House, Gardens & Cafe Open Tuesday - Sunday 10.30 - 17.00

Georgian Fair

During the first weekend of August Gilbert White’s House and grounds will be transported through time to celebrate the reign of the Georges (1714 – 1830) and The Age of Enlightenment which inspired Gilbert White to write his famous book ‘ The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne’.
This event is the perfect antidote to our electronic age, celebrating the science, craft, food and entertainment of the Georgian period.

So come along and get involved!

Creating Interactive displays to demonstrate Georgian Science.
Outlined below are the topics you will be researching. Followed by resource links and quotes to help you with your research.

Please Note that the links on this page are from various sources some give an overview of the topic, others are published works by people from the time. Although the articles are of interest it is always preferable to go to primary documents.

Gilbert White only published one book in his life time, The Natural History and antiquities of Selborne, but he kept his records in his Garden Kalendar, Flora Selborniensis and Journals

Gilbert White’s original manuscript can now be viewed online here:


Painting with light

The 18th and early 19th century saw many advances which were the forerunners to photography and cinematography. This topic looks at those discoveries. You will investigate the history of some of these advances looking at the camera obscura and the magic lantern which ultimately lead to the exploration of recreation of a moving image. The physics of light and why these effects occur can also be explained.


The Magic Lantern Society

How to Make a pinhole Camera N.B. the addition of positive photographic paper to this device (in place of the tissue can create a permanent photograph) but photographic paper was developed much later.

Camera Obscura – Britannica Encyclopedia

The Camera Obscura and how it works

The history of the camera

The Artist Vermeer’s use of the camera obscura

The curious history of the magic lantern

Plant and animal identification and classification

Gilbert White was passionate about the world around him. He used his observation skills to He was responsible for a number of major discoveries in the world of natural history. He was the first to identify the harvest mouse in this country, he correctly realised that the species of bird known as a willow wren was in fact three separate species – the willow warbler, the chiff chaff and the wood warbler. He discovered the noctule bat. He was living at a time when how to classify plants and animals was being talked about. You will investigate the importance of observation and look at the impact of Carl Linnaeus’s Systema Naturae (1735) which set forward a way to classify and name plants and animals in a systematic way.


The Legacy of Linnaeus

Carl Linnaeus -Overview

Types of Bat in the UK


Gilbert White – The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne
(A series of letters to Thomas Pennant and Daines Barrington)

“As far as I am a judge, nothing would recommend entomology
more than some neat plates that should well express the generic
distinctions of insects according to Linnaeus; for I am well assured
that many people would study insects, could they set out with a
more adequate notion of those distinctions that can be conveyed at
first by words alone.”

“In July I saw several cuckoos skimming over a large pond; and
found, after some observation, that they were feeding on the
libellulae, or dragon-flies; some of which they caught as they
settled on the weeds, and some as they were on the wing.
Notwithstanding what Linnaeus says, I cannot be induced to
believe that they are birds of prey.”

“Linnaeus says that hawks ‘paciscuntur inducias cum avibus,
quamdiu cuculus cuculat’ [negotiate a truce with the birds;
As long as the cuckoo is heard] but it appears to me that, during that
period, many little birds are taken and destroyed by birds of prey,
as may be seen by their feathers left in lanes and under hedges.”

“At present I know only two species of bats, the common vespertilio
murinus and the vespertilio auritus.

I was much entertained last summer with a tame bat, which would
take flies out of a person’s hand. If you gave it anything to eat, it
brought its wings round before the mouth, hovering and hiding its
head in the manner of birds of prey when they feed. The adroitness
it showed in shearing off the wings of the flies, which were always
rejected, was worthy of observation, and pleased me much. Insects
seem to be most acceptable, though it did not refuse raw flesh
when offered: so that the notion that bats go down chimneys and
gnaw men’s bacon, seems no improbable story. While I amused
myself with this wonderful quadruped, I saw it several times
confute the vulgar opinion, that bats when down on a flat surface
cannot get on the wing again, by rising with great ease from the
floor. It ran, I observed, with more dispatch than I was aware of;
but in a most ridiculous and grotesque manner.

Bats drink on the wing, like swallows, by sipping the surface, as
they play over pools and streams. They love to frequent waters, not
only for the sake of drinking, but on account of insects, which are
found over them in the greatest plenty. As I was going, some years
ago, pretty late, in a boat from Richmond to Sunbury, on a warm
summer’s evening, I think I saw myriads of bats between the two
places: the air swarmed with them all along the Thames, so that
hundreds were in sight at a time.”

“It would not be at all strange if your bat, which you have procured,
should prove a new one, since five species have been found in a
neighbouring kingdom. The great sort that I mentioned is certainly
a nondescript: I saw but one this summer, and that I had no
opportunity of taking.”

