Local History of the region around Winkton Advanced Landing Ground

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There are few parts of England that have no discernable evidence of man's presence. Certainly the landscape around the landing ground was as man made as any, but as with much of England made not by conscious design over 50 years but by constant and changing exploitation over 10,000 years of occupation. To the south, in Christchurch harbour was an ancient Iron Age harbour at the foot of Hengistbury Head, protected from attack by double ditches which still stand today. Trade was centred on not just England's coastline, harbours and rivers, but on those of France too. Here too came the Romans, Vespasian's legion marching from Vectis towards the west and in his wake a Romano-Celtic society that lived in farming villas amongst the fields of the Avon valley, like the one preserved at Rockbourne, 10 miles to the north of Station 414. In the Dark Ages there were confrontations between the local British and the new Anglo-Saxon invaders as they established their state of the West Saxons, or Wessex. A few hundrd years on Alfred, one of Anglo Saxons England's greatest kings, established a naval port at Twynham, on the site of present day Christchurch, as part of his successful scheme to contain the Viking incursions from the east.

It was to be the Norman invasion and conquest on England in 1066 that was to act as a spur to the development of the local area. Twynham gained a constable and a castle, and in 1079 all the land between here and the capital city of Winchester became the property of the King himself, his Nova Foresta - a royal hunting reserve. The town of Twynham grew as a centre of influence and power, and when the priory was founded the need to supply the religous community gave further impetus to the towns growth. Attempts to build a new priory on St Catherine Hill were thwarted by the mysterious nightly removal of materials to a site between the two rivers in the town centre. Having decided to build the church on this new site, an anonymous carpenter joined the team and worked without pay or food for reward. One day a major wooden beam was seen to be too short to fit. The workmen left the site that night whilst the carpenter remained behind and the next day the carpenter had gone, but the beam was the right length. The town was renamed Christchurch.

Here too was the site of a mystery, when several years later, King William Rufus was struck by an arrow and killed. The arrow was fired (so legend has it) by one of the King's retainer's Sir Walter Tyrrell. There is no evidence it was regicide, legend says the arrow was deflected and struck the King by accident. Sir Walter did not however wait to argue, he rode west across the New Forest and the Avon Valley, crossed the river by a ford a couple of miles north of the site of the aerodrome and took a ship to France (legend has it that at Sopley Forge he had the shoes on his horse reversed to fool any followers that he was galloping east not west). Irrespective of the facts of the case, William Rufus was a particularily hated king whom no one mourned, and Sir Walter's name is still commemorated in a hamlet and house known as Avon Tyrrell, and in the name of the Tyrrell Ford Hotel.

In the 18th century the agricultural changes that swept though England slowly destroyed the old feudal structure, and the New Forest which had been largely heathland until now gained huge enclosed tracts of forest, as timber was needed first for structural work and then for ship building. The industrialisation of England had little impact on the immediate area, but cities like Southampton to the east and ports like Poole in the west grew rapidly. Out of industrialisation came the railway and suddenly the area found itself the focus of attention from people who could travel from London in just a few hours. Towns like Bournemouth grew as popular holiday resorts and the mixed economy of tourism, leisure, agriculture and fishing, light and technology based industry grew rapidly. Today the conurbation 4 miles to the south west of Winkton is the size and population of the city of Liverpool, yet to stand on the old landing ground on a warm, still evening in June, it would still be possible for a moment to think nothing much has changed until your gaze is lowered to discover the runways have been replaced by fruit bushes and the smell of aviation fuel replaced by the scent of a 10,000 strawberrys waiting to be picked.