Saturday, 20 August 2016

Valence House Museum

Beacontree Avenue
Dagenham RM8 3HT

Thursday 18 August 2016
Linda and I know that the local museums of the varying boroughs are an important part of our project, and with the Museum of Barking and Dagenham at Valence House, we felt we had found a winner.

From the moment we walked round behind the library, and saw the rusted Ford motor (a Capri, we thought) it seemed probable that we were going to get local history with a slight touch of wry humour.

We thought we would save the attractive looking gardens for later, and so, having used the facilities in the reception area, and met the first of several charming and friendly staff, we went through the red door in the Manor House. The signage throughout is clear and crisp, and we headed first for the oak panelled Great Parlour.

This contains two interesting objects, one modernish and one extremely ancient: an apt introduction to this excellent museum. The 1877 Bechstein grand piano came to the borough in the 1930s, when the Chief Librarian purchased a piano for every library under his control, on the grounds that books were not the only cultural items which should be made available to the people. How the concept of public service (and spending!) has changed. In the centre of the room stands a wooden idol, found in Dagenham Marshes, and labelled as 'older than Stonehenge'.

This made a good introduction to the next area, which was about archeology, and included opportunities to see what archeologists do, as well as various items discovered. Every pot and shard has its provenance clearly labelled, so we could see what rich trade came up the rivers to settlements round here in ancient times. We weren't sure why the children's signage featured rather a jolly whale, but we learned later - as you will if you read on.

The next section was about the great Abbey of Barking, founded by St Erkenward, the Bishop of London, in the 7th century for his sister, St Ethelburga.  She was the first of a series of educated and influential women. The most interesting, we thought, was Mary Becket, who was appointed Abbess by Henry II as an apology for the murder of her brother. This kind of royal influence continued to show to the end: the convent was not dissolved till 1539 (most of the wealthy houses fell to the greed of Henry VIII between 1536 and 1538) and the nuns were all awarded generous pensions.  The artefacts were limited, but the signage and illustrations excellent, including a splendid map showing the Abbeys holdings as recorded in Domesday Book in 1087.

The stairs up to the first floor, which are modern, are decorated with pictures of local heroes, as well as a typical family from the Becontree estate, about which we were about to learn, and the first thing we came to was a quiz about sporting and otherwise famouis sons and daughters of the borough, with a clue, and then a door to open to find the answer: not only Bobby Moore, but Alf Ramsey, Trevor Brooking, John Terry and, if you prefer the oval ball, Jason Leonard.  Other famous people include the aircraft designer Handley Page, the singer Anne Shelton and (apparently) the early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Sandie Shaw. Dudley Moore, and the Tremeloes (listen here!) are all from the area. So was the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry. Oh, and this is Margaret Hodge's Constituency, too.

There was also a case about the Dagenham Girl Pipers, who apparently played for Hitler when on a visit to Germany in 1937. Gandhi chose to stay in the area ('among the poor,' as he said) and so there is a swadesh cotton spinning wheel of the kind he used.

Next we came to a brief 'community' section, with photographs of rites of passage ceremonies from some of the different communities of the borough, but we have seen such things in other local museums and so were keen to get back to the History. 

The reason the Manor House is borough property is that the estate was compulsorily purchased in the 1920s, to build 27,000 new homes: this is one of the few areas which even attempted to fulfil the pledge to build 'homes for heroes'.  The Becontree Estate was internationally renowned, and people were proud to live there, and to accept the fierce rules which governed tenancies. Of course, thanks to Mrs Thatcher, these properties are no longer publicly owned or available to the deserving of the area, being mostly buy-to-let.  This is according to a lovely member of the Museum's staff with whom we had an interesting conversation. The Museum has a mock-up Becontree kitchen:  running water, Befast sink, electric cooker, mincing machine and all, as well as a sitting room, complete with rag rug, antimacassar and fire screen.  These two cases were backed up by examples of other domestic gadgets.

A section about health told us that Malaria was a problem in this marshy area till the 19th century , but also that this was the home of  May and Baker, the pharmaceutical company whose product probably saved Winston Churchill's life during his pneumonia in 1942.  Since the area also had a major asbestos plant, the health news was not all good.  As the industries and population grew, so did pollution, and apparently fat skimmed from the sewage laden river was used to lubricate machinery.

