost invisible to the naked eye. Fusee chains varied in size from 12.5cm to 25cm and some could be threaded through the eye of a sewing needle.
The bulk of the labour force in Christchurch consisted of young girls, many of which were also inmates of the Christchurch Workhouse, now the Red House Museum.
There were three major workshops for Fusee chain making in Christchurch:
- Cox’s (Robert Harvey Cox) 1784*-1870s
- Jenkins’ (Henry Jenkins & Sons) 1823-1914
- Hart’s (William Hart) 1845-1899
It was also a major cottage industry for the town during this period. Many women worked at home, near a window, making chains for the factories.