Down House and Rochester on 24 August2011
Charles Darwin and his large family lived in Down House, Kent, for forty years. The house and its contents are of the period and give a feel for the life of such a family. The ground floor is as it was in their day: the furniture, paintings, books, scientific instruments, even the china, are the ones they used.
The upstairs rooms now are an informative display of Darwin's life and experiences including the writers and thinkers who influenced him - and with whom he took issue - and the many works he produced as a result of his investigations. His voyage with Fitzroy on the Beagle (of which Darwin's account is very readable) and his extensive observations on the voyage, led him to a lifetime of study.
The notebooks in his own hand show that his greenhouse, garden and study were also a laboratory during his life at Down House. His observations of insectivorous plants, orchid pollination, cross- pollination of plants and the role of earthworms were all new at the time. He was a great correspondent and wrote more than 14,000 letters. This was a most interesting and informative visit.
Dickens and Rochester
Though born in Portsmouth, Dickens as a youth lived in Rochester and in later life returned to nearby Gad's Hill Place. Our tour, with a guide dressed as a Dickensian character, led us round the many historic buildings in the centre that are mentioned, barely disguised, in his novels. As each new site was reached, a relevant passage was read, and the past and present occupancy of the building explained. Our guide also touched on many buildings from the Norman castle to the Georgian period which Rochester has happily retained. An hour and a half served to whet the appetite for a more leisurely return visit to its museums, parks and public buildings.
A most interesting day - with someone else to negotiate the traffic. Many thanks to Caroline for her organisation.
Geoff and Mark Knight
Ipswich: the Changing Face of the Town - this new book by David Kindred arrived the day before the Newsletter went to press. It's a well selected range of old and new photographs making some fascinating comparisons possible. All beautifully produced for £19.95. More about it in next issue.