I had planned to go to the Jane Austen museum in Chawton after my visit to Selborne, but as it turned out I got to Selborne late, and decided not to rush about, and ended up only with time to look at the house from the outside – I had to walk up that far to catch the bus along the main road into Alton anyway.
The first view of the village coming up from the south is the church and Chawton House in the trees – a more imposing church than 200 years ago, because it was mostly destroyed in a fire in 1871, but the same location.
Chawton House was the home – or one of the homes – of Jane Austen’s brother, and features in her letters as the ‘Great House’.
The house where she and her mother and sister lived is on the main street of the village.
A plaque has been put on the house by ‘her admirers in this country and in America’ – I think this dates back to before the house became a museum.
I didn’t have time to do more than just prowl around the outside of the house – front entrances to the street, side entrances facing onto the garden, and bakehouse in the courtyard behind.
But I wouldn’t have had time for a proper wander round the village anyway, and I didn’t get to Winchester Cathedral, or to see the Round Table, so I’ll just have to go back another time and do all these things!
This weekend was the Collingwood Society’s annual summer outing – less of an adventure this year than some years, as we were going to the Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn, although still a bit of an adventure for me, as the easiest way to get there was train to Alnmouth and a wandering kind of bus south.
Of course, last year when we tried to meet outdoors it rained for most of the day, so this year when it was an indoor event the sun shone gloriously.
There were three different sets of records looked out for us from three different Northumberland families – letters to Admiral Robert Roddam, when he was Port Admiral at Portsmouth around 1790, along with a book where he had kept copies of letters sent and received at an earlier period when he was captain of the Colchester, letters to Francis Blake Delaval as a ship’s captain in the early 18th century, and letters from Collingwood to his father in law John Erasmus Blackett.
We were divided up into little groups and just chose a place to start – I was at some of the Roddam letters, a neat little pile folded into slips.
These were quite a variety – some plain logistics, but quite a few writing to request things, often for personal reasons – I mean, not asking things of the admiral because he was the admiral, but asking things of Roddam because he was Roddam. My favourite, though, was one which looked as if it had got in by mistake – a letter from a petty officer to a brother in Berwick, appointed to a new ship where he had had 24 shillings and a new jacket stolen from him, and wasn’t in the position where he had previously served, although he was hoping that would be remedied – maybe Roddam was to help in the remedy.
The Delaval letters were a flat pile, and mostly absolutely filthy looking – they looked like they’d been in a cellar or something for a while – but the written sides were clean enough, and mostly in good handwriting.
The part of the pile that I looked through was a nice set of practical letters, mostly instructions about a convoy to the Baltic, with orders about stores and manning, and about where to go and how long to wait for ships to join. Some of the details were wonderful – in one letter the ship was being sent ‘surgeon’s necessaries and a copper kettle’!
The Roddam letter book, which was the last thing I got to look at, was the same kind of thing, but with the captain’s requests and replies as well as the letters sent to the ship. We only glanced through it, being a bit lettered out by then, but one we enjoyed was about how the ship had requested flags that they needed to reply to signals, but when they had arrived, the commissioner had refused to let Roddam have them. I think a new set had to be sent!
The Collingwood letters I really only got to hear about – some people had collected wonderful turns of phrase from them, including a description of Nelson as ‘one of the finest creatures who ever floated on the sea’. They were also the only set of personal letters we had, so a much more general depiction of the war and the personalities involved than the service letters. But I had enjoyed the rest too much to really miss them – my problem is always with being interested in everything!
I spent my last night in the south in a place called Four Marks, between Winchester and Alton, and walked down in the morning to Selborne – I read the Natural History last summer, and was keen to see the place itself.
Not quite as early a start as I had hoped, but a fairly pleasant walk down – a slanting path on a line obviously older than the houses which squeezed around it, onto a woodland track, and then a second wood partly filled with bluebells, and minor roads leading me to Newton Valence.
From there paths lead over the hill of Selborne Common, partly trees and partly grass, and used for grazing by the National Trust who own it in an attempt to keep the old wood-pasture habitat.
The north-eastern edge of the common is much steeper, and the first view of the village is from well above.
The way down from the common, or at least the quickest way, is the Zigzag Path, made by Gilbert White and his brother in 1753 for easier access to the common. It definitely deserves its name!
I went first to the church, where of course White was the curate – a very old church, but not at all like most of the churches I had walked past on my journey.
An ancient yew stood in the churchyard, and was described by White, but blew down in a storm in 1990.
His grave is round behind the church – he had asked to be buried in as simple a way as possible.
From there I went on to the museum in the White family home, The Wakes – extended in White’s day, and again later.
