The Red House Museum is located in the former workhouse in Christchurch. It charts the history of Christchurch displaying items discovered and produced locally. From Iron Age tools found around Hengistbury Head to Saxon burial sites, to the building’s history as a workhouse and notably local events and achievements.
The museum opens 10-4 from Wednesday to Saturday and 12-4 on Sunday. It also opens on Tuesdays during school holidays. Admission is free (donations are welcome).
It was my first visit to The Red House, primarily because I tend to come to Christchurch on market day, which is on Mondays when the museum is closed. I was particularly interested to visit here as my great uncle was born in Christchurch Workhouse, so it it was poignant to see the building and read about conditions for workhouse inmates.
It turns out that my great uncle wasn’t born here. By 1886 the local poor had outgrown the workhouse, so a new, larger one was built elsewhere and the old building sold to the vicar of Christchurch Priory (nepotism alive and well in Victorian Christchurch). He gave the building the name The Red House due to the colour of its bricks. It was later sold to Herbert Druitt and used to house his personal collection. Herbert opened his ‘museum’ occasionally, admitting those he felt worthy of viewing his precious collection. I do hope he would find me unworthy!
The area has had an interesting past. In 1910, Charles Rolls (founder of Rolls Royce) became the first person to die in an aeroplane crash at nearby Hengistbury Head.
Another piece of local history took place in 1941 with the invention and installation of the first Bailey Bridge – a portable prefabricated bridge.
An achievement to be less proud is a collection of ‘fusee’ watches made by the younger inmates of the workhouse. Some of these intricately detailed pieces are on display, if you want to see what children as young as nine had to do for 70 hours a week in order to earn a bowl of gruel.
The Red House also has gardens, formerly used to grow food for the workhouse inmates. They have been converted to more formal gardens, complete with fairy front doors on the trees.
The gardens contain ‘unexpected dinosaur surprises’ i.e. dinosaur figures and eggs hidden among the trees and bushes.
The museum has an Exhibition Gallery housing a range of temporary exhibitions. Until the 17th July, there is a display of paintings by members of the Christchurch Arts Guild. You are invited to vote for your favourite painting. I chose ‘Mudeford Quay’ by Georgina Rowbottom. While I was filling out my voting slip, I got talking to lady. It turned out to be Georgina Rowbottom – so it’s a good thing I was writing nice things!
In addition, there are a gift shop and cafe. I was so engrossed in the exhibits that I lost track of time and almost reached the limit on my car park ticket, so had to dash without perusing the gift shop or partaking of refreshments.
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