Next we came to a room about Barking and Dagenham's waterside industries:  the huge fishing fleet and innovative methods of the 'short blue fleet' whose fishing boats stayed at sea for weeks at a time in the 1820s, a kind of precurser of modern factory methods of trawling.  Also the shipbuilding industry:  it was here that the Dreadnought HMS Thunderer was built in 1911. Jute was also manufactured hereabouts, and there was information about the great Ford works.

As we moved on, our friendly guide told us not to miss some 16th century wall paintings, which were uncovered during renovations a few years ago.  They are protected behind glass, so we do not have a picture of them.  Suffice it to say that there are rather grotesque and, we thought, designed to embellish a male area of the Manor. We were also shown a panel with ancient gorse behind it, designed to discourage rats and mice.

Of course the industrialisation of the area is a fairly recent phenomenon, and there was some interesting information about rural life, with a model of Dagenham Parish before the 19th century changed it all.

This time we went down the handsome main staircase, to see a collection of portraits belonging to the Fanshawe family, who come from the area but not this house, as well as a small section of wattle and daub wall. They also have a room which was showing a loop of old Pathe newsreels, including a few minutes of children in 1953, gorging on chocolate because sweet rationing had ended, and some film of the return of the triumphant World Cup team of 1966.

The special exhibition space has a display about the Crimean War, based on the letters home of one of the Fanshawe family. 

Finally we came to a room which explained the reason for the children's 'whale' signage: some huge whale bones were found in the river and are displayed here, looking like great beams of blackened wood.  And of course. the whaling industry hereabouts produced everything from 'corsets to candles,' examples of both being on display.

By now, we felt we had filled our brains, so we went for a restorative stroll through the attractive garden, before returning westwards via the number 62 bus and the District line.

We had really enjoyed this excellent museum. 

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Imperial War Museum PART 2

Lambeth Road SE1 6HZ
Thursday August 11 2016

This is one of the Museums where we have privileged access but also one where we felt we were far from completing  (if one ever can) the five floors of exhibits and galleries.  Today’s visit included a return trip to a special exhibition and an overview of the pretty crowded World War 1 gallery, comprising 14 sections. As photography was forbidden in the special exhibition and there were low levels of lighting in the second our photos are poor. Apologies.

'Real to Reel'  has been put together to  look at 100  years of war films , the starting point being the first ever war documentary The Battle of the Somme filmed mainly from the point of view of an ‘embedded’ photographer, running quite  few risks but  with some staged episodes. The film was seen by millions in the UK and overseas with the audience both keen to identify their loved ones and anxious at the fatalities. This key film included many  of the elements of a ‘war movie’ which are later explored and illustrated: shocking and traumatic scenes, acts of bravery ( see here for an exploration of the man carrying  his wounded, later to die, comrade out of the trench  and directorial vision, to which you might add ‘propaganda.
While my more simplistic mind might have managed more easily a chronological canter through war films this thematic approach is more thought provoking.

If Geoffrey Malins  was the auteur behind Battle of the Somme,  there was no greater auteur in the war film genre than Stanley Kubrick and his work is well illustrated with excerpts from Full Metal Jacket, Paths of Glory, and for me the unforgettable, sign-up-here-for-CND Dr. Strangelove. Full Metal Jacket was based in part on Michael Herr’s writings and experiences and the ‘dope sheets’ are there to see also. Films made more specifically for propaganda purposes (commissioned by the government of the day) included Listen to Britain and Dig for Victory, key pieces in the British documentary tradition.

Inevitably there is a long section devoted to what you might call ‘star vehicles’ and this is certainly quite a thrilling point for anyone star-struck: a chance to inspect items of costume worn by David Niven and Marlene Dietrich and this continues through to the modern day with Tom Hanks’ uniform from Saving Private Ryan, Liam Neeson’s suit from Schindler’s List and the tommy’s uniform from Atonement. There are more…

The exhibition also makes the valid difference between a star vehicle – so a well-known box office draw acting as an ‘ordinary/brave/conflicted’ war hero – and often unknown actors being cast to play ‘real-life’ heroes: thus we have the almost unknown Peter O’Toole cast as Lawrence of Arabia (too tall, too handsome but do we care?) and Virginia McKenna as the doomed spy Violette Szabo…

And the exhibition reminds us this was not the first film about Lawrence with Lowell Thomas’s With Lawrence in Arabia (1919) precursing and ?inspiring David Lean. Some actors get cast as villains of course , none more often portrayed than German Commandants or Hitler himself, with his famous rant from Downfall  now better known as a YouTube meme.
In the UK the Fifties and Sixties saw a slew of ‘war films’ usually aired on Sunday PM so you could snooze through the boring bits after your Sunday roast and these kind of get embedded in the collective consciousness. The exhibition is also very clear in pointing out that after successful war films their images become the abiding ones of that particular conflict – think of the Dam Busters, the D-Day landings both from The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan, or the Dunkirk evacuation from Atonement.  

