BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

13 November 2014

BBC Homepage

Local BBC Sites

Neighbouring Sites

Related BBC Sites

Contact Us

Local History

You are in: Stoke & Staffordshire > History > Local History > Charles Darwin in Staffordshire

Charles Darwin (Natural History Museum)

Charles Darwin (Natural History Museum)

Charles Darwin in Staffordshire

The great nineteenth-century naturalist, and writer of ‘On The Origin of Species’, spent a lot of time in this county – gaining inspiration, support and even a wife

The tiny, picturesque village of Maer, in north Staffordshire, hides a fascinating history.

It was here, nearly two hundred years ago, that Charles Darwin – one of the greatest and most controversial names of the last 500 years – fell in love, married, and worked on some of his world-changing theories.

All during 2009, Maer village, and other sites in Staffordshire, pay respect to the man who once graced this part of the country, with a number of outstanding events.
Click below for the details of those events.

Darwin in Staffordshire

It’s not so well known, but, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Darwin family, of Shropshire, had close connections with Staffordshire.

Charles Darwin's paternal grandfather, the celebrated philosopher Erasmus Darwin, had lived in Lichfield (where his house is still open to the public as a museum).

But it was the link with the famous Wedgwood family that really brought the young Charles Darwin into Staffordshire.
Charles was a grandchild, not just of Erasmus Darwin, but also of the famous Josiah Wedgwood, the man who had founded the pottery company in Stoke on Trent, and brought world fame to the Potteries.

His mother being a Wedgwood, he would often holiday at his uncle’s home in Maer – uncle being Josiah Wedgwood II (the son of the Josiah the founder).

Uncle Josiah and his family spilt their time between Maer Hall and their other base, Etruria Hall in Stoke.
Maer Hall however was preferred - because it was a spacious, comfortable and established 17th century building (though its origins go back another five hundred years) in beautiful and unspoilt surroundings.

At Maer Hall, Charles met his future wife-to-be, his cousin Emma Wedgwood, who had actually been born at the hall.


It is said that the young Charles enjoyed the walking and shooting there, and fostered his interest in the natural world there, even studying the activities of earthworms!

However, it wasn’t until he’d completed his five-year trip to South America on the ship HMS Beagle that he made up his mind to ask Emma to marry him.
This wasn’t plain sailing however, and it wasn’t until 1839 that Charles finally married Emma, in St. Peter’s Church in Maer, on 29th January 1839, in a ceremony led by yet another Wedgwood cousin, Rev. John Allen Wedgwood.
(St Peter’s is still a working church to this day).

Thus it was that two of the great Josiah’s grandchildren were united.  Curiously, the marriage of two such close relatives might be frowned on today – but in those days it was quite acceptable.

And, even though they then set up a home in London, Charles and Emma did often return to Maer.
It’s recorded that, whilst there once in 1842, Charles made an outline sketch of his theory of descent of animals.  In Maer, Charles had the peace and quiet to write; and was known then to have been working on his most famous book - On The Origin of Species - even though the results were not published until 1859.

To see: a photo-gallery of features of Maer (and photos relating to Darwin's times in Staffordshire); and a page of the curious facts linking Darwin to this county - click on the links below...


Sadly, it is only one year later that the connection is broken. In 1843, Josiah died, and, the hall being his especial project, it was decided to sell it off.
It passed into the hands of another pottery manufacturer, William Davenport.

Or…is the link really broken?

The Maer Hall estate nowadays contains a number of holiday cottages, and in fact Darwin enthusiasts are among the visitors who come.
Perhaps they wish to walk in Charles' steps along the romantic walk around the estate’s lake, known as the Sand-Walk – or do they even go further afield, as the young Charles did, on to the Maer Hills?

And, at St Peter’s Church, the Wedgwood pottery company has now donated, to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of Darwin’s birth, a commissioned black-basalt plaque, inscribed in 22 carat gold. 
A second plaque to remember Darwin's time there, given by the Newcastle Civic Society, is erected outside the church.

So it seems that the Darwin-Wedgwood-Maer relationship is unlikely to be forgotten for many, many years….

last updated: 23/12/2009 at 08:28
created: 19/01/2009

Have Your Say


he was born in 1809 and yet was the biggest scientist - he changed the way that people used to think!

Albert Hopkins-Shirley
his father was a member of the royal society of Greenwich nr London and was one of the people who were with Captain Cook on his voyage to Australia and the Pacific. to prove the Cronometer to prove time while traveling on the seas.Albert Hopkins-shirley.

You are in: Stoke & Staffordshire > History > Local History > Charles Darwin in Staffordshire

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy