A Documented History - The Christchurch Times

Life began for the Christchurch Times when the first issue appeared on the 30th June 1855. The paper continued until March 1983 except for a gap of seven years between 1918 and 1925.

Using archive material first published in the Christchurch History Society Journal, the idea of this interesting article was to celebrate the 150th Anniversary.   The paragraphs that follow are based on edited, actual column-inches within the newspapers of that time that have been revised only to aid clarity on this website.     If you want to see the original documents or microfilmed copies. they are available in the Christchurch History Society Archives by following the link.

The First Sixty Years

Castle Street Christchurch, Dorset 1855

Castle Street Christchurch, Dorset 1855

It was the abolition of a government tax on newspapers on June 15th 1855, which directly brought about the founding of the Christchurch Times.  In fact the first issue appeared just fifteen days after the tax ended.

Originally the paper was produced by the Rev. Joseph Fletcher (Minister of Millhams Street Congregational Church), Risdon D Sharpe (Solicitor, Registrar of Marriages and Chapel Organist) and Henry Sharpe (Local Chemist and Superintendent of the Sunday School).  Henry continued to publish the paper until 16th January 1869 when George Marshall, who had joined as Manager in 1864, became Proprietor and Editor. The Christchurch Times was issued from the High Street at first, but moved to Bargates in 1880.  George remained the proprietor until 1915 when he wrote the following reminiscences :-


1915 Reminiscences of George Marshall

The Town Hall in 1855

The Town Hall in 1855

What was the condition of things in Christchurch and its neighbourhood when the first number of the Christchurch Times was issued on 30th June 1855?   It would not be contrary to fact to say that in many ways it was simply deplorable. Just think of it!   There was no railway within seven miles of either Christchurch or Bournemouth.  In Christchurch itself, the old town hall blocked the major portion of the roadway at the junction of High Street and Castle Street.   Bargates was similarly blocked by the old Country House inn, and other ramshackle buildings.   The town was practically unlighted.    The cemetery had not come into existence, and burials took place in the old burial grounds close to the places of worship.  The indoor paupers were housed in the ”Red House”, as it was known, and some mud buildings which adjoined it, now the site of a garden; the Board of Guardians consisting of ten elected members, and the resident justices of the peace ex officio administered the poor law and doled out the scanty allowances to the poor.  The roads, where they were not governed by the turnpike trusts, were looked after by a Highway Board elected at a vestry meeting, one for each tithing, who had a delightful practice of putting down pieces of trees on ungravelled portions of the roads and streets, so as to compel horses and vehicles to wear in new gravel placed upon other portions.


The next Sixty-Eight Years

After 1915 Edward Eyers assumed the role of Publisher and moved the business to Bridge Street.  Then in 1918 the paper was forced to close, the last issue being the 18th April 1918.  The reason given for the closure was “Finding it impossible to obtain an adequate supply of ‘news’ paper, owing to the drastic curtailment of supplies, the  directors of the Christchurch Times are reluctantly compelled to suspend the publication of the paper, today’s being the last issue until circumstances allow publication to be resumed”.

In June 1925 the Christchurch Times Printing Company was formed to restart the paper.  After that there were several different owners but the paper continued in one way or another until 1983.


Politics from 1855 to 1910

Sir Drummond Wolff

Sir Drummond Wolff
Caricature from Punch, 1882

The parliamentary representation in 1855 was in the hands of Admiral Walcott, who succeeded Admiral Harris, grandfather of the Earl of Malmesbury.    On Admiral Walcott’s appointment to the Embassy at the Hague in 1852, his brother (the then Earl Malmesbury) was Minister for Foreign Affairs under Earl Derby.   It was reported at the time that Admiral Walcott was one of those who disputed the claim that Christchurch was the pocket borough of a certain house and was elected on the strength of that dispute.   He was re-elected time after time without opposition until he had sat for thirteen years.  In 1865 however, an opponent appeared and a contest took place, Admiral Walcott retaining his seat by sixty-eight votes.  But those were days of restricted suffrages, the total polled by the candidates being three hundred and fifty-four out of a population around three thousand.   Political historians will be aware of the fact that, in the next year, Lord Russell was defeated on his Bill for the extension of the suffrage and in 1867, Mr Disraeli carried his Bill for household suffrage in boroughs.   Before that measure came into operation in 1868 however, Admiral Walcott had died.   His opponent of 1865 had given out that he would test the new electorate to be created under that measure by coming forward as a candidate for election.  He was opposed by Sir Henry Drummond Wolff, whom he defeated by forty-nine votes.   Sir Henry came to live in the neighbourhood, and he and his friends began the  development of Boscombe, which was then outside Bournemouth.  The Member for Christchurch, it is not too much to say, neglected his duties and his interest in Christchurch.   So it was not unexpected, that when the election of 1874 came that Sir Henry Drummond Wolff became Member for the borough.

