The Parish of St. Leonards and St. Ives lies in East Dorset, between the Avon, as its boundary with Hampshire, and the Moors River. In the 2001 census, there was a population of 6,672, of whom 41.6% were retired. At the start of the 20th century there may have been 50 at the most. (i)
The present civil Parish of St. Leonards and St. Ives was not formed until 1932, from parts of Ringwood and Christchurch Parishes. The mission church of All Saints was first built by local people on donated land in 1912, and came under Christchurch Parish. By then there may have been about 500 residents. It became the Conventional District of St. Ives and St. Leonards in 1927 when a resident priest-in-charge arrived. The name changed to match that of the civil parish when in 1969 it became an ecclesiastical parish in its own right. A new church was built on the site in 1972, and a Church Centre replaced the old wooden hall in 1994. (ii)
The land covered by the present Parish contains several named areas, the boundaries between which are today somewhat blurred, yet each has its own piece of history to tell, some stretching over many centuries. St. Leonards is one of the older names, with an origin well to the west, that is potentially pre-Domesday. Today it is generally used to refer to the more developed western parts of the village north of the A31, but in fact it applies to all the areas to the south west as well. (iii)
The earliest record of the name St. Ives has been traced to a Somerley Estate map dated 1781, which has potential links to a land purchase map of 1731. It became the area that first attracted settlement in the late 19th century, although either a cottage or house of that name may have first appeared about 1820. (iv)
Of the saints, there is a likely Saint Leonard on whom the original dedication was probably based. However, there never ever has been a St. Ives, but a potential alternative candidate has been found. (v)
The area called Avon Castle is usually best known for the Victorian-builtproperty ofthat name, once seat of the Earls ofEgmont, but that was only from 1913 to 1938. The site itself has a much longer history that includes a "cottage ornee" named AvonCottage with origins on the site from mid 17th century. It grew to be the centre of a 1450 acre estate, and was replaced by the Castle in 1875-8 by the Turner Turner family, but there are remnants of the cottage in the cellars. (vi)
Today the district is primarily a low density residential area which includes some very exclusive properties. The Castle itself was converted into flats in 1949/50, most now privately owned. Previously linked with Ringwood Parish, it became part of St. Leonards and St. Ives with the county boundary changes of 1974. Some long established farms survive, once part of the Cottage and Castle Estates. (vii)
A version of the name Ashley appears in Domesday, but most of this early area is now lost beneath the A31 and the flyover at the top of the 1969 Spur Road to Bournemouth. Ringwood built its workhouse here in 1725, and the building survives as private homes.(viii) Ashley Heath, known in the 18th century as North Ashley Heath of some 3000 acres, dominated the vast Somerley Estate through the 19th century. (ix)
In the 1920s William Webb bought almost half of it and planned his Ashley Heath Estate. He began cultivation of the poor heath, built several concrete cottages, a forge and the shortest High Street in the country. He persuaded the railway company to provide a Halt in 1927. In 1925 he moved into his own home "Moorside" off the Horton Road, later to become the Struan Hotel, demolished in some haste for development in 2000.(x) Here too old farm lands survive, notably as Moors Valley Country Park, where the golf club house is the former Kings Farmhouse.(xi) An 18th century barn survives at Lions Hill Farm.
Barnsfield Heath, much of which forms today's Avon Heath Country Park, has links with the major southern estates back to the 18th century, part later to become Idaho and then Matchams House. (xii) To the west the Grange Estate is actually part of St. Leonards, but has its own stories to tell. It is believed to derive its name from Heather Grange, home to the owner of the internationally renowned late 19th century St. Leonards Poultry Farm. (xiii)
Nearby St. Leonards Hospital was built during 1942 as part of the D-Day preparations for wounded American troops, but survives today as a Community Hospital within the Dorset Care Trust.(xiv)
For much of its history the district has predominantly been a transit area between the two rivers, very little occupied, but much resourced by those who live on the fringes. There is a theory, with some valid argument and visual evidence, that a tactical Roman road may have passed through around 45AD. For centuries random tracks led from the bridges across the Avon at Ringwood to several fords on the Stour, Crane and later Moors Rivers. They include one called Palmers, with pilgrim potential, still there near today's St. Leonards Farm. (xv) The Chapel of St. Leonards, positively recorded in the 12th century but most probably much older, was nearby, but seems to disappear during Elizabethan times. (xvi)
Improvements in the roads came mid-18th century with Turnpikes from Ashley Cross to Wimborne and Poole via St. Leonards Bridge across the Moors River, and to Horton via Wools Bridge. The toll house at Ringwood's third, or Treening Bridge (originally a wooden one), was only demolished during roadworks for the Spur Road in the late 1960s. Its milestone, showing it to be 92 miles from Hyde Park Corner, is preserved at the Meeting House in Ringwood. (xvii)
1847 saw the arrival of the railways, first "Castleman's Corkscrew" from Southampton via Ringwood and on to Dorchester, then in 1862 a link through the Avon Cottage area to Christchurch. (xviii) Attorney Charles Castleman (xix) was resident at St. Ives House(xx) from about 1844 to 1862. His name survives in the Castleman Trail that now follows the old course of the railway, which was finally closed in 1967.
