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What Is Down House?

Down House was the home of British naturalist and geologist, Charles Darwin.
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  • Written By: Christina Edwards
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 05 September 2014
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Down House was the home of the famous British naturalist, Charles Darwin, who is most known for his theory of evolution. Darin lived in this house with his cousin-turned-wife during the second half on the 19th century. After his death, the house was rented out and turned into a school for girls, before it was turned into a museum. In the late 20th century, it was obtained by English Heritage and restored to its former glory before being opened to the public.

Charles Darwin started his education studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh, but he quickly realized that the profession was not for him. He was later enrolled in Christ's College in the university of Cambridge, where he seemed more interested in collecting various insect and plant specimens than studying theology. In 1931, he embarked on a five-year voyage on board a vessel named the HMS Beagle. It was during this voyage that Darwin began to form ideas that later resulted in his theory of evolution.

After his return, Darwin began working to finish his, which was generally considered radical at the time. He married his cousin, Emma Wedgwood, in January of 1839. The two lived for a few years in London. When their family began to feel cramped in their small home, however, they began to search for more suitable arrangements.

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In 1842, Darwin and family moved into Down House. Located in a small village in Kent, Down House seemed to be the perfect house for the Darwin family. It was located in a rural area away from most of the main roads and it gave Darwin a quiet space to write and study natural specimens. It was in Down House that Darwin wrote the famous book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, which was published in 1859.

While living in Down House, Emma and Darwin had eight more children, in addition to the two they already had. Unfortunately, only seven of the Darwin children lived past their childhood years. Darwin often believed that inbreeding played a parts in the demise of his other three children.

Charles Darwin died in Down House in 1882. His wife Emma died in 1896. After her death, their son, George, rented the house until 1906. A boarding school for girls was opened there in 1907, but was later relocated to a larger estate in 1922. A less successful school for girls took its place, but it closed just a few short years later. Down House was then purchased by the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1927 and opened as a museum in 1929.

In 1996, English Heritage, an English historical society, acquired Down House. The house and grounds were then restored and later reopened to tourists and science buffs in 1998. Today, visitors to the house can wander through the house, guided by a talking multimedia device. Most of the rooms have been restored to the way they were when the Darwin family occupied the home, but some of the upstairs bedrooms also contain scientific exhibits. Visitors can also explore the gardens and see a collection of Darwin's original notebooks.

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