The compulsive collector
By the time of his death, Herbert Druitt had amassed one of the biggest private collections in the south of England. He gathered together flint implements, pottery, fossils, shells, coins, birds’ eggs, prints, watercolours, books, pamphlets and many other objects of local and historical interest and this material eventually formed the basis of The Red House Museum in Christchurch, which opened its doors to the public in 1951.
Despite being such an enthusiastic collector and voicing support for a regional museum based on his material, Druitt was reluctant to allow others access to it. He only catalogued a small part of his collection and published even less. Most of the available information is in diaries, miscellaneous papers, and press cuttings and the only published reference in his lifetime to his archaeological material – his contribution to ‘The Book of Bournemouth’ – was ‘extracted with some difficulty by the editor of that production’.
In essence, Druitt was a ‘compulsive collector’ who wanted to bring together an enormous quantity of similar objects, demonstrated most strikingly by his collections of archaeological material and books. Although he was aware of the scientific principles governing the disciplines involved he showed no apparent desire to use his knowledge to promote particular intellectual concepts. Instead he focused on the objects themselves. It was important for him to assemble as many of them as possible around him for his own personal use.
While Druitt’s secrecy was a frustration to others, such as J B Calkin, who were keenly interested in the local history and archaeology, it did result in a large, if somewhat muddled collection being available for study following his death. It is this material, processed by Calkin, John Lavender and others, which is such an important part of the Red House Museum today.