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History of the museum

Past visitors, perhaps attracted by reading Gilbert White's Natural History of Selborne, were in for rather more than they bargained for. They were confronted with a building, the majority of which was obviously not 18th century, housing on its upper floors a museum dedicated to others - two members of the Oates family. These, together with rather old-fashioned, hardto-follow displays packed into a series of small domestic rooms, made a visit to The Wakes a challenging experience.

It had been clear for some years that the museum required a complete rethink about the ways it was able to present its material to the public, with larger displays needing to be housed in larger galleries. At the same time, the trustees were faced with urgent requirements to modernise the building services and to undertake an extensive repair programme to the external fabric, especially roofs.

The Heritage Lottery Fund responded generously to the trustees'application.Careful planning of the works by architects Peter Davis and Giles Pritchard paid off, with a project carried out within budget, on programme and with a minimum of disruption to the museum's activities.Very careful attention was paid to the standard of workmanship, with the result that one subcontractor was dismissed for persistent substandard work.

Works to the roof presented the opportunity to answer the outstanding questions of age and build sequence. It is well-known, for example, that during White's time there was a fire in the roof of a small extension that had been built. Clear evidence of the extent of the fire and the repair work was found. It had been suggested that the earliest part of the building might be medieval in origin. Not so. The house was proved to have been an elderly, simple village one when White moved in, to which he made a number of changes, all of which can now be identified accurately . The earliest part of The Wakes had local marlstone walls and a thatched roof, affording simple, limited accommodation.

R G Phillips, project monitor, Heritage Lottery Fund/English Heritage

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