The story that got about at the time that Sir Henry escaped from the Town Hall by the window when an adverse vote to him was carried was never true.   He did, however, make a hurried escape by the side door, and from that day sought pastures new.  At the election of 1880 Sir Horace Davey, later Lord Davey, became the Member, and certainly did not deserve the rejection he received in 1885, when he was defeated by Mr. Baring Young.  Mr. Baring Young won another election in 1886 but in 1892 he was succeeded by Mr. Abel H. Smith, who in 1895 was succeeded by Mr. Kenneth Balfour, who also won the Khaki election in 1900.   Mr. Acland Allen became Member in 1906, but in 1910 he was displaced by Mr. Henry P. Croft.   The electorate has grown enormously during this period.


Coming of the Trams

In the passing of the years changes have been wrought in the business habits of the town.  A list of carriers to and from Christchurch was a feature of early issues of the Christchurch Times, and quite a long list it was.  Gradually but surely this diminished to extinction.    Not that business has decreased, on the contrary it has increased prodigiously, and other means have been devised for the distribution of the commerce of the district.

The opening of more than a dozen railway stations within the parliamentary borough and close to its boundaries has supplied facilities which were absolutely lacking in the earlier days.    The establishment of the tramway system has rendered possible communications then undreamed of.

The growth of the railway facility and the dates of that growth has already been dealt with in other articles, but the establishment of the tramways and the fatuous opposition to them calls for some remark.    In 1898, the first proposals for the laying down of tramways were made, and under the Light Railways Acts, the Light Railways Commissioners were moved to hold an enquiry for the establishment of a line from Poole to Christchurch with contributory branch lines.

Trams in Christchurch High Street

Trams in Christchurch High Street

So formidable was the opposition by the Bournemouth Town Council to the scheme that the Commissioners refused sanction.   A second application in the following year met with a similar result.    The position taken up by Bournemouth then was that nothing of the kind was required in that town.    When, however, the promoters applied for parliamentary powers, a rival scheme confined to Bournemouth was put forward by Bournemouth Town Council. The House of Commons Committee decided upon both schemes going forward, giving powers to Bournemouth to link up with the lines outside, and so establish a through route from Christchurch to Poole, within a certain period.   Before that period had elapsed, the original promoters and the Bournemouth Town Council had agreed to amalgamate the schemes by purchase.

The Christchurch Town Council, fearing that, in the bargain thus made, they would be deprived of the advantages they had secured under the Bill, opposed the amalgamation scheme in Parliament and secured the tramways.    Although not to the extent as regards route that would have been secured under the original Bill.    During the period covered by these proceedings the electric light was projected and fully established in the district.


Education

In 1855 boys and girls were taught in a building standing in the High Street approached by flights of stone steps.    Other schools were those in Millhams Street, in which  the girls were taught on the ground floor, and the boys on the upper floor of a two storey building.   A small building nearer the river in the same street was where infants were taught.   In St. Michael’s loft some forty boys were taught in what was known as a “Free” School.   There was no school at Purewell or Mudeford, which were provided at a later period; as were also the ranges of school buildings in Wick Lane and Millhams Street.   They were also the days of voluntary attendance, and school pence, to which must in truth be added corporal punishment for the infraction of school regulations.


Naval Success

Lyons Procession into Christchurch 1859

Admiral Sir Edmund Lyons Procession into Christchurch 
London Illustrated News – 9th February 1856

Notable events have not frequently happened in Christchurch.  Shortly after the close of the Crimean War a public reception was given to Admiral Lord Lyons, a cousin of the then Member of Paliament for the Borough, Admiral Walcott.  An address was presented to the gallant Admiral Lyons referring to his naval success in connection with the transport of troops to the Black Sea ports and for this purpose a huge platform was erected in the High Street at its widest part.   Triumphal arches were also erected at various points on the route from Winkton House where Lord Lyons was the guest of Admiral Walcott, and much enthusiasm prevailed.

Another memorable, but sadder, event, a record of which may be seen in the western side of the cemetery, was after the series of wrecks which occurred at Mudeford.  On the western shore after the terrific gale of the 11th February 1866 when no less than twelve sailors were thrown lifeless on the beach.


Church Life

There have been enormous changes in the ecclesiastical life of Christchurch.  Rev. William Francis Burrows filled the post of Vicar at the time the Christchurch Times first saw the light, but very shortly afterwards he went to reside at Whitchurch, and affairs were conducted by the Rev. Zachary Nash, M.A.   He had held, up to the time of Rev. Burrows’ death in 1871, the post of Curate-in-charge, in which office he so won the affections of the parishioners that men of all denominations joined in a memorial to the patrons of the living to prefer him to the Vicar, which he held until his death in 1883.