Oscar-wining films get their own spot ranging from the very early Wings to the more recent Hurt Locker; interestingly many of these films depict specialist areas of warfare/defence  and personnel in extreme circumstances.

The biggest thrill for me, and quite unexpected. was to see the stolen German motorbike that Steve McQueen rode so memorably in The Great Escape, which really did make my heart beat faster…
We could have lingered longer but if you are any kind of film fan (and if you are not you would have skipped this whole section)  give this exhibition your time (and your money – it costs)  – above all it shows that war films while containing the ‘big bangs’  are about  a  lot more.

According to the Project rules we were supposed to review the substantive collections only so before we left today we did spend some time back on the 1st floor with the extended and extensive World War I exhibition which opened in time for the centenary commemorations in 2014.  

This is most impressive and very well attended with significant numbers of overseas visitors.  The 14 sections are arranged both chronologically (causes, course, key battles, global rather than just European conflict) and thematic – Allies/ Enemies/ Life at the Home Front the technology of war and there are a wealth of exhibits including uniforms galore, shells and armour and artillery,  and the growth in hardware and technology. Individual campaigns are examined in detail – the Somme. Verdun, Gallipoli, Jutland and their immediate and long term impact analysed. The consequences of the war both economic, political social and psychological are all  included and what impressed us was that balanced combination of objects/ relevant film and photographs, objects and many quotes not just from Generals justifying themselves but from the diaries and letters of army ordinary serving soldiers, sailors and fewer airmen. These different ways of both personalising  the conflict and putting it into perspective makes for a very effective experience and one that should not be missed.

If this takes a couple of hours to visit think what the planned galleries for the longer, more intense and probably better recorded World War 2 will bring??

Monday, 8 August 2016

575 Wandsworth Road


Saturday 6 August 2016

Visiting 575 Wandsworth Road requires booking and, as only 6 people are admitted per tour, we need to thank Roger for the meticulous advance planning.  The place does not look like the stereotypical National Trust property, nor is it flagged by brown signs. But once you get to the front garden, there is evidence that you have reached the right place, and it is clear that you must wait to be admitted.  So we did, and as the 13.30 slot approached, so did a couple of guides and Laura, who checked us in and would have taken our money had we not been NT members. The other two people who had booked for our tour did not appear, so we effectively had a private view.  Photography is not permitted inside the house, but you will find a plethora of pictures here.
From the moment we entered (by the way, you start in the house next door where there are lockers to leave your bags) we were completely amazed. We were taken downstairs to the kitchen, where we were given a fascinating account of the house and its artist-owner. Then we changed into slipper socks, to protect the painted floors, and explored the seven rooms.

Khadambi Asalache was born in Kenya, and qualified there as an architect, before coming to Europe and becoming a noted novelist and poet.  During the 1970s he became a civil servant, and this small house suited him well, as it is on the 87 (formerly 77a) bus route which dropped him at the Treasury in about 20 minutes. The house, dating from 1819, was
in a parlous state when he bought it, and some squatters (or 'dossers' as he called them) had to be removed, together with the chickens, a pig and a horse which they kept in the tiny back garden. When the basement kitchen's damp patch became unsightly, he covered it with some floor boards rescued from a skip, and then embellished the patch with fretwork of his own design. From 1986 to 2005 he decorated every wall, ceiling and floor with fretwork or painting, mostly using retrieved wood, which meant that there was little risk of warping. The basement, bathroom, kitchen and dining area; the two sitting rooms and the two bedrooms, are all covered with his work. Shelves of beautiful tracery house his collections of - well - all sorts of things: inkwells; Victorian plates with a hot water base for keeping food warm; lustreware of all kinds; postcards.  His partner's small dogs were treated to a tiny kennel by the bed, with a step up to help them in. But he also painted a range of scenes at dogs' eye level so they would not feel left out.

Some of his carving is Moorish in inspiration, some African, some Ottoman. In addition, some dancers had clearly come from the classical ballet, and some from Matisse. There were animals of all kinds, and we could have spent hours exploring every room.  The thought of all this entrancing woodwork lit by candles was somewhat worrying, but the artist loved to entertain, and candlelight would have enhanced the magic of his work.

