Tucked away in the heart of Downe, within the London Borough of Bromley, lies the historically significant Down House. Not merely an architectural marvel, this house was once the residence of the renowned English naturalist, Charles Darwin, and his family.
Location and History of Down House Situated at Luxted Road, Downe, Orpington, BR6 7JT, Down House stands a quarter-mile south of Downe village, which is about 23 km southeast of Charing Cross in London. Purchased in 1842, Darwin lived here for an impressive 40 years, and it was in this very house that he developed his groundbreaking theory of evolution by natural selection.
Features of the House The 18th-century Down House, classified as a Grade I building, is thought to be on the site of an even older 17th-century home. Recognising its unparalleled historical and cultural value, English Heritage acquired it in 1996 with support from a grant by the Wellcome Trust. Following fundraising efforts by the Natural History Museum and contributions from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the house underwent restoration and was reopened to the public in 1998.
Visitors to Down House can expect a range of intriguing insights into the life and works of Charles Darwin. Here are some highlights:
Darwin’s Study: Here, one can witness the very room where Darwin penned many of his monumental works, including the famous “On the Origin of Species”.
Charles and Emma’s Bedroom: Visitors can view the bedroom where Charles and his wife Emma slept.
Darwin’s Gardens: This is a chance to explore the gardens where Darwin conducted many of his experiments and observations. Restored to their original state from Darwin’s time, they feature a greenhouse, a vegetable garden, and a “thinking path” where Darwin would walk and ponder.
Interactive Exhibition and Guide: Delve deeper into Darwin’s life and accomplishments through interactive exhibits and guided tours.
The Sandwalk: Walk the same circular path, the Sandwalk, where Darwin himself used to walk and meditate.
Discovering the Darwin Family: Learn more about Darwin’s family and their life at Down House.
Moreover, visitors can see a plethora of original artefacts related to Darwin’s work, including his microscope and collections of fossils and minerals.
Darwin’s Life at Down House After moving to Down House in 1842 with his wife Emma and their children, Darwin found the seclusion he needed, away from the hustle of city life. Here, he immersed himself in research and observations, using the garden as his “outdoor laboratory”. His insatiable curiosity led him to conduct numerous experiments in the garden, from observing plant behaviours in light and gravity, to understanding pollination and plant evolution. Darwin’s meticulous observations became foundational to his theory of evolution.
Experiments in Down House Garden In his “outdoor lab”, Darwin embarked on experiments that transformed our understanding of the natural world. He was intrigued by plant movements, observing how young leaves grow in response to light. He also studied the circumnutation of plant stems and was fascinated by the pollination process, keenly observing bees and other insects in his garden. Furthermore, he delved into plant evolution, cultivating different species in his garden and observing their adaptability over time. His inquisitiveness even led him to study earthworms, understanding their role in soil fertility.
All in all, Down House offers a profound insight into the life and genius of one of history’s greatest scientific minds, making it a must-visit destination for anyone in London.