He was succeeded by Rev. Thomas Henry Bush, M.A., who followed closely the paths trodden by his predecessors and won and retained to his dying day the esteem and regards of the people of the town and district.   After that the vicarage was held by Canon Cooke Yarborough, and then the Rev. E. W. Leachman.     Church buildings were erected in all directions, but at the beginning there was no church at Mudeford, no Mission Hall at Purewell, no village room at Stanpit, or at Jumpers.

In fact, apart from Christchurch Priory, the old Congregational Chapel standing on the site of the Congregational Church in Millhams Street and an old Wesleyan Chapel at Purewell were the only places of  worship existing in the town.   The Roman Catholics worshiped at Burton Green, in what is now a Congregational Chapel, and the Baptists Chapel was at Parley Green.  There were no congregations of Brethren, and the Salvation Army had not begun to  exist.

Congregational Church, Millhams Street

Congregational Church, Millhams Street

The Rev. Joseph Fletcher became the Minister of the Congregational Church and eleven years later the present structure in Millhams Street began to be erected.    Rev. Fletcher, after a lengthened illness of over three years, an illness either originated or at least aggravated by a drowning catastrophe at Mudeford when seven of Rev. Fletcher’s youthful pupils simultaneously lost their lives while bathing.     Mudeford up till that time had the reputation of being a safe bathing place, and might have been, but for territorial prejudices, a South Coast Watering place years before more pretentious places then unknown.    However, this catastrophe brought about the retirement of Rev. Fletcher, who was succeeded by the Rev. J. W. Walker, M.A. The next Minister of the Congrational Church, the Rev. William Houghton oversaw the building of the Lecture Hall and the Boys’ School in Millhams Street, as well as the Manse in Barrack Road.   Rev. Walker was succeeded by Rev. W. T. Moreton, Rev. James Learmount and Rev. Henry Coley.

The Baptist Chapel is the second of its name and is of somewhat recent construction and the Rev. R. J. Peden was responsible for its erection.  The building which it replaced was erected by the first pastor, the Rev. Henry Viney Gill on his coming to reside in Christchurch in 1874, and who carried it on with his other charge at Parley Green.

Since then other congregations have been established in the town and neighbourhood.  The Wesleyan body designates a circuit including  several village chapels as well as the chapels of that denomination at Lymington and Ringwood.


Where cattle wandered people now live

Sanitary conveniences were very sparsely provided, and in many cases were common for half a street.  There was no Stour Road, Tuckton Bridge, Beaconsfield Road, Portfield Road, Spring Gardens, Station Road, or Fairfield.     Avon Park had not been laid out and Jumpers Road was often a muddy track across a ploughed field.   Sopers Lane and Wick Lane were sump holes, Quomps was a swamp, and Creedy Path was   often impassable for the same reason.   Portfield had not been enclosed, and was an open space in which cattle wandered at will from August till February in every year.

Christchurch High Street in 1859. Rubble can be seen where the Town Hall was removed

Christchurch High Street in 1859. Rubble can be seen where the Town Hall was removed

The Christchurch Times was not vain enough to suppose that the establishment of the newspaper caused improvements such as have taken place, but progress has been considerable since the initial publication of the Christchurch Times.   In 1859 the old Town Hall in the High Street was built and the encumbrance of the old Market Square was removed from the street.  The enclosure of Portfield in 1867 opened up that large tract of land for building purposes , and about the same time frequent outbreaks of fire disposed of much that was undesirable in Bargates and it began to show signs of improvement.

The old railway station was opened in 1862, and visitors to Bournemouth began to arrive and were taken on by omnibus by a route through the Pit into Barrack Road.    In 1870 the single line was extended to Bournemouth, the three-horse bus was disestablished, and in 1885 the line was doubled, and the new railway station opened.   The new roads across the enclosed Portfield, the recreation ground, and the erection of Tuckton Bridge were indications of further development.   That same enclosure gave  opportunity to Land Societies to lay out building estates, and the trustees of several of the charities displayed a readiness to grant long leases and so gave an impetus to building.    At Purewell and Stanpit, at Whitehall Gardens and later at Fairfield similar facilities were made available, with the result of increasing the population three or four fold, and giving to that population, better accommodation than had formerly been the case.   A later development in that same direction has arisen in Stour Road, and the streets abutting upon that road, and all along the tram route there has been a sensible addition of better class residences.


The Christchurch Time Index

Christchurch History Society Archive includes a complete collection of the Christchurch Times covering 1855 to 1983, mostly on Microfilm, but also in hard copy in some instances.      The Society through the dedication of its hard working volunteers has a Local Index of The Christchurch Times covering 1855 to 1983 for Christchurch and its environs.      This part of the Society’s Archive forms an invaluable source of research that can be used to create a written picture of Christchurch from 1855 to 1937.     If you are interested in using the facility yourself during a visit to the Archive, or asking for some research to be carried out on your behalf, or would like some family history research carried out for you please click the appropriate link.