Down House - History and Facts | History Hit

Down House

Orpington, England, United Kingdom

Image Credit: Anthonyeatworld at the English Wikipedia / CC

About Down House

Down House is a Grade I listed former home of English naturalist Charles Darwin. It is particularly well-known for being the site where Darwin researched and wrote his famous ‘On the Origin of Species‘. Today, the house, gardens, and grounds are open to the public.

History of Down House

Down House is located in the village of Downe around 20km southeast of Charing Cross.

The house was built in the early 18th century, likely on the site of a 17th century house. A simple box shape, it was extensively modernised in the late 18th century by wealthy businessman George Butler. After his death, the house changed hands many times, and was slightly enlarged.

Charles Darwin, along with his heavily pregnant wife Emma and two children, moved into Down House in 1842. Though he described it as ‘ugly’, it was, as they desired, ‘at the extreme verge of the world’ with room to expand and many acres of land.

Indeed, they expanded the house, adding a service wing for the growing family (the Darwins would have ten children, seven of whom survived infancy) and servants, a schoolroom and extra bedroom, and later, a larger drawing room and another bedroom.

Many of Darwin’s famous experiments took place in the botanical gardens at Down House, which were built on the ‘detestable slip’ of land in use as a kitchen garden. In the late 1950s, while writing ‘On the Origin of Species‘, Darwin took over a corner of the gardens and developed his work.

Later, he added a hothouse alongside the greenhouse, where he continued his experiments until he died in 1882.

The house was kept on by the Darwin children, later becoming Downe House school for girls from 1907. From 1921 it languished empty in an increasing state of disrepair.

From 1927, it was proposed that the house be bought as a national memorial to Darwin. It was bought by a benefactor and restored under the close eye of Darwin’s son, Leonard.

It then opened as a museum to the public for around 60 years, until it was bought by English Heritage and then re-opened as a museum in 1998, at which time a long-term programme of work was begun to restore the gardens, which is now complete.

Down House Today

Today, Down House, gardens, and grounds are open to the public daily from April to the end of October, and at weekends only from November until the end of March.

Visitors can enjoy the many pieces of furniture and possessions that allow the house to look very much like it would have when the Darwin family lived there, and walk among Darwin’s magnificent gardens and greenhouse where many of his famous experiments took place.

Getting to Down House

The house can be reached by public transport from central London, as it is located within Transport for London travel Zone 6. The 146 bus service from Bromley North railway station (daily) terminates nearby at Downe Village, and the R8 bus from Orpington railway station (excluding Sundays) stops on request outside Down House. The closest Tramlink station is New Addington.

 

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