James Druitt (1816 - 1904)
Much of the land which now forms Druitt Gardens was accumulated piecemeal by James Druitt during the late C19th century and then by Herbert and Charlotte Druitt in the 1930s. James was an avid collector and many of his acquisitions can be viewed at the Red House Museum in Quay Road, Christchurch.
Herbert Druitt (1876 – 1943)
Herbert Druitt was a keen antiquarian with a passion for collecting local things, particularly archaeological finds, costume and bygones from the Victorian era. From 1919 until his death in 1943, Herbert opened the ‘museum’ in his home to the public on an occasional basis, only admitting those persons he felt worthy of viewing his collections.
Following his death the Red House and its vast contents, including 2500 boxes of archaeological finds alone, were inherited by his sister, Charlotte.
Charlotte Druitt (1878 – 1947)
Charlotte Druitt gave the Red House to the town of Christchurch and, after responsibility for it had been transferred to the Trustees and Managers of the Museum, it was officially opened to the public on 30 May 1951.
Druitt Gardens were once part of the Druitt family home (now the Druitt Library). The house and gardens were gifted to the people of Christchurch by Charlotte in 1946. The family intention was that the house should be used for the community as a library and reading room and the grounds as a “garden of rest and bird sanctuary”.
Dorset CC took over responsibility for the gardens from Hampshire CC in 1974 and then sold them to Christchurch Borough Council in 2006.
Druitt Hall was built with public subscription in 1953 to commemorate the Coronation, as an 'Old Peoples Welfare Centre' for the benefit of all the people of Christchurch. At the opening the Royal British Legion presented a clock, still in use today inside the hall.
In 2012 an application to demolish Druitt Hall was submitted by Christchurch Borough Council to its own planning department. If approved, the hall was destined to be demolished soon after closure at the end of March 2013. The scheme would have seen the land converted into community space to improve the pedestrian link between Druitt Gardens and the High Street and, in place of the hall, the plan was to install a “gathering space” including seating and a sculpture.
The Friends of Druitt Hall fought a hard campaign to save the hall and in 2014, after much work by Christchurch Citizens Association and many others, the Council granted a 3-year Lease to Druitt Hall Community Association. In September of that year the hall was 're-launched' sporting a newly-painted interior and exterior, new ladies toilets and sanded and re-varnished floors. The Hall looks inviting, loved and is well-used.
Local clubs and societies regularly book the main hall - or the smaller meeting room - depending on their requirements.
Christchurch Central WI have also returned to their first home, holding their meetings on the 1st Wednesday of each month.
Refurbishment has continued with a new kitchen being completed in 2015 and, at the end of that year, a new wheelchair-accessible toilet was created and the gents toilets were refurbished. Storage cupboards were built to accommodate users' materials. A new side entrance was created in 2016 giving level access into the lobby for wheeled items and those who might prefer to avoid the front step. The meeting room has been totally refurbished and furnished in boardroom style.
Druitt Hall Community Association has been granted a 10-year extension to their lease, taking operation of the hall through to 2027.
See also the hall’s noticeboards for news and events.
The development which led to the formation of Druitt Gardens was the building of James Druitt’s house in 1844, now Druitt Library. During the late 1800s he bought up land to extend his formal gardens. When the house was extended in 1870 it had an ornamental garden with paths laid out and a greenhouse next to where Druitt Hall stands. The Red House Museum has a photograph showing a croquet lawn and features of the ornamental garden.
A feature of the current gardens is the route of the Creedy, a definitive right of way running east-west along the southern boundary of the gardens.
After James died in 1904 his widow lived in the house until her death during the First World War. The house passed to Herbert and in turn to his sister Charlotte, who both died in the 1940s. Although neither lived in the house for any great length of time they continued, during the 1930s, to acquire neighbouring plots. Herbert used the house to hold his great collection of local history while the garden, not well tended, became more of a wild plot.
In a conveyance of 1946 Charlotte records that she was leaving land to the Corporation of Christchurch as a “gift for use in establishing a welfare centre at Christchurch”. It is recorded in letters between her and her solicitors that she intended the land to be a garden of rest and bird sanctuary.
Part of Druitt Gardens sits within the boundaries of a Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM) following the discovery of possible Saxon burh-related features. The “burh” was a defensive structure which defined the Saxon settlement. The SAM status means that any works in that part of the gardens will require consent from English Heritage.
Elsewhere, there is evidence of a Medieval Ditch and there are listed walls both inside and on the boundaries of the site. Earthworks visible in the gardens are probably the remains of 19th century boundaries or landscape gardening.
Druitt Gardens covers an area of 1.2 hectares (3.07 acres) and have been designated a Public Open Space and lies within the Town Centre Conservation Area.
Over time the gardens with very little attention became overgrown with uneven pathways and no apparent destinations, making it difficult to negotiate. In 2008 Christchurch Borough Council commissioned a Landscape Masterplan Report which had as its aim “to create a town centre woodland with enhanced wildlife value; a landscape and visual asset to the character of the Central Conservation Area and town centre; and a valuable element in the pedestrian links throughout the town centre”.
Work has been carried out to remove dead trees, open up the undergrowth and create paths for cyclists and those on foot. Two protected species, Bats and Stag Beetles have been found in the gardens and their habitat must be preserved.
In 2016 a ‘Friends of Druitt Gardens’ group was re-established to support Christchurch Borough Council in the conservation, maintenance and management of Druitt Gardens as part of an Ancient Monument, a Public Open Space and Town Centre Woodland.