“The great large bat* (which by the by is at present a nondescript in
England, and what I have never been able yet to procure) retires
and migrates very early in the summer: it also ranges very high for
its food, feeding in a different region of the air; and that is the
reason I never could procure one. Now this is exactly the case with
the swifts; for they take their food in a more exalted region than the
other species, and are very seldom seen hawking for flies near the
ground, or over the surface of the water. From hence I would
conclude that these hirundines, and the larger bats, are supported
by some sorts of high-flying gnats, scarabs, or phalaenae, that are
of short continuance; and that the short stay of these strangers is
regulated by the defect of their food.
(* The little bat appears almost every month in the year; but I have
never seen the large ones till the end of April, nor after July. They
are most common in June, but never in any plenty; are a rare
species with us.)”

Crops, Food and Preservation

Gilbert White was very interested in the production, storage and preservation of food, in a time when there was not the same opportunities we have just to pop to the supermarket. Tastes were also very different. Gilbert White recorded details of soil preparation, sowing dates and time to germinate; information which he passed on for the benefit of would-be gardeners and farmers. He later became fascinated with the production of potatoes, a crop not yet well known in the mid eighteenth century, particularly in rural areas where suspicion and superstition surrounded them; but White was so determined to establish a crop which he considered would be beneficial as a main food source that he paid local cottagers and farmers to grow them to his instructions. You will investigate the foods eaten in the 18th Century and the preservation methods used to keep food.


Food Quotes from Gilbert White

The Experienced English Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffald, 1769

All Things Georgian

Cooking made plain and easy

The woman who made cooking popular

Ice cream video – 18th century America
Please remember that food in America will be very different from food in the Britain at the same date, however, the method of making ice cream would have been similar.

The professional Cook 1776

The Great Debate – Do birds hibernate or migrate

In the 18th Century there was a great debate as to whether birds migrated or hibernated. Gilbert White discuses at length the possibilities and is fascinated with his pet Timothy the tortoise who hibernated in winter. You will investigate the arguments and observations made at the time to support both sides of the argument


Swallows and Mud a Myth?

Daines Barrington on Birds

The Baffling Swallows

Fantastically Wrong: The Scientist Who Thought That Birds Migrate to the Moon


“White was aware of bird migration, and his brother John’s observations at Gibraltar reinforced this awareness; nevertheless, he persisted in thinking that perhaps the late stragglers among swallows hibernated. John Ray and Mark Catesby had both cast doubt on bird hibernation (Egerton 2005:306, 2006:348), but both Pennant and Barrington still believed in it, with Barrington (1772) publishing a substantial article on the subject. (Dadswell [2003:172–176] reprints published remarks by Catesby and Barrington.) White, therefore, was cautious. He paid boys to look for hibernating swallows, without success. One White scholar devoted a chapter to White’s investigations of migration and hibernation and concluded that, “Overall, White’s records showed that hibernation could virtually be ruled out as an explanation of the comings and goings of the hirundines” (Dadswell 2003:38). However, this may only be Dadswell’s interpretation of those records, for in White’s letter to Robert Marsham, 15 June 1793, White disagreed with an anonymous letter dated 7 February in the Gentleman’s Magazine that rejected the torpidity of swallows (White 1887:558–559, Holt-White 1901, II:269).” A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 26: Gilbert White, Naturalist Extraordinaire

“We put Timothy into a tub of water, & found that he sunk gradually, & walked on the bottom of the tub: he seemed quite out of his element, & was much dismayed. This species seems not at all amphibious. Timothy seems to be the Testudo Graeca of Linnaeus. Dr Chandler who saw the operation, says there is a species of tortoise in the Levant that at times frequents ponds & lakes: and my Bro: John White, affirms the same of a sort in Andalusia.” Gilbert White’s Journals 1781

“1788: March 23, 1788 – Mr Churton, who was this week on a visit at Waverley, took the opportunity of examining some of the holes in the sand-banks with which that district abounds. As these are undoubtedly bored by bank-martins, & are the places where they avowedly breed, he was in hopes they might have slept there also, & that he might have surprised them just as they were awakening from their winter slumbers. When he had dug for some time he found the holes were horizontal & serpentine, as I had observed before; & that the nests were deposited at the inner end, & had been occupied by broods in former summers: but no torpid birds were to be found. He opened & examined about a dozen holes. Mr Peter Collinson made the same search many years ago, with as little success. These holes were in depth about two feet.” Gilbert White’s Journal

