HLF success will reveal hidden within the museum treasures…
Hidden treasures, held for years in the archives of Gilbert White & The Oates Collections in Selborne, will become accessible to the public for the first time following a grant of £1.687m from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the redevelopment of the Museum. This award, just announced, will be matched by almost £1m raised by the Museum from other sources.
“This is a great moment for us – the culmination of years of planning and hard work,” said Dr Rosemary Irwin, Chairman of Trustees. “At long last visitors will be able to see some of the wonderful treasures we hold.”
Among the treasures to be made available to the public for the first time is one of the few surviving original copies of “Aurora Australis”, the first book to be written, printed, illustrated and bound in Antarctica. It was produced by a team working under Ernest Shackleton, leader of the 1907-09 Nimrod Expedition. Worried that his team might be ‘bored’ during the long Antarctic winter, Shackleton took with him a printing press and encouraged his colleagues to write articles for the book which was then printed and bound in boards made from used packing cases. Only around 100 copies of this extraordinary book were produced – the Queen and the British Library are among the others to have copies. The title page at the front of the book says, “Printed at the Sign of the Penguins, Latitude 77 degrees 32’ S, longitude 166 degrees 32’ E”.
This previously unrecorded copy of Aurora Australis was an unexpected find amongst the Museum’s very fine collection of material on the Antarctic and is of real significance for polar historians and enthusiasts,” says newly appointed Museum Trustee Heather Lane. Heather was until recently the Librarian and Keeper of Collections at the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University, the world’s leading Polar research body and archive. “Visitors will have access for the first time to a remarkable and hitherto inaccessible collection of books and other historic materials held by the Museum.”
This new grant will allow the Museum to restore buildings built by the Rev Gilbert White, including his stable yard and brew-house, and to open up the whole site, including its library, to the public after more than 200 years. The stable yard will become a new and attractive entrance to the Museum, and will offer a wide range of new facilities for residents of the village of Selborne and for visitors, including a new shop and café, and new displays and exhibits. The project is currently seeking planning consent, and will be completed in the Spring of 2018.
Substantial support, in the form of finance and architectural services, has been received from Hampshire County Council. Leader of the County Council, Councillor Roy Perry said: “Gilbert White’s Museum is an ideal candidate for our Invest in Hampshire fund. I am pleased to provide this key £200,000 and look forward to seeing the new facilities welcoming visitors.” The ‘Invest in Hampshire’ fund allows capital contributions to be made particularly to projects where there is strong evidence of their financial viability and fundraising, and where they will add to the economic performance of the area. Donations have also come from numerous major charities, including the Linbury Trust. Support has also been received from long term supporters of the Museum, such as the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.
The project is about a lot more than bricks and mortar. “We believe that museums can change lives by encouraging critical thinking, and new experiences. We see Gilbert White’s house not just as a destination, but also as a launch pad for discovery and new ideas” said Dr Irwin. The Museum has ambitious plans to reach out to completely new audiences and will use the grant to expand its events, activities, learning and education work in a wide range of subjects including biodiversity, exploration and climate change. New temporary exhibition space is also planned so that visiting exhibitions can be housed. The changes will also provide much better facilities for the Museum’s growing numbers of staff and volunteers. A new centre will be built for the 50+ garden volunteers, who play a crucial role in maintaining Gilbert’s unique 18th century garden.
The Frank Oates display will be completely rebuilt. Frank Oates, uncle of Antarctic explorer Captain Lawrence Oates (also commemorated in the Museum in a new exhibition created in 2012), was a distinguished Victorian naturalist, and a pioneering explorer of Matabeleland and Rhodesia, discovering several specimens of flora and fauna new to science. Frank Oates’ book Matabele Land and the Victoria Falls; A Naturalist’s Wanderings in the Interior of South Africa published in 1881 is regarded as one of the seminal early texts on this part of Africa.
Importantly, the project will enable the Museum to achieve long term financial sustainability, while preserving the estate in its original form. The memory of Gilbert White, and his world-renowned contributions to the literature of natural history, and to the village of Selborne, will be preserved by making the Museum sustainable in the long term.
Stuart McLeod, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund South East England, said: “Gilbert White is recognised internationally as ‘the father of ecology’ and the museum at Selborne is therefore a unique institution documenting the heritage of science itself. HLF has been a long-term supporter of the museum, having previously invested in restoring the house and garden back in 2006. We are now delighted to be funding this next stage in the museum’s development that will open up the rest of the house and collections for the first time. It will create a fantastic resource for all those with an interest in the development of natural history and the great explorers who taught us so much about our world.”
Keep an eye out for more information and announcements!