When he died in 2006, leaving the house to the National Trust, the Trust was at first dubious: the amount of conservation needed, in a damp house on a busy main road, was daunting, and the need to limit numbers of visitors meant that it would never 'pay its way'. But happily for us, they decided to go ahead, and the restoration and conservation is ongoing. The garden is due to get a replacement for the mimosa tree which was threatening the foundations of the house.

Do go! Even with the Overground not working (grr) we found it easy to reach and worth every minute of the time we spent there.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Handel & Hendrix in London

25 Brook Street
Monday July  25 2016

Today’s expedition could not be further from the gentle hills of North Kent , where we were last week, as Brook Street is pretty much in the heart of the West End with quick access to Oxford Street, Regent Street and Mayfair. Crossrail was disturbing the relative peace of these back streets but it is very tranquil inside the pair of Georgian town houses which combine to make the
Handel & Hendrix in London Museum. 

The Museum has only recently re-opened in this configuration – essentially Handel lived at Number 25 with adjacent rooms in 23 used for exhibition and performance space while Hendrix lived on the top two floors of 23 with the exhibition and film of his life in London taking up the top floors of 25 which we presume was either let by Handel or used by his servants .

Both houses are classic Georgian town houses – such a good design for a busy metropolis where ground space is limited so while the footprint is modest both houses run to five floors.

The tour starts on the first floor – Handel moved in here in 1723, a German citizen (immigrant or economic migrant?) who had followed his Hanoverian King to England and been rewarded with being given charge of music at the Chapel Royal (located in St James’ Palace) – additionally he was asked to tutor the three daughters of the King ,  possibly a less joyful job as it seems only one of them was remotely musical.   As a ‘foreigner’ he was not allowed to buy or have a mortgage though he did take English citizenship in his Forties. The first room is known as the Composition Room and though bare bar a few chairs and an organ is well illustrated with prints and pictures of Handel’s contemporaries and the many musicians he knew, employed, encouraged or otherwise would have known. By the time Handel had moved here, he had already achieved success with a variety of compositions , most memorably the  Water Music.

During his many years living in this house he combined continuing to compose – there are strings of operas based on Roman and other classical stories – with directing an opera company. This can never have been an easy job –set aside the rivalries and budgeting he contended with diva sopranos who asked him to re-write parts to suit their ‘changing voice’ with variable critical responses and a near riot in the Footmen’s Gallery – we presumed the footmen various sat up in the gallery ready to accompany their downstairs lords home, a slight reversal of ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’. As well as the prints and portraits there are selected excerpts from contemporary commentators, some of them less than flattering about the principal performers.  The back room on this floor offers a range of costumes for dressing up and ‘photo shoots’ but only if you are of a smaller size!

The ‘Music Room’ which has the maximum light from the three windows had some wind instruments , which I thought formed part of the display – however soon four musicians appeared and having sorted their presumably jumbled pieces started rehearsing thus reprising the original function of this room.

Like Handel’s musicians and contemporaries coming from all over Europe there is text available in all the most common languages for today’s visitors. Still on Floor 1 but crossing over to Number 23 two equally large rooms have been designated an Exhibition Space. Certainly spacious and with panels of text rather than artefacts (there is some actual music) this room currently gives context to Handel’s 1723 by informing of what else was happening in London and the country. For example, following the Workhouse Act of 1723 subsequent ‘enabling’ legislation allowed individual parishes to implement a workhouse system without recourse to parliament. Knatchbull’s Act of 1723 allowed parishes to stipulate that those who required relief had to go into the workhouse. Prints show the plan for the Mayfair Workhouse, long since demolished. It seems incredible to think that this current hotspot of prime real estate once had a designated building for the relief of the Parish poor, but this particular legislation also specified that those seeking relief would be obliged to work . This whole concept of the working poor and relief of poverty still pervades current thinking and policies… Another notable piece of 1723 legislation was reactive, as so much law making is, this time to curb and punish what had been a proliferation of ‘poaching’.  As Henry Fielding refers to poachers in his 1749 novel ‘Tom Jones’ one can only surmise that ‘The Black Act’ of 1723 was not altogether successful  as is often the case with clandestine crimes and criminals.

The exhibition is not all about the music then!

