Erasmus Darwin was the Grandfather of Charles Darwin and a genius in his own right.
He was a larger than life character – a successful Doctor, an accomplished scientist, a noted inventor, a philosopher, a botanist, a celebrated poet and a family man.
This enthralling house is situated in Lichfield, opposite the Cathedral on the Close.
He moved into this house in 1758 building the fine Palladian front onto a medieval house. For 20 years until 1781 this charming house served as his home base.
As a founding member of the Lunar Society (A discussion group and learned society of prominent figures in the Enlightenment, including industrialists, natural philosophers and intellectuals) it was in this house that he received many famous 18th-century personalities, including Josiah Wedgwood, Matthew Boulton, Benjamin Franklin and James Watt.
It is fascinating to think one of the Founding Fathers of the United States once walked around these very floors.
While Darwin lived within this house, he pursued his medical practice and devised numerous inventions, including a vertical axis windmill, a steering mechanism for wheeled vehicles, and a reliable form of a flushing toilet mechanism. It was also the birthplace of numerous inventive schemes as the construction of the Trent and Mersey Canal which was instrumental in the Industrial revolution of Britain.
Darwin was also the most popular poet of the 1790s and turned down an invitation of George III’s to become a physician to the King as he preferred life in Lichfield.
He also wrote his book Zoonomia in this place, which was one of the first texts to mention the idea of evolution. His grandson Charles is known to have read and been influenced by the ideas presented within the text.
Evidence of the time reveal Erasmus to have been a bit of a maverick who, according to his friend James Keir, ‘paid little regard to authority.’ He was described by many as a friendly and generous fellow with a sharp wit who loved to tease. Married twice – both times to women he adored – he also had an in-between mistress and fourteen children.
As you wander around and take in the rooms in which such incredible ideas were conceived and discussed there is a feeling of being somewhere of great significance in human evolution itself. Models exist throughout the house of Darwin as he would have appeared in any of the days during the 20 years he spent here – perhaps in the Study liaising with Josiah Wedgwood on matters of the day and the latest developments in the industry or within the parlour writing out his thoughts with a quill. Perhaps in the library pondering life as he gazed out of his window on to the street below.