Down House

Yesterday we took trams and buses to visit Down House, which was the family home of Charles and Emma Darwin for most of their married life. They had 10 children altogether, with Emma having her last baby when she was 48 years old. There is a biography of her life which I will look into as she seems to have been a remarkable woman.

Charles Darwin was very fortunate in that he always knew he would inherit wealth and he ackowledged himself that perhaps he didn’t really apply himself at university because he knew he didn’t really need to. Another reason was that he had his own areas of interest and may not have really cared for much of what he was being taught.

After living on The Beagle for five years, travelling to remote places, doing long field trips and studying plant and animal life, he arrived home, married, moved house once, and pretty much stayed put for the rest of his life. He developed stomach problems, probably due to contact with a particularly nasty beetle, which sometimes made it difficult for him to work. And work he did. He walked in the grounds of his house three times a day – doing a particular circut five times in a row before lunch.

He would work in his study in the morning, writing and doing research, then walk, then have lunch, have some time with Emma (she often read to him, but they were in the bedroom away from the children, so may have engaged in other activities, leading to more children). Then I think he went back to work. He was a fond father and pretty relaxed for the times, when fathers tended to be distant and stern. He actually sounds like a rather nice person.

They bought the old house, adding to it over the years as they had more children. The house is now open to the public and run by English Heritage, a sort of rival to the National Trust. However, in this case I think they did a very good job of setting the house up for the public. They had some rooms set up with displays about Darwin’s life and research and some set up as much as possible as they were when the family lived there.

The gardens are still very well looked after, with Darwin’s walk (the Sand Walk), greenhouses, vegetable garden with the same vegetables that were grown in his day. Of course, they had servants to look after them and the butler appeared to be a very good friend to Darwin. They had two cooks over the lifetime of living there, and the second one wasn’t much good, but they don’t appear to have considered getting someone new to replace her.

When doing modifications to the house, Darwin said that he wanted the servants to be comfortably housed as well as the family. He was always an opponent of slavery.

Of course, having wealth meant that he didn’t have to worry about earning a living and could focus on his own areas of interest, which were many and varied. But, he could have been lazy and self indulgent, like many wealthy people.

We set out at about 11.30 and arrived home about 7.00. We had warm weather. It continues to be fairly comfortable in the shade, it’s not really hot, but being in the sun isn’t pleasant for us and we avoid it as much as possible. Our bedroom was hot when we got home and I opened the sliding door as wide as possible and put the little fan on. By the time we went to bed it was reasonably comfortable.

sandwalk (1 of 1)
The Sand Walk. We explored the garden after 4.30 when it was a bit cooler. I didn’t do the whole circut as I wasn’t sure how long it was and if I would be back before they closed the house. Long enough to try to imagine being Darwin doing the walk, of course.
Being Darwin under the tree (1 of 1)
They had the obligatory digital headset and device for exploring the ground floor and gardens. Here is Stephen imagining he is Darwin, sitting in the garden.
squirrel (1 of 1)
We see lots of these little fellows whereever we go.
greenhouse (1 of 1)
Darwin’s greenhouse. There is a little laboratory attached and photos of schoolgirls doing experiments there (the house was a school for some years)
fungus (1 of 1)

Today we plan to continue our scientific journey with a visit to the Science Museum in London. We are counting down the days until we leave. Thursday we will clean the house and probably have a local outing. On Friday we change all the linen and do a lot of washing before catching the very slow bus to Heathrow. We have a hotel booked nearby where we will stay the night. The Heathrow Shuttle will then take us to Terminal 2 to catch our 9.30 a.m. flight on Saturday.

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