Thursday, July 06, 2017

Down House: A unique place in the history of science and evolution

by Carole Barclay

The works of Charles Darwin and Karl Marx shook and shocked Victorian Britain. Although they lived less than 20 miles apart from each other they never met. But Marx genuinely admired Darwin's On The Origin of the Species despite its “crude English style” and even sent Darwin a personally inscribed copy of the recently published second edition of Das Kapital in 1873.
            Down House was Darwin’s home for 40 years until his death in 1882. Darwin and his wife Emma remodelled the house and its extensive gardens, which Darwin used as an open-air laboratory. Here Darwin worked on his theory of evolution that was first published in 1859.
In Darwin’s day the house was in the village of Downe, a parish in Kent. It later became a girls’ school and the home of the Darwin Museum. Now part of Bromley in Greater London, the house, gardens and grounds is run by English Heritage and open to the public throughout the year.
            There’s plenty to see. Anyone interested in the life and times of Darwin will be fascinated by the gardens and the exhibits in the museum as well as rooms that have been restored to appear as they would have looked in Darwin’s day. There’s the inevitable visitors’ shop for books and souvenirs, and a very welcome cafĂ© in the courtyard.
But beware – plan your journey unless you’re driving because it’s not easily served by public transport. Although you can get trains from central London to Bromley South or Orpington you’ve then got to get a bus for the rest of the journey.
Down House is in Luxted Road, Downe, Kent, BR6 7JT. The house, garden and grounds are open to the public at the usual English Heritage rates. There’s free parking and Down House opens daily from April to the end of October, and on weekends only from November until the end of March.

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