Collecting histories

As an archaeologist, I have always been interested in the study of people through material culture - the things they leave behind. The objects in our library and museum collections have biographies which are interlinked with those of the people who owned them or used them. Some objects come into the collections directly whereas others have passed through different hands, sometimes over a long period of time.  I have selected three of my favourite items from the collections. Each of them has a story to tell.

Herbert Druitt’s letter

The Christopher Tower Library has copies of the various editions of John Wise’s New Forest: Its History and Its Scenery, including the two elaborate limited edition Artist’s editions. Inside the front cover of a very ordinary copy is a letter to:

Mr and Mrs Parkinson on their leaving The Priory Christchurch for the Rings, Beaulieu. With all good wishes for life in the New Forest. Christchurch, H.D. Druitt. Saturday 3 Nov. 1934. But alas! For good intentions, I did not send the book Wises’s N.F. till Wednesday 21 August 1935! HD.

By the time of his death, Herbert Druitt had amassed one of the biggest private collections in southern England. He gathered flint implements, pottery, fossils, shells and other items of interest. This material formed the basis of the Red House Museum, Christchurch, which opened in 1951.

Crawford’s map of Breamore
We have an Ordnance Survey map of Breamore which at first sight looks unremarkable, but a closer look reveals another story. In the top right-hand corner are the initials O.G.S.C. It is annotated with archaeological sites and monuments. Osbert Guy Stanford Crawford (1886-1957) was the first Archaeology Officer of the Ordnance Survey. From 1920, he toured Britain, often by bicycle, recording archaeological sites by hand and correcting mapping errors. He was assisted by regional antiquarian societies and by his correspondents whom he called “ferrets”. They referenced reports, including Heywood Sumner’s Local Papers for the Ibsley Common barrows and Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine for the find of a rare and beautiful Alpine jade axe-head at Marsh Farm, Breamore.

Crawford’s maps were the blueprint for what has become the Historic Environment Record, the list of known archaeological sites, held by each county or unitary authority in the United Kingdom.

Flint axehead from Burley

In a display case is a flint axehead of Neolithic date, the period traditionally linked to early farming communities. It is finely ground with sharply flattened edges. From the raw materials that were chosen, to the forms and finishes they were given, as well as the conditions and locations in which they were deposited, we know axeheads mattered to past people. This axehead matches one recorded by Félicité Hardcastle in her book Aspects of a New Forest Village: Records of Burley. Finds of Neolithic date are rare in the Forest making this particularly special.