Charles Robert Darwin
Exploring Charles Darwin’s Shrewsbury
Charles Darwin’s birthplace, Shrewsbury, had a profound influence on his childhood and later development. Tpown guide Stan Sedman shows us the sights and sounds of Darwin’s Shrewsbury.
Many places in Shrewsbury have been associated with the young Charles Darwin, who was born and spent his early life in the town. As the 200th anniversary celebrations of the naturalist’s birth get underway, town guide, Stan Sedman takes us on a guided tour of the places most associated with Darwin.
In 1787, Dr Robert Darwin arrived in Shrewsbury to set up in practice as a doctor. He married his cousin, Susannah Wedgwood and they first lived in the Crescent on Town Walls.
In 1800 Dr Robert Darwin built a house on a piece of waste ground overlooking the River Severn and called it the Mount. Stan believes young Charles Darwin, who was born at the house, catalogued what was planted in the garden: “This is the first example we have got of Charles actually making records.
“The records of the garden were meticulous. He could tell you how many peony flowers were on each plant from one year to the next.”
The Frankwell area was familiar to the Darwin family. Charles Darwin’s sister, Caroline was married to Josiah Wedgwood III at St George’s Church in the first wedding ceremony held in the building which was completed in 1832.
The Darwin family’s coachman lived in Frankwell and became a cowman after the death of Dr Robert Darwin.
The Bellstone, a glacial boulder in the the Morris Hall yard off Barker Street, brought out Darwin’s interest in Geology. It was shown to the young Darwin by a local naturalist.
Darwin’s first school
The tour moves on to 13 Claremont Hill where Darwin went to school at the age of eight. It was run by the Rev William Casey, a Unitarian Minister.
Stan said one of Darwin’s clearest memories of that time was the burial of a soldier in the graveyard behind the school, but he remembered little about his mother. Darwin wrote: “My mother died in July 1817 when I was a little over eight years old and it is odd that I can remember hardly anything about her except her deathbed, her black velvet gown and her curiously constructed worktable.
St Chad’s Church
It was at St Chad’s Church that Charles Darwin was christened, but he did not attend services because his mother was a Unitarian. Stan explained that Darwin would have been unable to attend university if he had not been baptised into the Church of England.
From the church, Stan moves on to the Lion Hotel on Wyle Cop. It was a famous staging inn on the main Holyhead to London road and was where Darwin waited for the coach that was to take him south to join his ship The Beagle and begin the travels that inspired him to write his controversial book On the Origin of Species.
The expedition was meant to last two years, actually took just less than five years. Stan said Darwin’s father had been against his son leaving, but was persuaded by his brother to relent and let Charles go.
Shrewsbury’s present library building was the original Shrewsbury School which was granted a royal charter in 1552 and finally completed in 1630. Darwin was a pupil there 1818-1825, but was not happy, describing his time at the school as “simply a blank.”
Darwin himself said he was an average pupil and wrote: “To my deep mortification my father once said to me, ‘you care for nothing but shooting, dogs and rat catching and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family’.”
Darwin’s statue stands outside the Library. It was unveiled on 10 August 1894 by Lord Kenyon of Pradoe and cost £1,086 9s 6d.
Stan told of a huge gale in Shrewsbury in 1894: “The spire of St Mary’s Church fell in. The vicar at the time said it was ‘the wrath of God’ because they were putting up a statue to Darwin”.
From Shrewsbury School, Darwin went on to study medicine at Edinburgh but did not like it. He went to Cambridge intending to go into the church but that did not suit him either. The rest, as they say, is history.