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The House on The Mount
06 Apr 2021
by Stan Sedman

The House on the Mount

The front facade of Mount House

Local history expert and town guide Stan Sedman tells the history of Mount House – the birthplace of Charles Darwin.

It was Charles’ father Dr Robert Darwin, a respected physician and wealthy landowner, who had Mount House built in 1797.

When Robert married, aged 30, he was already a man of significant status in Shrewsbury. As physician at Salop Infirmary, a post he held for 42 years, and with an exceptional income of £1,180 after just five years in practice here and investments all over town (including the Flax Mill and the new St Chad’s), he was financially secure.

But with the marriage to Susannah, daughter of Josiah Wedgwood, in April 1796, came an inheritance and marriage settlement of £25,000.

They began married life in Shrewsbury’s Crescent, but had plans for something grander. There was no space left within the loop to build a grand house so they looked elsewhere and were drawn to an area above the suburb of Frankwell, beyond the new Welsh Bridge, in an area called the Mount.

The plot of over seven acres had beautiful views of the old town and also to the North across the river. Its situation meant the prevailing winds blew away the smoke and smells from the tanneries, workshops and foundries.

The house was most likely built by the Darwins’ friend John Hiram Haycock. They originally chose the name The Mount House, a statement that this was the most important house in the area. It later became known as The Mount.

The house has been described as ‘an uninspiring three-storey Georgian house of red brick, square, substantial and ugly’. It did have great views, however, and was well hidden from the Town side.

The gardens were particularly inspiring with greenhouses, orchard, hot houses and walks – it was considered an honour to be invited to walk in them on a Sunday afternoon.

When asked why he had built such a grand house Dr Darwin said “Had I built a small one nobody would have enquired about me and would not suppose a person of eminence could live in such a one. But now I intend my house and my name shall introduce me and pay for itself.”

 

The earliest picture known of Darwin - a chalk drawing of Charles, aged six, and his sister Catherine, by Ellen Sharples (1816)

The earliest picture known of Charles Darwin aged 6 with his sister Catherine by Ellen Sharples (1816)

FAMILY LIFE

Charles Robert Waring, born 12 February 1809, was the fifth of six children and was educated at home until the age of eight, discovering nature through his explorations around The Mount.

In his autobiography he wrote that by the time he left for day school, his taste for natural history, and more especially for collecting, was well developed.

He would even record the precise number of flowers on the peonies in the garden and spent much time with Abberley the gardener. When on the Beagle he wrote to his sister: “I often think of the garden at home as a Paradise on a fine summer’s evening, when the birds are singing, how I should like to appear like a Ghost amongst you.”

 

THE END OF AN ERA

The Darwins' mounting block

The Darwins' mounting block outside the house on The Mount, Shrewsbury

After the death of Darwin’s sister Susan in 1866 The Mount was put up for sale and in 1867, was bought by Henry Lowe, a barge owner and wharf owner from Bridge Street, for £3,450. The property was let to a variety of people until 1884 when the house (excluding Doctor’s Field and servant’s house) was sold to the banker John Spencer Phillips for £3,000.

In 1919, it was bought by Thomas Balfour, who then split the property in two, selling the house and immediate buildings and land to the Post Master General for £5,000 and the lower gardens to James Kent Morris for £1,200. Morris intended to use it for the leisure pursuits of his staff, but his enthusiasm faded and in 1933, he developed the site for housing.

He had intended to live in No 9 Darwin Gardens and included in the land the riverbank walk now owned by the Shropshire Wildlife Trust.

Charles’ life had moved on, away from Shrewsbury, to London and far greater things – via a little old boat called The Beagle. You might have heard of it?

 

Blog author Stan Sedman in action - giving one of his brilliant Darwin tours of Shrewsbury

Blog author Stan Sedman giving one of his Darwin tours of Shrewsbury

The best view in Shrewsbury? The Darwins enjoyed fine views over town and beyond from the upstairs rooms of Mount House

The view from Mount House