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Christchurch is a town in Dorset, England on the English Channel coast. It forms part of the South East Dorset conurbation  along with Bournemouth and Poole. The town has a population of 44,869 (according to 2001 figures), of whom a significant proportion are comfortably off senior citizens (33.1% of the population are of retirement age). Indeed, the area of Highcliffe on the town's eastern boundary possesses the highest percentage of elderly residents in the entire United Kingdom (65%).

It was originally a Saxon settlement called Twyneham (which gives the town's central school its name), which meant the settlement between two rivers. The Avon and the Stour both enter the sea in Christchurch Harbour. This medium-sized priory and market town is generally regarded as a conservative, slow-paced and popular tourist and retirement destination "where time is pleasant" (according to the town's official description).

The town centre is dominated by the Priory church and the High Street with its squares and parades containing shopping facilities. 

The Harbour is a large protected salt marsh protected by a sand bar at the entrance. The Harbour is only accessible to shallow draught boats due to the sand bars at the entrance. The entrance, known as the Run, has Mudeford Quay on one side and the sand bar on the other. Considerable tides flow here, up to 6 knots during spring tides.

 

 The harbour is a protected wildlife refuge and is home to large populations of swans, waders and other bird life. On the south side the harbour is enclosed by Hengistbury Head which was the site of the earliest settlement here dating back to the Neolithic period. The landward end of the headland still has the bank and ditch built about 2000BC to protect the settlement.

During Saxon times the harbour was one of the most important in England as it was easily reached from the continent and boats could enter the harbour and travel up the river Avon all the way to Salisbury. The sheltered harbour and easy access to neighbouring towns also made the area popular with smugglers, culminating in the "Battle of Mudeford" in 1784 between Customs & Excise and the smugglers.


The current local government district and borough was formed in April 1, 1974 by the merger of the old borough of Christchurch with part of Ringwood and Fordingbridge Rural District. It is traditionally in Hampshire, but it is now administratively and ceremonially in Dorset. It includes large unurbanised areas, including Bournemouth International Airport, and the parishes of Burton and Hurn.

 

The Member of Parliament for Christchurch is Christopher Chope, who holds a considerable vote majority of 15,559 and a percentage vote of 54.7% following the 2005 general election, making Christchurch one of the safest Conservative constituencies in the country.

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