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New Book & Exhibition to Explore Shrewsbury Darwin Connection
02 Dec 2022

A new book and accompanying exhibition are set to delve deeper into Charles Darwin's childhood experiences in Shrewsbury - 'Charles Darwin in Shrewsbury' by Jon Fraser King, is due out on Jan 15th, 2023. 

Writer and broadcaster Jon Fraser King is set to publish a new book about Charles Darwin's childhood years in Shrewsbury, based on careful research including autobiographical writings and letters to his schoolfriends.

Called 'Charles Darwin in Shrewsbury - The Making of a Marvellous Mind' it tells the story of Darwin's connection with our town. Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery will be mounting an exhibition based on Jon's book from January 14 to March 16, 2023 to coincide with the DarwIN Shrewsbury Festival next year (February 5 -12). 

Darwin was born in Shrewsbury in a grand, Georgian house on The Mount (pictured below) on February 12, 1809, the son of a prosperous local doctor and the fifth of six siblings. He attended the Unitarian chapel on The High Street, together with his mother, and attended its day school as a young boy.

The Mount House where Darwin was born

He was sent to Shrewsbury School as a boarder from 1818, after the death of his mother, before studying at Edinburgh University as an apprentice doctor - a course for which he was ill-suited - and then Cambridge University, to study for a Bachelor of Arts degree.However, Darwin preferred beetle-collecting and natural history, managing to get a self-funded place on the HMS Beagle - and from there, we all know the story of how he became possibly the world's most famous naturalist - publishing his ground-breaking theories of evolution. 

Jon Fraser King, a former broadcaster and producer in BBC Local Radio, now semi-retired from his work in local government communications, is well known for his excellent talks about Darwin. He founded the town's Shrewsbury Darwin Festival in 2003, going on to direct the bicentennial celebrations in 2009. He is well placed to tell this story. 

Book Jacket Image

He 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. Darwin was born and went to school in Shrewsbury and the town was the home of his family until he moved away as a young man.

"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." 

In ‘Charles Darwin in Shrewsbury’, the reader is taken through Darwin’s early history, his great adventure on The Beagle and finally to the realisation of his big idea. Alongside this history, the author takes the reader on a guided tour around the town, highlighting the landmarks associated with Darwin. The book places Darwin’s early years in the context of the town and the wider landscape, providing a fresh insight into the naturalist’s personal and intellectual development. It is both a pocket biography and a town guide, a companion for pilgrims to the town and a fascinating insight into the making of a marvellous mind.

Jon includes Darwin's own words from autobiographical fragments from 1838 and from Darwin's later autobiography written in May 1876. He has also found The University of Cambridge Darwin Correspondence Project an invaluable resource.

"I would like to thank Shrewsbury School for allowing me access to their Darwin Archive which allowed me to include extracts from letters from Darwin to his schoolfriend, Charles Whitley," he adds. 

'Charles Darwin in Shrewsbury - The Making of a Marvellous Mind' is set to be published by Amberley Publishing (Jan 15th, 2023) and is available to preorder (£14.39) via Jon's website speakingofdarwin.uk