Saturday, March 12, 2011

Geek Weekend: Charles Darwin's Home

A few weekends ago I went to visit Down House where Charles Darwin and his family lived from 1842. It's very close to London and an easy drive. The house is managed by English Heritage and contains a combination of restored rooms and an exhibition covering Darwin, his family life and his work. It was completely restored in 1996.

The museum explains how Darwin ended up thinking about natural selection and contains a large selection from Darwin's own collection. There are his original notebooks on display as well as items he collected, such as these Galapagos finches:

His family life is covered, including the death of his daughter Annie aged 10. This log book details Darwin's observations of his daughter's health and treatments tried.

It's clear that Darwin had a lot of affection for his children. This is a slide he had built that attached to the staircase inside the house to his children could slide down on pillows.

The museum has many parts that are suitable for children. Here's a game that explains how traits are passed down in birds and there's another that shows the link between the number of cats at Down House and the amount of clover growing on the lawn (cats kill mice, mice attack bee hives, bees pollinate; increase the cats and you get more clover).

Darwin himself wasn't averse to a good game. There's a room in the house dedicated to billiards where Darwin would go to relax from the strain of the public reaction to his theory of natural selection.

In his study, there's his armchair which he modified so that it had wheels attached. This allowed him to scoot around the room to get books or specimens without having to get up. Since he would be sitting with a board across his lap for writing it was more efficient to glide around.

Lest you think Darwin was physically lazy any trip should end at the bottom of the large garden with a walk around Darwin's sandy thinking path inside a copse. Darwin had it constructed so he could take a daily constitutional walk while thinking. He would walk around the path using a pile of stones to count the number of circuits he'd done while thinking.

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