Whats On (in Friars Cliff)
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During the last Ice age (about 12,000 years ago) Hengistbury Head was several kilometres inland. At that time the River Stour flowed to the South of Hengistbury Head while the River Avon flowed out to the North. Both of these rivers probably joined into the ancient River Solent that is believed to have meandered through what is now the area of sea between the Isle of Wight and the mainland  known as the Solent. The River Solent originally flowed into the sea east of Southampton and was contained on its journey by a southerly chalk ridge stretching from the eastern end of the Isle of Wight via the Needles to Old Harry Rock at Studland.  Over time the river eroded into the chalk ridge and at the same time the sea cut into the ridge from the South. Eventually the ridge was breached and the Isle of Wight created.

Records show that early in the 18th Century Friars Cliff and its surrounding area was known as 'Common Gate'.

The current Friars Cliff area was purchased by the ex-Prime Minister Lord Bute (1713-1792) who built High Cliff House in the late 1770s and by 1773 the area was simply referred to as the grounds of 'High Cliff House'. At this time the estate was much larger than today, stretching from Chewton Bunny Common near Highcliffe village through Friars Cliff to Mudeford Quay. The site of High Cliff House is now out to sea. It was later replaced by Highcliffe Castle in its present location.

Lord Bute was the botanist who helped establish the Physic Garden at Kew, which became the Royal Botanical Gardens.

According to the Dorset Historic Towns Survey for Christchurch, page 6:-

57. Friars Cliff housing estate. Friars Cliff housing estate was constructed to the south and east of the original settlement at Bure during the 1930s. The earliest part of the estate probably includes the area around Seafield Road which is arranged in a regular grid pattern. Later extensions to the estate tended to have a geometric street pattern. The name ‘Friars Cliff’ is an invention.

[Bure Farm is the house that stands immediately north of the shops in Bure Lane next to the Sandpiper Pub.]  Click Dorset Towns Survey for further details.

This part of the English south coast was popular with smugglers. Notorious smugglers became local heroes. Hanna Sillar (the so-called Angel of the Marsh) ran the "Ship in Distress" inn in Stanpit and was a prime ringleader. Contraband was shipped into her premises by local smugglers. Her next door neighbour was Charles Streeter. He became a local gang master and tobacco baron.

Smuggling was to continue off Hengistbury head until the mid 1850's. The most dramatic event of these times occurred in 1784 when the so-called Battle of Mudeford took place. This involved the planned interception of smugglers off Hengistbury Head (or Christchurch Point as the contemporary description describes it). The smugglers were under the command of "Slippery Rogers", the grandson of a former mayor of Christchurch.

Steamer Point (the beach area of Friars Cliff) gained its name after a later estate owner, Lord Stuart de Rothsay, used an old paddle steamer as a site office for the construction of what is now Highcliffe Castle. Around 1830 the old boat was beached in a small inlet and jammed between two large trees. Later the boat became a beach house for about 60 years but fell into disuse and dereliction at the turn of the 20th century.  For the only known picture of the Steamer, click here.

Hengistbury Head became one of the world’s first air fields and an “air pageant” was held in July 1910 with almost all of the aviators in the Britain attending.

Charles Rolls (one of the founders of Rolls Royce) having purchased his Wright Flyer in 1910 took off and gave a demonstration of the capabilities of the Wright brothers machine, but as he came into land something went terribly wrong. Some commentaries speak of Rolls stalling the machine; others indicate there was a mechanical failure with part of the tail falling off. Either way, the machine fell to the ground from about 100 feet. Charles Rolls was mortally wounded with "severe concussion" and died in the wreckage, before medical assistance arrived.

Charles Rolls was the first person in Britain to die in an aircraft accident and the 12th in the world. He was only 33 years old. A memorial to Rolls was erected and is maintained by the Royal Aeronautical Society in what is now the rear playing field at St Peters School. After his death, Rolls-Royce went on to ever greater things, but without his early entrepreneurial guidance and flair it is doubtful whether the firm would have evolved as it did.

During the Second World War Steamer Point was the site of a military radar research station that helped to develop radar cover for the south coast. Specifically, the devices developed at Steamer Point included radar guided anti-aircraft guns, radar beacons and the 'Tenset' radio telephone used by Lord Montgomery during his campaign through Europe. The building known as site 16 (the 16 is still visible today) was used as an anti-aircraft gun emplacement that incorporated a Lewis machine gun. 

On the cliff top at Steamer Point there is a plaque dedicated to the pioneering work carried out at SRDE between 1948 and 1980. The plaque is situated on the concrete plinth where a “radome” used to stand containing a 40-foot diameter dish that communicated with the first launched British satellite.

Until recently (they vacated early in 2016) part of the military site was occupied by the Marine & Coast Guard Agency(MCA), as a training facility.  Planning consent was obtained on appeal for 26 residential house - see Planning pages.

The Times newspaper:

In the mid-1920s a flurry of newspaper advertisements appeared in the Times; Major-General the Hon. E. J. Stuart-Wortley of Highcliffe estate offered land as freehold building sites on the Friars Cliff estate for builders, speculators and investors. The area was described as a delightful and fashionable seaside resort with a long sea frontage and, as an added attraction, an adjoining golf course.

In the early 1930s a resident of Friars Cliff wrote several letters to The Times. This resident advertised his house for sale in The Times between 1934-5 as a charming detached freehold house, 3 reception and 4 bedrooms, in a large mature garden with a garage, for £2,400.

In 1938 freehold houses and bungalows were for sale in the area for £750-£1,850, described as being in the new seaside estate where peaceful, sheltered positions overlooked the Solent.

In 1950 you could rent a villa in Friars Cliff for 5½ guineas per week.

In December 1954 The Times reported floods in the area where 100 privately owned beach huts were damaged or washed away.

On the night of 14th February 2014 a storm damaged a similar number of huts (Friars Cliff's very own Valentine Massacre!).



Friars Cliff is the coastal area of Christchurch, Dorset, located between Highcliffe Castle and Mudeford, to the east of Christchurch town centre.  For maps, click on these links:  Location Map   Street Map 

Friars Cliff Beach at Steamer Point is a south facing shingle and sand beach with cafe, toilets, shower, water stand pipe and car parking. Street parking is only permitted during the winter months (see street signs for details).