Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10.30AM to 5PM & Bank Holidays

Exhibition: The Nature of Friendship

Edward Lear (1812-1888), the famous nonsense poet and painter, enjoyed a fifty-year friendship with Thomas Bell (1792-1880), one of the leading zoologists of the Victorian era. Bell lived for many years in Gilbert White’s former home at Selborne, where Lear was a regular visitor. The two men collaborated on Bell’s History of British Quadrupeds, to which Lear contributed charming illustrations, and later on Bell’s Monograph of the Testudinata (Tortoises and Turtles), for which Lear supplied brilliantly characterful lithographs. This exhibition explores the passion for natural history Lear and Bell shared and the exquisite artwork Lear created to illustrate Bell’s zoological books. It also draws on Lear’s letters and diaries to conjure aspects of village life in Selborne in the nineteenth century, and how these two energetic, enquiring Victorians spent their time together, sharing Lear’s nonsense songs, experimental botany, and even discussing colour photography.


Events at Gilbert White’s House during the exhibition will explore different aspects of Lear’s  and Bell’s work. There will be an illustrated talk ‘The Nature of Nonsense: Edward Lear and Thomas Bell’, a concert featuring music composed by Edward Lear, and a limerick workshop for children.

  • Start Date: 07 May 19
  • End Date: 31 Aug 19
  • Please note: tickets purchased from us are non refundable.

Gilbert Whites House

Gilbert White was aged 7 or 8 when the White family moved from the Vicarage on Selborne’s Plestor, to this house, called ‘The Wakes’ (named after the Wake family who had lived here previously). At that time the property would have been no more than a ‘two up, two down’  but over the subsequent years lots of extensions and additions have been made, creating the long sizeable house you see today.

The rooms have been restored following descriptions in White’s own correspondence and include a chair he used at Oriel College, Oxford (loaned from the College), items of contemporary furniture, family portraits and bed hangings embroidered for him by his aunts.

On display is the original manuscript of his book, The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, which was purchased with generous help from English Heritage and others.

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