Edward Lovett

Edward Lovett

1852 - 1933

Edward Lovett lived in Croydon and worked as the head cashier of a large London bank. In his spare time he was an expert on alpine plants and an avid collector of charms, legends and superstitions. He also had wide-ranging interests, which included microscopy, natural history, geology, anthropology and archaeology.

He arranged a number of exhibitions of objects that he had collected; in 1886 he exhibited light-producing apparatus from different dates and countries, along with arrowheads from earth mounds in North America. Further exhibitions included insects and crustaceans showing protective colouring, and volcanic rocks from Vesuvius. Lovett also exhibited at evening soirees and in 1887 he displayed a large collection of tobacco Pipes. In addition he gave lectures on a variety of subjects including 'The evolution of Fishing Hooks' and a very successful lecture on toys. He donated collections of dolls to the Horniman Museum and lamps and lights to the Science Museum and in 1916 he gave the remainder of his collection to the Cuming Museum.

Lovett's real passion was for anthropology and ethnography and he is best known for his collection of superstitious objects. Lovett had learnt rural legends and superstitions as a child on his holidays in the country and began collecting at the age of eight. As an adult it was the sight of a mandrake root in a Croydon herbalist's shop that once again sparked off his interest in folklore. This collection he acquired is unique because it illuminates an area of social history that has been neglected by most historians.

In his search for new items he visited the slums of Edwardian London. He was a tall heavy-set man, with black hair and a red beard and dressed soberly in a Prince Albert coat and wing collar. He has been described as an 'aggressive and purposeful figure prowling the paths of rural England' (James Sage). Lovett confined his enquiries to the hawkers' class of street traders and the old, groups that no one else at the time would have bothered to approach.

Unfortunately one of the drawbacks was that he was not a very careful recorder of what he discovered, however he did become very adept at persuading people from all walks of life to part with both objects and information. He explains his technique in his book, in which he says he avoided asking direct questions and never told the people he spoke to what he was doing. He pretended to be ignorant about what he was enquiring about as he found that if they felt he knew a lot, they would either stop talking or try to "go one better". He also gave his alpine plants as presents, and exchanged dolls he brought for the less attractive handmade toys of the poor.

He himself did not believe in magic or the supernatural. It was just something that he was fascinated by and eventually led him to found the Folklore Society. He also published a book of his findings entitled 'Magic in Modern London' and another book followed on 'Folk-lore and Legend of the Surrey Hills and of the Sussex Downs and Forests'. By this stage Lovett was a recognised specialist in the subject of superstitions and the Imperial War Museum appointed him as the honorary curator of their Folklore section.

He carried out the majority of his collecting in Surrey, Sussex and London. Through his enquiries in London he discovered that even by as late as the 1900's some 40 percent of the population had been born in the countryside and a further 20 percent had parents who had come up from the country. This led him to believe that many superstitions may as a consequence have had their roots in country living.

In the 1880's he married and had two sons but the harmony of marriage did not last long for inside his house his collections began to take over, the rooms were crammed full with objects and the walls were hung with his large collection of lamps. Unfortunately it reached a point where his wife could stand it no longer. Perhaps it was the hundred mangles lining the stairs that proved the last straw; at any rate she left him. This did not appear to affect him greatly as he continued to work happily in the evenings composing articles about his collections, sustained by a nightly glass of whisky and water.