The old Woolsbridge Crossing became Ashley Heath Halt in 1927. A station was provided on the other line at Hurn for the Earls of Malmesbury, major land owners and diplomats living at nearby Heron Court from 1795. A halt with a station house was also provided for the Earl's tenants and staff at Avon Cottage, later at the Castle. The line briefly provided the sole link into east Bournemouth, but became less used once the direct route across the Forest opened in 1888. This line closed completely in 1935.(xxi)
Until after WW1, children of families living in St. Ives and surrounding farms had to walk the 2 miles into Ringwood for their education. In 1919 locals persuaded the Education authorities to open a school in an old Wesleyan Chapel on the main road, and it survived until 1926. The authority then agreed to bus younger children into Ringwood. (xxii) In 1927 Ashley Halt gave access to the railway for older pupils at Brockenhurst College. For those who could afford it, Brackenbrae, a private school run by two ladies in St. Ives, was available, but it closed in about 1951. In 1971, St. Ives First School opened on land purchased from the St. Ives House Estate, and has established a good reputation. (xxiii)
In 1951 a Shieling Community opened in Ashley, based on several large properties and considerable land donated in part by a local resident who had a disabled child. It is a residential school for children with a wide variety of special needs, and a working community for adults with disabilities.(xxiv)
Parishioners served their country in the two World Wars, but there is no WW1 memorial. There was considerable local activity during WW2, both civilian and military. (xxv) In 1949, 40 veterans got together, parishioners donated, and local companies gave product and an interest free loan to build an Ex-Servicemen's Club on a site donated by the family of one of eight local people who died in WW2. Their names appear on a plaque in the Church. The Club prospered, at one time with over 1000 members, and built a larger club in 1965, and extended it in the 1980s. A founder member is still with us. (xxvi)
The RSPCA took over part of an old farm near Wools Bridge in 1966, and now provides a service for a wide surrounding area. (xxvii)
In May 2005 the Parish embarked on a Parish Plan. A resident since 1976, John Hawkins proposed sourcing the names of the parish. He provided displays of the results at Open Days in 2005 and 2006. He then extended his research into the entire history of the areas, and personally staged an exhibition at Ringwood Meeting House during July/August 2007.
Copies of his file Of Maps and Memories are permanently available for local study in the reference section at Ringwood Public Library; at the Meeting House in Ringwood; and by appointment at the Parish Office in the Village Hall on Braeside Road, St. Leonards (Tel: 01425 482727). These include the entire exhibition plus additional papers. John's research continues, and the files are updated for all new or revised information. Full reference details are provided, and there are master files of all documents and research notes.28
John acknowledges with thanks the help of staff at all his major sources of information, pictures, and data at:
Plus the co-operation of the parishioners of St. Leonards and St. Ives, and all the authors of books consulted within his own library and elsewhere.
The Parish Plan document was published in June 2007 and can be viewed on the official Parish website. www.stleonardspc.org.uk. As an official document, it is not possible to amend its history content.
John Hawkins was born in London in 1930, joined the Royal Navy from 1946 as a boy seaman, and served until 1970, finally as a Lieutenant and Boatswain. He entered the yachting industry, where a new job brought him to St. Leonards in 1976. In 1997 he retired from an electronics supply business, to concentrate on his garden, model collection, and books.
(i) Parish Plan 2007; A Vision of Faith (Clark, 1996).
(ii) All Saints Church archives; HRO; A Vision of Faith.
(iii) HRO; Ringwood and Ferndown Public Libraries.
(iv) HRO; Ringwood and Ferndown Public Libraries.
(v) Ringwood and Ferndown Public Libraries; JH library.
(vi)HRO; Ringwood and Ferndown Libraries; Ted Baker archive; Meeting House files; VHC Hampshire.
(vii) HRO; Ted Baker archive; local residents.
(viii) HRO; Ringwood Library; Ted Baker archive; Meeting House files.
(ix) HRO; Ringwood and Ferndown Libraries; Ted Baker archive; Meeting House files.
(x) William Webb's deedbox; Ringwood Library (inc. Webb's book).
(xi) HRO; MVCP literature and advice.
(xii) HRO; AHCP advice; Ringwood Library; Ted Baker archive.
(xiii) HRO; Ringwood Library; local residents.
(xiv) Ringwood Library; JH library; The Night Cometh (Agass, 1996).
(xv) Local history groups; Ringwood and Ferndown Libraries; JH library; HRO (supporting maps and photographs).
(xvi) Col. Drew - paper 1942; Hutchins Dorset.
(xvii) Meeting House file; Ringwood and Ferndown Libraries; JH library.
(xviii) Ringwood and Ferndown Libraries; Ted Baker archive; Meeting House files; JH library.
(xix) Meesons solicitors; Ted Baker archive; Ringwood History Group; JH library
(xx) HRO; Ringwood Library; Ted Baker archive; T.H. Russell album; on site visits.
(xxi) HRO; Ringwood Library; Ted Baker archive; JH library.
(xxiii) Ringwood Library; The Night Cometh (with errors); Parish Plan; local residents.
(xxiv) The Night Cometh; personal visit.
(xxv) HRO; Ringwood Library; Ted Baker archive and memories; A Vision of Faith; The Night Cometh; JH library;local residents.
(xxvi) The Night Cometh; personal visit.
(xxvii) The Night Cometh; personal visit.
(28) ALL REFERENCES ABOVE ARE GIVEN IN GENERAL TERMS ONLY. MORE DETAILED REFERENCES ARE PROVIDED WITHIN SUB-TEXTS ON EACH HIGHLIGHTED TOPIC ON THE COMMUNITY WEBSITE, AND WITHIN HARD COPY FILES AT THREE LOCAL SITES.