The exhibition inside is a bit of a muddle – already partly about the house itself and changes made to it by White, partly about his work, and partly about Captain Oates and his uncle, another naturalist, most of the White sections were either in a severe state of refurbishment, with information boards moved and partly hidden, or being used by people connected with a wedding fair.
The gardens outside are also open for walking about – the haha and sundial were built by White.
Every self-respecting garden of his day had a statue, but when he started making his garden he wasn’t able to afford one, and instead had a painting of a statue made on a board – reasonably deceptive from a distance!
One of my adventures in Chichester was to go for a boat trip along the canal – which was not a thing I knew anything about until I was reading about things to do in Chichester the day before.
The surviving part of the canal is part of a much larger endeavour, the Wey and Arun canal, which was in turn part of a grand plan to create an inland route by water from Portsmouth to London, without braving the dangers of the Channel. Parts of the canal works to and along the Arun are still visible on the map, as well as the channel of the Great Deep at Thorney Island, not yet closed off.
But much of the danger must already have been gone by the time the canal was completed, with the French wars over, and only the section from Chichester to the sea was still in use by the late 19th century, mostly bringing in coals for the gasworks.
At the very end of the 19th century a railway was built from Selsey Bill to Chichester which seems to have taken over that function, although the owners caused themselves some trouble by trying to build it ‘on the cheap’ as a tramway, to avoid the regulations and expenses of a railway act, only to find out that they also lost out on the benefits of compulsory purchase orders.
The Canal Preservation Trust has a base in the canal basin, and two boats which they use for trips (as well as two battered looking barges used for shifting things about, as they have responsibility for the banks).
The gas works which used up all the coal is now the Royal Mail sorting office, but two of the original buildings still exist at the basin – a pub called the Richmond, named after one of the main proprietors, and a building used as a custom and toll house.
About half of the remaining part of the canal is accessible by water from the basin – the rest is filled with water, but blocked by road bridges, although the sea end is used as a marina. So the trip is just down to a place where the boat can turn and back, but it was a nice trip, with coots on their nests, mostly in very precarious places, and moorhens not on their nests.
There were originally several swing bridges over the canal, all to the same design, but some have been removed and some have been replaced by fixed road bridges. One still exists, near the basin, but although it’s an original bridge it’s not in its original place – it should be one further down.
I spent my Easter holidays walking the South Downs Way, and my day off from walking mostly in Chichester, home of a certain Mr Bush – but we have already established that I’m not at all above running around after fictional characters.
It’s a very Georgian city, Chichester but it has also been a very Roman city (I like that the OS map still labels it ‘Noviomagus’, just in case any lost Romans come looking) and a very medieval city – when Bush and his sisters lived there everything must have been either newly built or in a state of constant rebuilding.
The market cross is part of the medieval city, of course, built around 1500.
The Dolphin hotel just behind it, however, is very definitely imposing Georgian, rebuilt some time in the 18th century although the name is older.
The medieval Guildhall, originally part of a friary, was used as the town hall and courthouse until 1850.
St John’s chapel, in the south-eastern quarter, wasn’t built until 1815, but the plans for it must have been the talk of the more respectable inhabitants the last time Bush was home – the building was funded by the congregation, with a fee paid for each pew.
I was looking out for a suitable cottage, of course, but although there are plenty of fairly modest buildings, they’re almost all terraced – not that this necessarily rules out a garden, because a Georgian map shows the houses still with their long medieval yards running back behind them.
I did like this one just inside the western walls, now the Old Cottage Indian Restaurant! But for four or five of them I think we’re looking for something more like the Dashwoods’ cottage (I’ve been reading Austen ever since I got home) – living rooms downstairs and bedrooms upstairs.
The museum was interesting, with a good display on local smuggling, but there was nothing very maritime until I looked up on my way down the stairs on the way out.
Also up above me was an admiral’s uniform, of the type that would have been worn by local hero George Murray, who served as Nelson’s Captain of the Fleet in the Mediterranean.
The cathedral is another famous medieval building, of course – not only a local landmark but a seamark, the only medieval cathedral in England whose spire can be seen from the sea.
It’s also the only medieval English cathedral with a separate freestanding bell tower, although this may be for practical reasons – subsidence had caused problems with the original building, and one of the towers had collapsed in 1635, with the spire following in 1861 and rebuilt five years later.
There are a few naval memorials inside, 20th century as well as Napoleonic.
George Murray’s is one of them, of course, with a depiction of the battle of Copenhagen.
The other Georgian memorials are from an earlier war – the Battle of Providien in the Indian Ocean in 1781, which was presumably part of the American Revolutionary War. Two memorials, to Captain James Alms of the Monmouth, who survived it, and his son, Lieutenant George Alms of the Superb, who didn’t.