Down House is set in the Kent village of Downe (Near Bromley), from here Charles Darwin lived and worked in what at first glance looked like an unlikely laboratory, children running around and seemingly constant distractions, all this taken in his stride as Darwin studied plants and animals in his gardens, greenhouses and the surrounding fields. Although he suffered from ill health for long periods of his life he wrote many letters each day to correspondents all over the world and still found time to write up large papers and books for publication to the various societies of the time. After his wife Emma died the house became a private school. Today the house is owned by English Heritage who have restored the house to its near original condition.
As you enter the study you instantly get a feel of the man who became so famous and just standing there you can imagine him furiously working behind the desk. If you look at the well stocked library shelves to your right the book of Pigeons by J C Lyell has pride of place centrally in the book shelf. The staircase is more functional than grand but has a Darwin oil painting looking down on the comings and goings of the house today.
Upstairs the rooms are arranged as museum exhibits with an exact replica of the cabin Darwin shared on his five year voyage on the Beagle. In another room a few pigeon bones and two narrow strips of paper in Darwins own hand show the pigeon breeds he worked with such as Swallows, Dragoons, Runts and others.
In another room Emma Darwin has a display case which includes a very dainty brooch she bought whilst visiting Rome with her father and sisters and on this is a depiction of white doves.
Further on there is an interactive based theme room, pigeons have their place on a bagatelle genetics board and a three and half minute video/audio presentation. I was very pleased to be involved with both.
The stroll along the "sand walk" with differing views of the house and grounds is still unspoilt, a very tranquil setting, the flower beds laid out in front of the house as Emma Darwin intended and the greenhouse area and vegetable plots have had their protective covering of grass removed and restored to working experiments. If you walk on your own in the quiet you almost feel Darwin is still walking the path, it has been said that a lot of Darwin's ideas came to him whilst taking this walk everyday and I recommend a visit to see and maybe feel the unique atmosphere of Down for yourself.
Web Site and content by John Ross