“1776: November 1, 1776 – Four swallows were seen skimming about in a lane below Newton. This circumstance seems much in favor of hiding, since the hirundines seemed to be with drawn for some weeks. It looks as if the soft weather had called them out of their retirement. My Brother’s turkies avail themselves much of the beech-mast which they find in his grove: they also delight in acorns, & wallnuts, & hasel-nuts: no wonder therefore that they subsist wild in the woods of America, where they are supposed to be indigenous. They swallow hasel-nuts whole.” Gilbert White’s Journal

“As to swallows (hirundines rusticae) being found in a torpid state during the winter in the Isle of Wight, or any part of this country, Inever heard any such account worth attending to. But a clergyman,
of an inquisitive turn, assures me that, when he was a great boy, some workmen, in pulling down the battlements of a church tower early in the spring, found two or three swifts (hirundines apodes)
among the rubbish, which were, at first appearance, dead, but, on being carried toward the fire, revived.” Gilbert White – The Natural history and antiquities of Selborne

“About ten years ago I used to spend some weeks yearly at Sunbury, which is one of those pleasant villages lying on the Thames, near Hampton-court. In the autumn, I could not help being much
amused with those myriads of the swallow kind which assemble in those parts. But what struck me most was, that, from the time they began to congregate, forsaking the chimneys and houses, they roosted every night in the osier-beds of the aits of that river. Now this resorting towards that element, at that season of the year, seems to give some countenance to the northern opinion (strange as
it is) of their retiring under water. A Swedish naturalist is so much persuaded of that fact, that he talks, in his calendar of Flora, as familiarly of the swallows going under water in the beginning of
September, as he would of his poultry going to roost a little before sunset.

An observing gentleman in London writes me word that he saw a
house-martin, on the twenty-third of last October, flying in and out
of its nest in the Borough. And I myself, on the twenty-ninth of last
October (as I was travelling through Oxford), saw four or five
swallows hovering round and settling on the roof of the county-

“Now is it likely that these poor little birds (which perhaps had not
been hatched but a few weeks) should, at that late season of the
year, and from so midland a county, attempt a voyage to Goree or
Senegal, almost as far as the equator? *
(* See Adamson’s Voyage to Senegal.)

I acquiesce entirely in your opinion–that, though most of the
swallow kind may migrate, yet that some do stay behind and hide
with us during the winter.

As to the short-winged soft-billed birds, which come trooping in
such numbers in the spring, I am at a loss even what to suspect
about them. I watched them narrowly this year, and saw them
abound till about Michaelmas, when they appeared no longer.
Subsist they cannot openly among us, and yet elude the eyes of the
inquisitive: and, as to their hiding, no man pretends to have found
any of them in a torpid state in the winter. But with regard to their
migration, what difficulties attend that supposition! that such
feeble bad fliers (who the summer long never flit but from hedge to
hedge) should be able to traverse vast seas and continents in order
to enjoy milder seasons amidst the regions of Africa!” Gilbert White – The Natural history and antiquities of Selborne

The Fruit Wall

Gilbert White Grew many of his fruit trees and vines on a fruit wall. At the time crops were often grown on “fruit walls”, which stored the heat from the sun and released it at night, creating a microclimate that could increase the temperature by more than 10°C. You will investigate the way the fruit wall worked and its benefits to the plants grown on it.


The Fruit Wall Explained

Solar energy conversion

Espalier – How trees were grown on fruit walls

The Fruit Garden illustrated


“Finish’d my fruit-wall, coping the two returns at the ends with stones of a sandy nature out of the old priory. The coping-bricks were full of flaws, & cracks, being made of earth not well-prepared, & instead of overhanging the wall, came but just flush with it : however, byusing six that were broken-ended, we had just enough, & they may lie on the wall many Years.” Gilbert White – Garden Kalendar

“Octob : 5. Trimm’d & tack’d the wall fruit trees for the winter. They are all alive, & healthy.
Planted-out some Coss-lettuce to stand the winter under the fruit-wall.” Gilbert White – Garden Kalendar

“Transplanted into a good mellow plot of Ground those few Coss-lettuces under the fruit-wall that survived the severe winter.” Gilbert White – Garden Kalendar

“The Grapes on the fruit-wall are large (especially those on Mrs- Snooke’s black Cluster) & much
forwarder than those on the walls of the house. The peaches, & nectarine-trees grow too much, & run into willow-like wood.” Gilbert White – Garden Kalendar

“Got a stone-mason to fix the stone with my name & the date of the wall in the middle of the fruitwall. 1 When the mason came to chizzel a hole for the stone he found the wall perfectly sound, dry, & hard” Gilbert White – Garden Kalendar

Hot Beds

Prolonging the season was important to crop production and Gilbert White was very interested in creating Hot beds to do just this. He grew mushrooms, melons and cucumbers. He even had Melon Feasts where he would delight guests with such delicacies. Gilbert White experimented with the construct of the beds and was worried about the effect of the gasses produced by the fermentation process which was heating the beds on the plants. You will investigate the chemical and biological process involved in the creation of heat during the rotting process and consider the best materials to use to make a hot bed.


