June 2023

Gilbert White’s House and Gardens has just become the first institutional member of the British Beekeepers' Association for 80 years. 

Rev. Gilbert White lived in the Hampshire village of Selborne from 1720 to 1793. Also a keen gardener, he began to study nature by close observation – a process he called ‘watching narrowly’ – and wrote about what he discovered to his friends Thomas Pennant and Daines Barrington.  The letters were published as ‘The Natural History of Selborne’, in 1789.  Since then, the book has never been out of print and is reputedly the fourth most-published book in English.  By watching narrowly, White understood food chains, bird migration and the interconnectedness of things, which we now call ecology.

Oak tree planted c1730 by a young Gilbert White

His house and gardens opened as a museum in 1956 when money to buy the property was provided by Robert Washington Oates, the nephew of Captain Lawrence Oates, on condition that the museum also displayed the Oates family collections.  Today, it celebrates the achievements of three explorers of the natural world – Gilbert White, who studied the environmentally diverse Selborne area in great detail, Frank Oates who explored in Central America and Southern Africa in the late 1800s and Captain Lawrence Oates who was with Scott in Antarctica and walked to his death on this 30th birthday in an attempt to save the lives of his comrades with the famous last words ‘I am just going outside and I may be some time’.

The museum established beekeeping on site May 2022 to help to pollinate some 25 acres of land which are managed as wildflower rich meadows, provide additional interest for visitors as well as generating additional income for the charity.  The museum is also keen to raise awareness of bees and other pollinators and the important role they play in the ‘interconnectedness of things’.


The museum currently has a temporary exhibition celebrating 400 years since the first edition of ‘The Feminine Monarchie’ by Charles Butler, an ancestor of Gilbert White.  The bee group has stands at events held at the museum, including the annual Nature Fair and Unusual Plants Fair.  In 2022 an artist in residence produced a huge wicker bee which was decorated by visitors in strips of fabric coloured with natural dyes made from plants collected in the grounds. The first decorators were school children who enjoyed a morning in the meadow learning about bees and the important role they play, followed by visitors over the next few weeks.

Future plans include increasing the number of Langstroth hives in the apiary and developing educational events. They are offering a two-for-one entry to BBKA Members during the BBKA's 150th anniversary year.  See voucher and more details on page 11 of February 2024 BBKA News.

Banner image:  The Great Mead
All photos courtesy of Gilbert White's House