A Day Out in Hampshire: Gilbert White’s House, the Oates Collection, and Jane Austen’s House

Gilbert White and I.  A fine small fellow.

Gilbert White and I. He was a fine small fellow.

As we’ve been quite tired of being cooped up inside all winter, when the weather seemed to warm up a bit a few weekends ago, my boyfriend and I decided to drive out to Hampshire to take in some local attractions.  First stop, Gilbert White’s House and the Oates Collection.

Now personally, I’m not terribly interested in nature, so it was perhaps no surprise that I had never heard of Gilbert White prior to our trip.  Evidently, he was a 18th century vicar and naturalist extraordinaire.  However, I knew a bit about Lawrence Oates, who took part in the disastrous Scott Expedition to the South Pole, as I have a fascination with isolated places, so hearing that some things related to the expedition were housed here was enough to persuade me to take the outing.  The house is located in the village of Selbourne, with a carpark located on the opposite end of the village, so we braved the muddy footpath and made our way to Gilbert White’s home.  There was an admission charge of  £8.50, but you get free admission for the rest of the year if you fill out a Gift Aid form, so perhaps not a bad deal if we decide to trek out there again.  Gilbert White’s House wasn’t terribly large, and consisted of an introductory room in case you were asking yourself, as we were, “So who the hell is Gilbert White?” which should answer most of your questions; and a few other rooms decorated as they were in White’s time, with appropriate fact sheets throughout.  It was pleasant enough, but just an ordinary Georgian house.  The highlight, as you can see, was the wax figure of Gilbert White shown above.  If it was life size, the poor man couldn’t have topped 5’2″.

Gilbert White's House and Garden

Gilbert White’s House and Garden

Upstairs, we at last found the Oates Collection, which was comprised of two sections: one on Frank Oates, African explorer in the vein of Livingstone et al, and his nephew, the aforementioned Lawrence Oates.  Although the Frank Oates section had some interesting maps and letters, and a splendid massive case of stuffed tropical birds, I think the Lawrence Oates half was superior by far!  Loads of information on the South Pole, some of the supplies the men took with them, photographs, and journal entries and letters home made it feel quite poignant, since none of the men actually made it home.  Essentially, Lawrence Oates sacrificed himself for no real reason at all, since they all died anyway, though perhaps death by freezing was preferable to the lingering death of starvation.  At any rate, it was really fascinating stuff.

We were warned by the woman working there that the gardens would be muddy, and she recommended that we return another time to see them, but quite frankly, this is England, and when the hell isn’t it muddy?  So we traipsed around what was basically a large field for a bit, and took turns sitting in a chair made out of a wine barrel, perched upon a small mound, which was created by Gilbert White so he could survey his property.  And that was all there was to see of Gilbert White’s House, with the exception of the Tea Council approved tea rooms, but although the seal of approval made it mighty tempting, as I’m sure the Tea Council doesn’t hand those out to just anyone, it was a bit early for teatime, so we left.  We stopped in at a newsagents on the way back to the car to get some postcards, since the gift shop didn’t have any, but it gave off the vibe of being a “local shop for local people,” so we didn’t even protest being given incorrect change, and just got out of there.

I’d seen that Jane Austen’s House was in the vicinity, and though I’m not completely obsessed with Austen, I do like her books, so figured it was worth driving about three miles down the road to visit it.  It was £7.50, which seemed a bit steep considering the size of the house, but judging from most of the other visitors there, I doubt they get many complaints.  The place was total Austen fan-girl central, and was packed with middle aged women who stopped to gaze lovingly at everything in the house.  Jane Austen only lived there during her adult years, so a lot of the collection was random stuff cobbled together from her various family members, and the arrangement of the rooms was pure speculation.  I realise I sound like I’m knocking it, but I’m not really; it was a perfectly nice house, with helpful captions on everything, and very nice staff, I just think I don’t know enough about the minutiae of Austen’s life to get the full experience.  Naturally, the gift shop was stuffed full of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy memorabilia, and I couldn’t resist picking up a bookmark and a pretty hilarious portrait of Firth-Darcy.  I mean, c’mon, it is Colin Firth after all, even if his head was rendered a bit lumpily.  That was enough excitement for one afternoon, so we headed back to London.

I’ve give both attractions about a 3 out of 5, though you might rate Jane Austen’s House higher if you REALLY like her.


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