Up on the second  floor is a reconstruction of Handel’s bedroom with adjacent dressing room – although the house already benefitted from water indoors (as opposed to the parish pump, always a good breeding ground for infection) the flush toilet was still some years off so this would have doubled as ‘bathroom’ too. The display tells us that in his later years Handel had his servant bed down next door rather than upstairs. Though Handel had a long and busy professional work record little seems known of his private life – other than he was a ‘private’ man and never seemed to have had any long-term relationships. In later life he combined direction with philanthropic work and famously wrote his ‘Messiah’ Oratorio for the benefit of  the Foundling Museum where much of the original Handel memorabilia  are lodged.  He died here in 1759.
Continuing up the stairs (which do get narrower/steeper as you climb) you then arrive at the Hendrix Exhibition , where there is far more to read and absorb, though poor old Jimi died at 27. The reason of course is that even before video and social media many of this musician’s performances are recorded on film and there are several transcripts of interviews with him, newspaper, magazine and fan articles.  His short life is covered in considerably greater detail than Handel’s much longer one.
Jimi was of course another ‘foreigner’, born in Seattle.  He took up the guitar at a very early age – his father thought being left-handed was the ‘devil’s work’ so Jimi learnt to play a right handed guitar left –handed which apparently contributed a) to his unique sound and b) to his habit of holding/playing  his guitar in all sorts of strange positions. He was of course a virtuoso guitarist and once heard, never forgotten but underneath the undoubted talent lay years of hard graft. He fell out of school and after a minor misdemeanour into the 101st Airborne regiment then out of the army after a parachute malfunction, but there followed years of playing in a variety of ‘backing groups’ on what was known as the Chittlin’ Circuit – music tours for Black audiences in what was (still) segregated America. He loved to improvise even then and there is a wonderful story that, exasperated by his maverick playing  his then band /group leader Burke traded him to Otis Redding  for two horn players just to get some peace. When Keith Richard’s then girlfriend heard him play in New York she insisted on bringing him to the UK, and the rest, as they say, is history. Initially he formed part of the Jimi Hendrix Experience with two white English musicians but they were discarded on the way…. The exhibition focuses on his few months living at Number 23 Brook Street. Prior to moving here he had ‘sofa-surfed’ around Soho as his all-night playing did not go down well with neighbours.  The ever grounded Ringo Starr stood guarantor for the small flat/ rooms rented here.  There were no other live-in tenants below, just an employment bureau and small café. The bath and kitchen were even further upstairs presumably not now accessible for health and safety reasons so what you see, admirably reconstructed, is the bed-sitting room and next door crash pad now set out as the Record Room.

The latter is lined with vinyl and there is a careful listing of all the LPs that he owned with his and general comments where appropriate, showing his influences before and those he influenced in turn and some records were well and truly used. Like most jobbing musicians Jimi was a ‘night-owl’: concerts and performances were often followed by jamming sessions when his friends crashed here. It was also his ‘office’ and there is ample evidence of the number of interviews which took place here, when he finally woke up PM. It was from these pieces and their accompanying photos that the museum was able to reconstruct the main room. They were also greatly helped in this by his then girlfriend Kathy Etchingham who was with him throughout his time at Brook Street. It was a ‘first own home’ for both of them but buying the carpet and curtains from John Lewis looks very ‘mainstream’ and not very ‘rock n’roll’  until you realize ( as we did) that it is a five minute walk away. They were of course aware that Handel had preceded them as his Blue Plaque was already up next door, and this added to the attraction. The tidy room is very atmospheric with its combination of old and new fabrics and what was modern then – a good record player and speakers and electric fire   now looking very period after nearly 50 years… the small heater brought back memories (not good) of those months of freezing pre central heating.

That just about brings the tour to an end – actually the two great musicians though very different and separated by 200 years – one a steady establishment figure , the other a unique performer lost to the  darker side of the Sixties rock’n’roll life-style – but both living on, of course in their music, but also in these houses , to give enjoyment to successive generations. 

Friday, 22 July 2016

Down House

Luxstead Road
Downe   BR 6 JT

Tuesday July 2016

Today was probably our fifth visit to Down House, the home of Charles Darwin, but if there is a Project to complete – needs must.  There is a single decker bus ( 146 )  that does the round journey to and from Bromley in under an hour but having other errands to perform we came by car. Jo is away in France and doubtless enjoying the same sunny and high temperatures as the UK today. Having said that, by the time you snake your way down the lanes to the village of Downe the air is quite fresh and there was a slight breeze – appearances to the contrary Darwin chose the location for its comparative seclusion but still accessible to London and he and Emma chose the  house to suit their growing family with space to spare for the science rather than for its beauty.  

