Selbourne is a small unspoilt Hampshire village with thatched timber frame houses and more substantial brick or stone houses. Set between the A31 and A3, it is far from London commuter land and would be ignored if it wasn’t for the Gilbert White connection. White was a typical C18th cleric and amateur naturalist. He was born in Selbourne and was curate at the “church”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/south/southeast/selbourne/index.html until he died. He was a keen gardener and kept meticulous records of what he grew, sowing and harvesting times and the weather. Riding to take services in neighbouring churches, he took notes in his pocket book. This lead to correspondence with other amateur naturalists on the local flora and fauna. His observations were published as ‘The Natural History and Antiquities of Selbourne’ four years before he died in 1789. Not only did this inspire Charles Darwin, it has never been out of print, is available on Kindle and is one of the most published books in the English Language. The style is remarkably chatty and readable. His letter are a bit more turgid.
The lovely brick and tile The Wakes was the home of his grandfather. Gilbert White was born here and returned to live here for fifty years when he became curate of St Mary the Virgin in Selbourne. The house has been extended over the years and now houses an exhibition on Gilbert White. The rooms have been restored following descriptions in White’s letters and give a feel as to what the house would have been like in White’s time. At the back are the “gardens,”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/gardens/england/south/selbourne/index.html very much as they were in White’s time with flower and vegetable beds as well as meadows and parkland.
The Wakes was bought in 1955 by money from Robert Washington Oates, who was cousin of Captain Oates who went with Scott to the South Pole in 1911-12. The newer part of the house contains exhibitions about Frank Oates, a C19 explorer in Africa and the Americas as well as Captain Oates and Scott’s last trip to the South Pole. As well as artefacts it also includes a lot of pictures as well as a black and white film taken on the trip. Scott was the first explorer to take a professional photographer on a trip. The quality of this is amazing and is well worth watching.
I enjoyed the visit with the “rooms”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/presocialhistory/socialhistory/social/social/gilbert_white/gilbert_two/index.html used by Gilbert White. There was plenty of written information which was attractively presented, easy to assimilate and explained the importance of White’s work. The “Oates Collection,”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/presocialhistory/socialhistory/social/social/gilbert_white/gilbert_three/index.html especially Captain Oates and the Antarctic gallery was fascinating. I have written separate reviews for these.
There are 30 acres of “gardens”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/gardens/england/south/selbourne/index.html to explore at the back of the house, which are a good mixture of parkland and flowers. There is a tea room which sells (so I have been told) very good cakes, but we didn’t indulge this time and a small shop. Allow several hours for the visit to do it justice and don’t forget to visit the church were Gilbert White was curate and is buried.
The house is open from mid February to December Tuesday-Sunday from 10.30am-4.30pm (5pm from March – October). January to Mid February, it is only open Friday-Sunday. There is a car park coming into the village from the south east. The post code is GU34 3JH and the grid reference is SU 741337.
The ground floor with shop and tea room have level of ramped access. There is no lift to the first floor rooms which are only accessible by the stairs. Two hand held monitors containing a variety of images and information from the less accessible areas of the museum can borrowed by those with restricted mobility. A short film “The Oates Collection” provides a virtual tour for those unable to access the first floor galleries.
A wheelchair is available for visitors to borrow.
There is no reduction for people with disabilities although carers or a companion are given free entry.
There are more pictures “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/presocialhistory/socialhistory/social/social/gilbert_white/index.html