As the 30th annual Unusual Plant Fair was held at Gilbert White’s House in Selborne at the weekend, Peeps thought it timely to take a look back even further in time at the village.

It is not known when this photograph (right) of the main street was taken but most probably it dates back more than 100 years or so to the early part of the last century.

The road clearly has no markings and is devoid of the constant flow of through traffic that has been the source of irritation in the village for several decades now.

Gilbert White’s House, a private residence at the time, can be seen on the left of the picture and across the road the lime trees he planted to shield his eyes from the butcher’s shop opposite are in full leaf.

At the end of the street there appears to be a shop where today there is an art gallery, and the figure of a woman in a long skirt can just about be made out standing to the right of the doorway.

The thatched cottages in the foreground still exist, although their frontages have been altered a little. 

One is clad in climbing roses and in the doorway a figure, again probably a woman, can be seen seated behind a low barrier – perhaps a child safety gate.

A notable difference from today is the lack of a pavement on the left-hand side of the road. 

Clearly the photograph was taken before the car became king!

One of the rare plants recorded by Gilbert White - the 'mezereon' (Daphne mezereum)
One of the rare plants recorded by Gilbert White - the 'mezereon' (Daphne mezereum) (Ivar Leidus)

The Unusual Plants Fair was first held at Gilbert White’s House in 1992 and has continued every year since, except 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The event is a recognition of the naturalist’s association with the plant world that is sometimes overshadowed by his fame as an observer of animal life.

Not only was White a keen gardener who cultivated melons – rare for the time – among other fruit and vegetables, but he also noted the wild plants that grew around Selborne.

In a letter written almost 240 years ago on July 3, 1778, he lists many of the rarer varieties to be found around the village, including the stinking hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) in the High Wood, the lesser periwinkle (Vinca minor) and yellow monotropa (Monotropa hypopithys) on Selborne Hanger, and the opposite golden saxifrage (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium) in the dark hollow lanes.

White also mentioned that the fellwort or autumnal gentian (Gentiana amarella) could be seen on the Zig-Zag path and the wild lathyrus (Lathyrus sylvestri) in the Short Lythe, while the Long Lythe was the location for ladies traces (Ophyrys spiralis) and the bird’s nest ophyrys (Ophyrys nidus avis). The small teazel (Dipsacus pilosus) could be found in both lythes.

Another rare plant listed by White in the letter was the “mezereon”, a type of daphne (Daphne mezereum) that he recorded on the Hanger but was reported in the Hampshire Telegraph to have disappeared by 1939.

Peeps wonders how many of these plants can still be found in the environs of Selborne today.