The property is managed by English Heritage  and if we have a criticism it is that the only picnic spot offered was across the road, through a brambly stile and then the only option to sit on the ground – today of course it was dry and doable but I think a few picnic tables or at least a bench or two would not come amiss??

Back to the House – it has 5 ‘show rooms’ plus an upstairs  suite of exhibition rooms outlining  Darwin’s family tree , life and of course the research and findings which made him one of the key 19th20th Century influential thinkers (Freud, Marx and Einstein being the others and only Freud has a visitable house in London) . I am not going to attempt to summarise either the Origin of Species or the survival of the fittest which the displays do far better. Charles’ life pre Down House is also illustrated in detail including a hologram model of the cabin he shared with Fitzroy aboard the 'Beagle' and letters he sent ( he was a great letter writer  and made friends with the postman who collected and delivered post several times a day.)  There are sketches too he made of different finch types,  tortoise s told apart by their different shells,  pigeon types (he  joined the local pigeon  fancier club)  and you can easily infer that he had been thinking ‘evolutionary’ type thoughts long before he published. In fact the first publication date was precipitated by other thinkers and scientists coming to similar conclusions about how species evolved.

Upstairs rooms include a hands-on education room, reading room and the more recently opened Darwins’ bedroom. The display rooms were formerly those of the various children. Both Charles and Emma came from large families and were in fact cousins and part of the Wedgwood  (as in pottery) dynasty. Their bedroom has an adjacent dressing room now supplied with the obligatory garments for ‘dressing up’ in period costume. The room has several quite religious drawings and texts to remind you that Darwin was a believer and was at times quite conflicted by the controversial impact of his scientific conclusions. The room is also supplied with different books that the Darwins liked to read to each other. Somewhat strangely this was the only room where photography is permitted.

Downstairs there are four main reception rooms with hall and kitchen being used for administration and café, as you might expect. Both sitting and dining rooms have generous bay windows that look out onto the garden and are furnished in conventional Victorian style Though Darwin had ample space elsewhere for his experiments ( the Wormery and lab.  in the garden, his study /laboratory across the corridor) that did not stop him bringing the worms into the sitting room which was usually seen as Emma’s province where  she could embroider and read so she must have been very tolerant as the specimens being observed invariably escaped ...

The  cupboard by the back door is complete with croquet set and other games and Darwin was known to be quite an indulgent father by Victorian standards allowing the children to toboggan  down the stairs on a tin tray, which must have been incredibly noisy. 

The rooms to the front of the house are in fact smaller and darker and are retained much as they were – there is a large Billiard Room now decorated with newspaper cuttings and cartoons of the time which show the again the furore the publication of his ideas caused. It may seem that choosing to live in the Kent countryside made Darwin look reclusive but in fact he did receive visitors, often other scientists, and was in constant correspondence with the rest of the world.

The most evocative room, and the one which makes the whole visit really come alive, is his study/ workroom with tables of fossils and other bits, microscopes, slides, samples, books, jars and stacks of index boxes and cards to match. There is a heavy and large armchair on castors which enabled Darwin to ‘scoot’ between his various tables and desks within the room. After his return from the Beagle voyages he never felt really well again and though modern thinking is not sure whether this was a form of hypochondria or whether he had picked up some long lasting tropical bug so in his later years Darwin  had a ‘commode’ put in the corner of this his main workroom.

On such a lovely day it was a joy to be in the garden; in front of the house there are lawns and formal beds and along the path a generous flower border and the garden tapers with the back third laid to vegetable beds. You are also able to look at the greenhouse with its potting shed where  there is a display hive for bees, quite active today. Darwin of course was also interested in plant and insect species .

Leaving through a small gate near the back wall you can follow the circuit that Darwin named his ‘sand walk’  and where he could take several daily ‘constitutional ‘ walks – using the time alone ( or occasionally accompanied by one of the children) to clear his mind and formulate his theories.  The path does a little loop through some trees and then back to the house with a public footpath running across.
Downe (with an ‘e’) is the local village down the road and the Darwins were part of the small community for the forty years they lived here.

This outing is highly recommended in the summer but you can cower in the house when the weather is less good and the visit offers an excellent combination of atmospheric rooms backed by very clear exposition of the life and works of one of history’s most thorough and  influential thinkers.

(Mulberry Tree)