Christchurch Priory

Click either image, below, for a larger version of the guide:

There is a printable version (one sheet of A4) here.


  • There was a Saxon Minster on this site, probably in the 7th century.
  • It was demolished on the orders of Ranulf Flambard, Chief Minister to the Norman King William II (reigned 1087-1100). He had tremendous importance, even taking over the administration of England while the King was away fighting in Normandy.
  • An Augustinian monastery was started in 1094. It was originally meant to be built on St Catherine’s Hill, over a mile away, but the materials mysteriously kept moving to the site of the old church. Seeing this as divine intervention, the builders moved to the present location.
  • An extra carpenter appeared during the construction. He was never paid, nor even ate there. One day a large wooden beam was cut too short. With the expense and slow hand-tools to work with, this was a disaster! Next day, to everyone’s amazement, the beam had been restored to its proper length and even put in place! Had this workman been the Carpenter of Nazareth? Ever since it has been known as the miraculous beam, and some of it is preserved. Unfortunately over the hundreds of years pieces were removed and so it is now inaccessible, well out of reach! It became so famous that the building was renamed Christ’s Church, and even the town changed its name from Twynham to Christchurch.
  • Look up in the triforium to see if you can spot one with a missing pillar. This was the pew of the Shelley Family, and they complained that they could not see the service properly because of this pillar. The solution was to remove most of it for these important people! Here is a picture of the triforium, with the later organ pipes. A full-resolution version is available below.


This is scanned from a free A4 folded page, available in many languages, at the entrance.


  • The Shelley Memorial, 1853-4 Shelley drowned in Italy in 1822 at the age of 29. He was cremated, but for some reason, possibly calcification from TB, the heart did not burn. It was rescued and his wife Mary (author of Frankenstein) kept it in a silk shroud, and carried it with her for years. She died in 1852, and the heart was later buried with her in the family vault in Bournemouth. This memorial, showing Mary supporting her drowned husband, is by the sculptor Henry Weekes. It was commissioned by the poet’s son, who lived at nearby Boscombe.


Click the picture to get a large version. To get a higher resolution, then go to the bottom left of the large version and choose View full size. You are welcome to save (right-click or ctrl-click) and use this.

An Amusing Tale

It was reported in the free magazine, the ‘Highcliffe, Burton and  Bransgore Eye’ (June/July 2020) that Lady Mary (Molly) Wallis, the wife of Sir Barnes Wallis, inventor of the bouncing bomb, tried to visit The Priory in the spring of 1930. Unfortunately, because she was not wearing a hat she was refused entry. She wrote to her husband, complaining about the ‘stupid verger creature’. She continued, ‘… So I went out and bought a bright red beret … I think my own sombre hair and brown ribbon pleased the old idiot better. Honestly, I have no patience with such rubbish.’ The author of the magazine explains that there was a 1917 Code of Canon Law which ladies must cover their heads in church, and women ‘… shall have a covered head and be modestly dressed, especially when they approach the table of the Lord.’ This lasted until 1942, when  the Archbishops of Canterbury and York stated that no woman or girl need cover their head when in church. Barnes-Wallis told his wife to cut out the news from The Times, and Molly was ‘… to carry it round whenever I go near a church.’ They sound a formidable couple!