Down House – Home of Charles Darwin

Since we decided not to travel during the kids’ school holiday I wanted to make the most of our time by seeing some places nearby.  We have an English Heritage Membership that gets us into sites for free, so I just chose Down House from the website, and it’s not too far away so we packed some snacks and drove there.  

I loved it more than I expected to.  It started a discussion between Richard and I about how we can give labels to people, or put them in categories that prevent us from really knowing, appreciating and learning from them.  Growing up as Christians who wholeheartedly believed in Creationism, making few or no allowances for evolution, neither of us ever gave Charles Darwin the time of day.  We associated him with labels like “Godless”, and our fears and narrow-mindedness prevented us from admiring him and valuing his work and his contributions to science, as well as his good nature and character as a devoted family man. Of course as children, it’s natural to see the world in black and white, and to cling to ideas and beliefs that feel safe and validating.  But I’m grateful that in my adult life I have had college professors, friends, family members and media (ie, books, podcasts, articles) that have helped me consider new ideas and beliefs.  Fear, defensiveness, and a determination to be “right” have been obstacles in my life, and probably continue to prevent me from really wonderful relationships and discoveries.  

Okay, end of tangent. 

Down House was really kid friendly, there was an activity room for the kids, as well as a scavenger hunt of sorts where they had to identify different objects in each of the rooms.  Richard and I took turns helping the kids with their activity and listening to the audio guide.  

The house is also decorated with a lot of original furnishings, and to see the black chair from which Darwin sat while contemplating and writing The Origin of Species had me a bit awestruck.  The Darwins had 10 children, and Charles was an engaged father.  All of the children recalled a happy childhood where their father taught them, read with them and they all loved playing games together.  Charles was also devoted to his wife, respectful of her Christian beliefs, and spent nearly all of his time at home, where he did his research and writing.  But he knew heartbreak, he lost three of his children in their infancy or childhood, and this caused him great suffering.  

There was no photography allowed in the house, so I didn’t take any pictures.  When we finished in the house we stopped in the little cafe for a light lunch.  We shared a pasty, a jacket potato and a toastie.  (All so classic British.)  Then we went outside and walked around the gardens.  Despite the glorious sunshine it was quite cold, so we didn’t stay too long before retreating to the warmth of our car.  (And the rest of our snacks.) 

Picture

(I’m laughing to myself as I post this photo because it’s so easy to love these children of mine when they are at school. The last two days we haven’t all been getting along… But I’m so grateful for them and the way they love each other. When they do.)

It was such a lovely house in a lovely area with lovely gardens, I can see why Darwin lived here for 40+ years.  

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