A Marvellous Mind: The DarwIN Shrewsbury Festival 2023
01 Feb 2023

The 20th DarwIN Shrewsbury Festival takes place this February with visits to Darwin's childhood garden, talks and a special exhibition at Shrewsbury Museum.

The DarwIN Shrewsbury Festival beings this weekend, celebrating the work, life and legacy of Shrewsbury's most famous son Charles Darwin, who was born in a grand house on The Mount in 1809 and attended Shrewsbury School.

There is a special exhibition on at Shrewsbury  Museum & Art Gallery until March 26 , 'Charles Darwin in Shrewsbury - 'The Making of a Marvellous Mind', based on a new book by Darwin expert Jon King. The exhibition focuses on Darwin's upbringing in Shrewsbury, exploring his obsession and fascination with the natural world. Jon's book is based, in part, on autobiographical writings and letters to Charles Darwin's schoolfriends and explores the famous naturalist's connection with our town. Read our interview with the author HERE

The museum is hosting 'Spotlight Talks' about several of Darwin's Companions - young men who shared his interest in the natural world - including Henry Blunt, the son of his father's chemist, botanist William Allport Leighton and the natural scientist and ornithologist Thomas Campbell Eyton who together went on to found Shrewsbury museum.

In all, around 30 individually organised DarwIN Festival events are set to take place around Charles Darwin’s birthday (February 12), including lectures, talks, exhibitions and guided tours. Find all the dates HERE

The House on The Mount where Darwin was born

'Darwin House' on The Mount, where the famous naturalist Charles Darwin was born on February 12th, 1809

A 'Young Darwin' exhibition at Bear Steps Gallery from February 6 - 12 (10am to 4pm), will tell the story of Darwin's formative years in Shrewsbury through to his return from his five year voyage on board HMS Beagle. 

There is a tour of Shrewsbury Library (the former home of Shrewsbury School, which Darwin attended) on February 11, a town tour of 'Darwin's Shrewsbury' (Feb 4) and a rare opportunity to visit Darwin’s childhood garden – taking in the ‘thinking path’ where he took daily exercise whilst working on his ideas about evolution (Feb 8 & 11). Everyone is invited to join a birthday toast at the Bellstone with festival founder and author Jon King (Feb 12 at 12pm). You can also see inside the Unitarian Church in Shrewsbury High Street, (Feb 7 & 9) where Darwin worshipped with his mother. 

Jon said: "Charles Darwin was one of the most influential scientific thinkers of his age and his ideas continue to inform our understanding of the natural world. The story of Shrewsbury’s Darwin is of a youthful, energetic and outdoor-loving figure with a natural curiosity, intrigued by the world he saw around him who evolved into the ideal candidate for naturalist on HMS Beagle." 

The guided tour of Darwin’s birthplace – The Mount (known now as Darwin House) - on February 11, organised by John Hughes, Darwin House Museum Project Manager at Shropshire Council, has sold out. The house is under new ownership and is currently undergoing transformation, having been bought by businessman Glyn Jones in 2021. 

The Darwin Memorial Lecture (Feb 12, Theatre Severn) is by Dr Judy Piesse, a lecturer in English Literature at Liverpool John Moores University and former Shrewsbury resident, and author of the book 'The Ghost in the Garden' which explores the role of the Darwin family garden in seeding Darwin's ideas about the natural world. 

University Centre Shrewsbury is to host an afternoon of environmental talks - the 'Importance of Evolution and Adaption' (Feb 7): Dr Namrata Bhattacharya-Mis of the University of Chester on sustainable futures; Mike Morris of NatureMetrics on using DNA to measure biodiversity; Nick Christoforou of Neo on Survival of the Fittest; Dr Katharine Welsh & Dr Rebecca Collins on turning green practices into a household game and Ali Thomas from Shrewsbury Food Hub on 'Taste Not Waste'. 

A musical talk by historian Ted Maidment 'Charles Darwin’s Family - Vaughan Williams: The Man and His Music' is set to go ahead in the original family dining room in Darwin House on The Mount, accompanied by John Moore on piano and Alex Postlethwaite on violin. Ted will explore the life and music of the composer (1872 - 1958) who was Charles Darwin's great nephew, and there's a chance to visit the room where Darwin was born. 

Archivists Dr Robin Brooke-Smith and Naomi Nicholas will explore Darwin's connection to Shrewsbury School in their talk 'From Shrewsbury Schoolboy to International Scientific Superstar' (Feb 8), showing some rare items from the school's own archive, held in the Moser Library. 

And you can find out 'How Darwin Changed the World', in this free talk by John Rainford FTLS, Trustee of the Lunar Society, at the Unitarian Church on February 18, whilst Andrew Bannerman will talk about Darwin's relationship with his wife Emma (nee Wedgwood) and the death of their daughter Annie in his presentation 'Better than a Dog' on February 21 at St Alkmund's Church.

Mr Hughes said: “Preparations have gone well and we are now eagerly anticipating the DarwIN Shrewsbury Festival’s 20th anniversary. It promises to be a truly memorable occasion with more than 30 individual quality events taking place. I would like to thank all those who have been instrumental in organising the event for their support, the various venues around Shrewsbury who will be hosting events and everyone else who has played a part in ensuring the festival can go ahead.

“The past year has been hugely important for us with the ongoing refurbishment of Darwin House and it will be wonderful to welcome people here for a number of events during the festival."

A full programme of over 30 events throughout the month of February can be found at: 

  • Key DarwIN Festival partners: Shropshire Museums, Shrewsbury School, Shrewsbury BID, Shropshire Wildlife Trust, University Centre Shrewsbury / CREST, Darwin Birthplace Trust, Shrewsbury Civic Society, and the Royal Society of Biology West Midlands.