The Community Museum Royal Blood exhibition has been rolled out to Christchurch (23 July – 18 September) and the featured episodes are the early Saxon period and the English Civil War.
Saxon times saw well-armed, water-borne warrior bands pushing into the Avon Valley and carving out territory in areas abandoned by the Romans. Later, the emphasis was more on defence, as the relative newcomers ‘dug in’ to resist the threat of the ultimate seaborne raiders – the Vikings. At Bargates, Christchurch, more than a third of the 30 Saxon burials were ‘warrior graves’. Weapons were also a notable feature of the eleven burials unearthed at Breamore, near Fordingbridge, during a Time Team dig.
The most striking find from this site was the Byzantine bucket, with Greek inscription, depicting hunters and wild beasts; a similar bucket, found at Chessell Down on the Isle of Wight, was described as coming from the grave of a princess. But a further six wooden buckets were also found at Breamore and this is a remarkable number, given the limited area investigated; only Sutton Hoo – later in date than the Breamore cemetery – parallels the discovery of multiple-bucket grave and multiple-shield grave, in the same cemetery.
Christchurch castle was built around 1100 by Richard de Redvers, but little is known of its early history. It played a part in the 12th century fight for power between Stephen and Matilda and was captured for the empress, in 1148, by Walter de Pinkney, only to be retaken five years later. This episode is featured in an exhibit created by local schools under the Young Blood banner – also at the museum until September.
In the English Civil War the castle was held for the King and supplied by sea from Portsmouth. It 1644, however, it was easily taken in a surprise Parliamentarian raid led by Sir William Waller, following his great victory at Cheriton; a garrison of 200 soldiers was installed under Major Philip Lower. Royalist troops returned, led by Lord George Goring, and although they overran most of the town, Lower and his men made a stand at the castle and Priory. A three-day battle ensued, but fears of Parliamentarian reinforcements saw Goring on the retreat. By 1646 the war was over and Oliver Cromwell, wanting to ensure the castle could not be used in any future uprising, later ordered it to be demolished.
By the way, the Royalist General, George Goring, was renowned for his prodigality and dissolute manners and the excesses committed by troops under his command made him a hated figure in the West of England. It was said of him that…
‘he would, without hesitation, have broken any trust, or done any act of treachery to have satisfied an ordinary passion or appetite;…of all his qualifications dissimulation was his masterpiece; in which he so much excelled, that men were not ordinarily ashamed, or out of countenance, with being deceived but twice by him’.