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Charles Darwin: Rare images of naturalist’s Shrewsbury home found

Albums of images of Charles Darwin’s childhood home will go on display this week after they were found in a council’s archive.

About 50 images of The Mount House, the famous naturalist’s birthplace in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, were discovered. They date from after the Darwin family lived in the home. But John Hughes, who uncovered them, said they showed a glimpse into Darwin’s early life. “These photos are a story of a little boy who played in these woods and loved to climb trees and fish in the river below,” the Shropshire Council project officer said. The albums are part of a recently catalogued collection of archive material relating to the Corbet family of Shropshire, from about 30 years after the Darwin family lived at The Mount. Now known as Darwin House, it was built in 1798 by Darwin’s father Robert Darwin and the family lived in it until 1866. The naturalist was born in 1809 and The Mount was his childhood home before he would become famed for his theory of evolution by natural selection. The seven-acre (2.8 hectare) Darwin Estate was later bought by John Spencer Phillips, chairman of Lloyds Bank, in 1884 for £3000. His son-in-law was Hugh Dryden Corbet, who married Kathleen Phillips. While the photos, thought to have never been seen before, show the Phillips family in the 1890s, Mr Hughes said they gave an insight into what one of the most famous men in history was like as a little boy. Mr Hughes said he “struck gold” when he discovered the photos. “I suspect that these wonderful, faded sepia images have probably not been seen in living memory,” Mr Hughes said. “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,” he added.

The Mount was turned into government offices from 1922 until it was bought two years ago by a local businessman and an ongoing restoration project began. Shropshire Archives appealed for people to come forward with their memories of the building. Those who did included a man from Australia whose great-great-great-great-grandfather was a coachman of Charles Darwin’s father. “Mark Briggs was very close to the family, taking Darwin’s father to appointments in a bright yellow coach,” Mr Hughes said. “Darwin’s father was a large man who stopped weighing himself at 24 stone…Mr Briggs would have to go into the houses of the poor to test the floors before Robert Darwin would go in as their doctor.” After being digitised, the photos can be shared globally and kept for future generations to enjoy, he added. An exhibition featuring the discovery will open to the public on Tuesday at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery as part of the DarwIN Shrewsbury Festival, which features events throughout February. Sarah Davies team leader at Shropshire Archives said: “We have about six miles worth of documents if you put them end to end.” “We have a lot of information about the Darwin’s, a lot of printed books but it’s lovely to see photographs that bring it all together.”


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