Previously unseen Victorian images of Darwin House on The Mount (Darwin's birthplace) have now been digitised after being found in council archives. Image credits: Shropshire Council/Shropshire Archives
An exhibition of newly discovered documents is now on display at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery as part of the DarwIN Shrewsbury Festival - and includes some wonderful old pictures showing Charles Darwin's former family home on The Mount, dating from the late Victorian period.
The faded sepia images have only recently come to light after they were found in a series of old family photo albums belonging to the Corbet family of Shropshire, held at Shropshire Archives.
Wealthy banker and former Chair of Lloyds Bank John Spencer Phillips bought the former seven-acre Darwin estate in 1884 (for £3,000!). His daughter Kathleen Phillips married Hugh Dryden Corbet - hence the connection to the Corbet family.
The images, which have now been digitised, show the house whilst it was still in use as a grand family residence, as it would have been when the Darwins owned it; it was Charles' father Dr Robert Darwin who had the house built on the seven acre plot above the River Severn in 1797. Charles was born there on February 12th, 1809, the fifth of six children and it remained in the Darwin family until 1866.
There are pictures of the lost gardens, including a rambling rose garden, which were created by the Darwins in the early 1800s, together with images of the stables, an impressive vinery and a greenhouse located in the grounds. Interior images depict the entrance hall with its grand ‘floating’ stairway and an adjacent room believed to have been the consulting room of Dr Robert Darwin, Charles’ father.
A more informal side of life at Darwin House circa 1900 is also shown, with scenes of picnics in the garden, riding bicycles and feeding the ducks. Additionally, there are many examples of fine, well-groomed horses in the courtyard – reflecting John Spencer Phillips’ keen interest in horsemanship and ‘four in hand’ carriage driving.
Shropshire Council project officer John Hughes uncovered the images as part of his research into Darwin House, formerly known as 'The Mount'.
He said: "I suspect that these wonderful, faded sepia images have probably not been seen in living memory, so this is an absolutely incredible find and fills in many of the missing gaps we have been searching for in the course of our research. They will certainly go a long way in helping to further understand the complex history of one of the town’s most significant buildings.
“I am sure some of the images will be of particular interest to the residents of Darwin Gardens, whose properties were built over the Darwin’s large kitchen garden and flower gardens in the 1930s.”
Robert Macey, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member for culture and digital, added, "Shropshire Archives holds documents and photographs that are truly priceless when it comes to recording our county’s rich history. I am delighted that, having been rediscovered, the images in the albums have been digitised and preserved for posterity.”