It's fair to say that when, in 1842, the eminent evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and his wife Emma first visited Down House, then in Kent although it was later incorporated into greater London, they weren't over-impressed. They described it as far too close to a neighbouring property, neither new nor old (in fact it probably dated from the 17th century) and frankly ugly. But they were tired of both living in London and house-hunting, and at £2,200 (roughly equivalent to around £200,000 in 2019) it was cheap. And at least there was some decent scenery not too far away.

They moved in later that year and set to renovating and improving the property. It was extended and the surrounding lane was lowered. Darwin oversaw the planting of trees, and even a greenhouse to tend the orchids that formed the basis of some of his research. However, it is worth noting that his mind was not always on his scientific research, and he also installed a tennis court, a billiard room, and a sandpit for his children.

He died at Down in 1882, but the family continued to live there until 1897. A subsequent owner was the first man in the village to own a motor-car!

From 1907-1922 it was a girls' school, and one of its alumnae, the author Elizabeth Bowen, recalled their scant regard for its historic and scientific significance.

The house is now open to the public at certain times, but surprisingly its bid for World Heritage Status was unsuccessful.

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