Down House, the home of Charles Darwin, has been on my ‘to visit list’ for a long time and so I couldn’t believe my luck when our trip coincided with one of the warmest days we have experienced so far this spring. I still can’t get over how intensely blue the sky appears in these pictures – certainly not something we are accustomed to in the UK.
Downe is a picturesque village in Kent, a twenty minute bus ride from Orpington train station. It’s possible to use your Oyster card on the bus as it falls within London’s zoning system, however it does feel rather strange to ‘tap in’ on public transport in such a remote, rural location, especially as the bus required only runs once every two hours(!). My advice is to plan your arrival to coincide with the next bus departure to avoid a lengthy wait at Orpington station or alternatively, as we discovered, you may be able to share a taxi with other day trippers, similarly stranded at the station. (As a rough guide, a taxi costs around £10-15 each way.)
Charles Darwin lived at Down House for forty years, from 1842 until his death, with his wife, Emma, and their ten children along with a modest number of domestic staff and an assortment of pets and livestock. It was here that Darwin developed his theory of evolution by natural selection and wrote his groundbreaking work On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859).
The extensive grounds were remodelled to create a sheltered garden which Darwin used as his open-air laboratory. He cultivated plant specimens in his greenhouse and devised botanical experiments to study plant adaptations, often encouraging his children to assist in collecting evidence to support his theories.
I found the greenhouse particularly charming, photogenic and intriguing to explore: the shelves crammed with exotic specimens imported from Kew Gardens, rows of carnivorous fly-trapping plants and, overhead, makeshift hanging baskets housing vivid orchids and trailing succulents.
Today, the ground-floor rooms of the house have been recreated to look as they did in Darwin’s time, complete with Arts and Crafts wallpaper and furniture. It was unfortunately not possible to take pictures inside and so you must visit in person to experience Darwin’s study, painstakingly recreated with the aid of photographs taken in the 1870s and artefacts returned to the house when it became a museum in 1929.
Visitors can now experience the house and grounds that Darwin so loved, and follow in the footsteps of one of the greatest scientists and thinkers of modern times. And remember, entry is free for members of English Heritage.
Down House | Luxted Road, Downe, Kent BR6 7JT | 01689 859119