My Favourite Places – Gyles Brandreth
The author and TV personality takes us on a literary tour of his favourite Hampshire places and reminisces about childhood holidays on the Isle of Wight
You’ve just officially opened the revamped Petersfield Museum – what’s your connection to this part of East Hampshire?
I’m so impressed with the transformation of the Petersfield Museum – it’s got art, photography and Victorian Police cells, which is where I am in the picture above – happy to say I wasn’t banged up in this one for long! I went to school at Bedales, so I was especially interested in the fabulous Bedales Historic Dress Collection donated to the museum. It was gathered by a former teacher of mine, Rachel Field, and spans the 1720s to the 1950s.
I’m a huge fan of the poet Edward Thomas too, of course, who had his home in nearby Steep. The Edward Thomas Study Centre at The Petersfield has nearly 2,000 books by and about him. Incredible.
What memories do you have of your time at the school?
Plenty. It features a lot in my new memoir, Odd Boy Out. My life in politics began at Bedales: in 1964 I was the Conservative candidate in the school’s mock general election. I’d go for walks around the Poet’s Stone and we’d have tea at the Donkey Cart bakery and tearoom in Petersfield [now Hälsa Cosmetics]. It did the most wonderful walnut cake…
Hampshire has plenty of other historic places with literary connections – have you visited anywhere else connected with famous figures?
I recently filmed at Jane Austen’s House in Chawton, near Alton. It was so exciting being able to sit at the table where she completed Pride and Prejudice. And having a bite to eat in the Regency Tearooms, afterwards…
I also visited the beautiful 13th Century Church of St. Nicholas in Steventon, near Basingstoke, where Jane’s father, George Austen, was the rector for 44 years. It was pouring with rain but I ate the picnic I brought in the graveyard anyway and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Chewton Glen Hotel in the New Forest (above) is one of my favourite places in Hampshire to stay. As well as the author lunches I’ve done here, it’s got another literary connection: Capt. Frederick Marryat stayed here in 1840s, gathering material for his novel The Children of the New Forest. Also in the area, I’ve visited Beaulieu many times. I knew the late Lord Montagu who founded the National Motor Museum and of course, he drove the most amazing classic cars.
Ever ventured south to the Island?
Oh, yes! I absolutely love the Isle of Wight. I have so many happy memories of childhood holidays in the 1960s, staying near Freshwater. I keep a test tube of the different colour sands from Alum Bay and nostalgic postcards of the Isle of Wight on my desk.
When I go back now, I visit Osbourne House (above) and the beautiful Tennyson Down. I’m also very interested in the pioneering Victorian photographer, Julia Cameron, whose work is displayed at the Dimbola Museum and Galleries where she lived. And of course, The Isle of Wight Literary Festival is a favourite event of mine.