On 17th September 1842, Charles Darwin turned his back on the hustle and bustle of London and moved into his new home, Down House, in the village of Down (later Downe) in Kent. His wife, Emma, had moved in three days earlier.
In a letter to his sister Emily, written a few months earlier, Darwin had described at length the attractions of the village, then continued:
The house stands very badly close to a tiny lane & near another man’s field— Our field is 15 acres & flat, looking into flat-bottomed valleys on both sides, but no view from drawing-room, wh: faces due South except our own flat field & bits of rather ugly distant horizon.— Close in front, there are some old (very productive) cherry-trees, walnut-trees.—yew.—spanish-chesnut,—pear—old larch, scotch-fir & silver fir & old mulberry-trees make rather a pretty group— They give the ground an old look, but from not flourishing much also give it rather a desolate look. There are quinces & medlars & plums with plenty of fruit, & Morells-cherries, but few apples.— The purple magnolia flowers against house: There is a really fine beech in view in our hedge.— The Kitchen garden is a detestable slip & the soil looks wretched from quantity of chalk flints, but I really believe it is productive. The hedges grow well all round our field, & it is a noted piece of Hay-land
Down House was to remain the Darwins’ home for the rest of his life.
It is a very austere house on all sides, but the photo shows the rear, not the front. I visited it before its quite bad restoration, when the rear sitting or dining room had cabinets with wonderful mementoes and letters, including one written by a local squire to a local workman who did regular repairs for the Darwins. The workman had been seen at the Darwin memorial service in Westminster Abbey, and the squire was outraged at this deference to what he considered to be a blasphemous heretic. Sadly, on my next visit ten years later after the restoration, all the things in that room had been removed including that letter, which a guard said had been stored in London. The voice of David Attenborough disturbed the peace and typically the government installed a tea room in case visitors got bored.
(On my first visit my husband and I were the only visitors, plus one Japanese film maker and the American woman who was watching over the house. It took the British over 150 years to realize the importance of the house. After Darwin's death it was used by a school and then some other unimportant business. The restoration took place
shortly after 2000.)
A very austere house but this is the rear view, not the front. It took England 150 years to realize the importance of the house, which was used by various businesses during that time. The restoration removed all the mementoes and documents in the rear facing dining room, including a letter from a local squire to a workman who regularly did repairs for the Darwins, in which he told him their business relationship was over because he had been seen at the Darwin memorial service in Westminster Abbey which celebrated Darwin's blasphemy and heresy. The renovation added a tea room in case visitors were bored. We visited in the early 1990s and were the only visitors besides a Japanese filmmaker and an American woman who was overseeing the house. Our later visit included a David Attenborough recording to accompany what was more or less a gutted house except for Darwin's study.