More than 100 years after it was dismantled and dispersed, Charles Darwin’s bedroom in Down House, Kent has been restored. The naturalist, who pioneered the theory of natural selection, lived in the house for much of his later life, and died there in 1882.
Books, artworks and furniture have been sourced, based on family letters, an inventory and contemporary descriptions, to closely match the way the bedroom would have looked in Darwin’s final years. The recreation by English Heritage will include the non-scientific books Darwin read (he kept a copy of Mark Twain’s The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County by his bedside) and his Old Master prints. It also aims to show the impact of his ill health – he suffered repeated episodes of stomach pain, vomiting and palpitations – and the central role his wife Emma played in supporting him.
“Darwin’s bedroom and its recreation reveal a more personal side to the great scientist,” said curator Sarah Moulden. “We want people to flick through the novels that Emma read aloud to Charles; we want them to try on bed clothes in the closet next door; and we want them to look out of the bay window onto the extensive garden ‘laboratory’, just as he once did.” This was the bedroom in which the revolutionary scientist died in 1882 and where, for 20 years, he enjoyed reading and resting, where he recovered from various illnesses and where he kept a watchful eye on his experiments in the garden from the room’s large bay window.
Darwin developed a number of his radical ideas about evolution and geology during a famous five-year voyage on HMS Beagle. He moved from London to Down House in 1842 with his family, and wrote extensively in the building’s study, as well as building paths and a greenhouse in the gardens. His book On the Origin of Species was published in 1859 and was an immediate success.
The house has been owned by English Heritage since 1996, and is open to the public. It features exhibits including notebooks, instruments from the Beagle and many original fittings from Darwin’s time, as well as a ‘thinking path’ and carnivorous plants. The bedroom opens to visitors on 30 June.