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Charles Darwin's Kent sanctuary
By Jo Pattison
BBC Kent

Down House
Down House was Darwin's family home for 40 years

Charles Darwin moved to Down House near Bromley from London in 1842. It was to be his home for 40 years.

It gave him a wonderful sanctuary where he could study whilst indulging the noise and laughter of his children as they grew up.

Darwin was a passionate family man, not at all like the traditional view we have of Victorian fathers.

With his wife Emma, he had ten children, seven of them survived to adulthood.

Charles Darwin
Darwin wrote out 'On the Origin of Species' at Down

The children were free to play around the house and garden with the family pet, a terrier called Bran.

Darwin stuck to a daily routine spending much time in his study, with his specimens and instruments. It was here that Darwin looked at all the notebooks that he brought back from his voyages on the Beagle and here that hunched in his horsehair chair, with his writing board across his lap, Darwin wrote out 'On the Origin of Species' and changed science forever.

Many rooms of the house contained Darwin's experiments, from notebooks to bottles and specimens.

Evenings were spent in the drawing room, the hub of family life, where Darwin and his wife Emma enjoyed his evening ritual of a game of backgammon. Darwin suffered all his life with ill health and it was here that Emma would soothe him by reading or playing the piano for him.

The Sandwalk
The Sandwalk where Darwin would gather his thoughts

Darwin also enjoyed playing billiards, potting the black with Parslow, his regular opponent and butler of 37 years. Parlsow's role went beyond the usual call of duty for a butler, assisting Darwin with his many experiments, including boiling up the carcasses of pigeons so that he could examine their skeletons.

When he needed to gather his thoughts or take a break from his writing he would take a walk around the Sandwalk, a woodland path close by the house. It was during one of these walks that Darwin suffered an angina attack and later died on 19 April 1882 with Emma at his bedside.

Audio slideshow: Charles Darwin
23 Nov 09 |  History




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