Nearby to Hengistbury Head, in the town of Christchurch, quite near the Priory and close to the river Avon and Christchurch Quay is a Norman Motte and Keep. Known as Christchurch Castle and the Constables House they form a significant historic link between the area and both the Norman occupation and English Civil War.
Christchurch Castle, built high on its Motte (or man made hillock) replaced a traditional early Norman motte and Bailey (wooden castle) around 1190. The original wooden structure shared the same dark purpose as the later stone castle, to keep the natives under the thumb of the Norman conquerors. The local Norman gentry were originally led by Richard De Redvers. He was probably was responsible for building the original Wooden motte and bailey castle before the beginning of the 12th century.
The nine foot (3 meter) thick walls relied heavily on local stone. In the next image we can see use distinctive red coloured ironstone doggers from Hengistbury Head. Other stone was probably shipped in from Portland. The walls were probably built by the same craftsmen who fashioned the nearby Priory Church. The labour was probably forced from the local Saxon serfdom who had no discernable rights and were regarded as little more than cattle by their Norman rulers. The amount of effort and money that went into the construction of this weapon of war must have kept the local population heavily taxed for many years.
The castle fell into disuse in the 14th century but regained a military use during the English Civil War of the mid 17th century The castle was taken and held by the Parlimentarian forces of Oliver Cromwell and remained garrisoned thoughout the civil war period. When hostilities ended, Cromwell had the place torn down so it could never again be used for military purposes. That is how it remains to this day.
The Castle was supplimented by the less military and more benign Constables House. Again a stone building, this actually pre-dated the stone castle by about 20 years but it was constructed within the outer perimeter defences of the Castle. It boasts the oldest standing Norman chimney that is still part of a recognisable building in England. The Keep is tucked away from the main road through Christchurch and nestles just below the Bridge over the river Avon. It lies along the mill stream and is usually a quiet place with only a few visitors.
The Keep was at one time a place for the wealthy. Meanwhile the local peasantry lived as little more than slaves to their Norman conquerers. More information on Christchurch Castle and Keep can be found at the following website www.communigate.co.uk page
Today this is a quiet place in the middle of a bustling town with beautiful river walks nearby, leading to Christchurch Priory and Quay. An excellent free visitor attraction with plenty of green area for picnics and play.