Down House: The former home of Charles Darwin
Discover the study where Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species at the scientist’s former home in Kent…
Owned by Charles Darwin from 1809 to 1882, it was in Darwin’s Old Study that the scientist wrote his most important work, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, among other tomes. Down House was both family home and laboratory to Darwin until his death in 1882, and it was in this study that some of his 10 children would provide light relief as they drew his attention away from work to play for a few minutes, while his wife Emma busied herself around the house or played the piano in the Drawing Room.
Based in a rural setting that offered much-needed peace and privacy, Darwin utilised the garden at Down House to cultivate carnivorous plants and exotic flowers in his search for answers to his Theory of Evolution. Despite suffering with a chronic illness for many years, Darwin persevered with a regular routine, and the room that visitors see today is structurally unaltered, featuring decoration based on the memories of son Leonard, along with detailed room photographs of the time. The furnishings are largely original, with some treasured items collected by Darwin on his epic voyage on HMS Beagle. On the walls are portraits of his friends Joseph Hooker, Charles Lyell and Josiah Wedgewood; while his original writing desk is strewn with the tools of his trade, including books, papers, storage tins and bottles. Darwin’s timeworn ‘office’ chair-on-wheels also remains in the study and was a brilliant customised design of his own.
In 1996 Down House was acquired by English Heritage, and remains one of the most authentic properties in the organisation’s portfolio, with international significance. Restoration was carried out across the property, inside and out, and while the fabric of the principal rooms has been presented as accurately as research has allowed, the social history of how the Darwins used some of the rooms is still in question.