Hot Beds

Making a hotbed

Creating Hot-Beds

Anaerobic Fermentation in Detail

Methods of heat capture from compost


Biogas is a biofuel produced from the anaerobic fermentation of carbohydrates in plant material or waste (eg food peelings or manure) by bacteria.

It is mainly composed of methane, with some carbon dioxide and other trace gases. However, the proportion of methane within the biogas can vary between 50% and 80%, depending on whether some oxygen is able to enter at the beginning or during the process. If some oxygen is present, the bacteria will respire aerobically and will produce a gas with a higher proportion of carbon dioxide and a lower proportion of methane.” BBC Bitesize

Quotes from Gilbert White’s Garden Kalendar:

“Made first Hot-bed : cleared the strawberry, & raspberry-beds.”

“Made a second Hot-bed : sowed within the frame, common Cucumbers, Horn D-, Squashes, Melons, Balsams,
French Marygolds, purslain : without the frame ; Common Celeri, Celeriac or turnip-rooted Celeri, Nasturtium, Sun-flowers, & purslain. Made a cover of oiled paper for the first bed.”

“Made an Hot-bed for two Hand-glasses & one paper light, with seven loads of Farmer Parsons’s dung”

“Transplanted three of my forwardest melon plants (four leaves each) into each of the lights of my great frame : one to be taken away from each hill, when they are settled. Mem: the earth would not turn-out, till the pots were broken.1 The bed in a fine heat. The plants had fill’d the
pots with their fibres. Made a slight hot-bed in the new garden with 8 barrows of dung for hardy annuals : put on my old frame, & old oil’d paper. Sowed a Crop of Carrots
& lettuce in the shady quarter of the new garden ; 5 pots of sun-flowers, & Nasturtiums in the borders of D- ; six rows of broad beans in the field gardens.”

“Made a good strong hot-bed to finish -off the Cockscombs with : plunged 10 large pots in the bed, and
half fill’d them with fine earth. Lined-out and earth’d very deep the melon-beds for the last time; & rais’d all the frames to the top of the earth.”

“Made a cucumber-bed full fourteen feet long, & almost four feet deep, at the back of my two twolight frames with ten Dung-carts of dung, which is very short this year on account of the scarcity of litter ; & was very cold & wet by reason of the vast rains about that time. Covered the dung the space of one of the frames about five inches thick with tan, & filled a deep hole in the centre of each light with the same. Laid a leaden-pipe into the frame that has got the tin-chimney (according to Dr- Hales’s proposal), up thro’ the back of the bed, in order to convey-in a succession of fresh air a nights. Made an hot-bed for a single hand-glass for Celeri. Planted half hund : large, forward cabbage plants.”

“Tryed an experiment late in y6 evening with a Candle on the two Cucumber-frames after they had been close covered-up some Hours. On putting the Candle down a few Inches into that frame that has leaded lights & no chimney, the flame was extinguished at once three several times by the foul vapour : while the frame with the tiled lights, & Chimney was so free from vapour that it had no sensible effect on the flame. I then applyed the candle to the top of the Chimney, from whence issued so much steam as to affect the flame, tho’ not put it out. Hence it is apparent that this Invention must be a benefit to plants in Hot-beds by preventing them from being stewed in the night time in the exhalations that arise from the dung, & yer own leaves. The melons confirm the matter, being unusually green & vigorous for their age. I applyed the Candle to the nose of the leaden pipe, but it had no effect on it : so that what air comes-up thro’ it must be wholesome & free from vapour.”

“Feb : 29. Very hard frost, & snow on the ground. The hot-bed goes-on but poorly : the plants don’t grow, the snails damage them every night, & the succades don’t
come-up. March I. Gave the hot-bed a good lining of hot dung. In general the plants don’t grow but one begins to shew a runner. Blowing black weather, & snow on the ground. 5. The frost has been so bad for a day or two past that the plants in the bed seemed in a very poor way, & the bed almost cold : but now the lining begins to take effect, & there is some warm sunshine that will set y m- to growing
again. The snails continue to gnaw the plants tho’ we kill numbers.”

“A most violent storm all night, that must have in all appearance done great damage : vast rains at the same time. The Cucumbers are come-up and look well. The wind blew-down the hot-bed screen.
23. The second sowing of Cucumbers are come-upvery well.”

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