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


A portrait of young Darwin

Charles Darwin's Staffordshire Facts

Charles Darwin may have been born elsewhere and died elsewhere, but his inspirational times were spent in Staffordshire. We list some of the county’s connections to Darwin – from the odd to the heart-warming...

Darwin + Staffordshire Facts

(For more Darwin material on the BBC. and on 'Darwin 200', see the links on the right-hand side of this page)

Charles’ father, Robert Darwin, was born in Staffordshire, at Lichfield, and lived there until early adult life. 

There is still a museum in Lichfield city dedicated to the work of Robert’s father/Charles' grandfather, Erasmus Darwin.
Erasmus died before Charles was born.

Darwin fell in love with his cousin Emma, who lived at Maer Hall in North Staffordshire.
It was in the library at Maer Hall that one of the great moments of his life occurred.
Here, on the 11th November 1838, Charles screwed up enough courage to propose to her.  They married two months later.

Another occupant of Maer was instrumental in his other great life-changing experience.
Earlier, in 1831, Charles had been invited to join the scientific expedition of the world on H.M.S. Beagle.  But Charles’ father disapproved, saying, "If you can find any man of common sense who advises you to go I will give my consent."
Charles went to Maer to consult his uncle Josiah – who thought it was a good idea… and persuaded Charles’ father to let him go.
The journey on the Beagle was, as we know, to change Darwin’s life completely.

Staffordshire was on his mind even as he travelled.
It’s said that Darwin compared the volcanic chimneys he observed spouting steam and smoke in South America to "Wolverhampton's furnaces".   Wolverhampton was then inside the Staffordshire boundaries.

When he returned from his world trip, he wrote about Maer:
"My visits to Maer during these two and the three succeeding years were quite delightful, independently of the autumnal shooting. Life were was perfectly free; the country was very pleasant for walking or riding; and in the evening there was much very agreeable conversation, not so personal as it generally is in large family parties, together with music. In the summer the whole family used often to sit on the steps of the old portico, with the flower-garden in front."

It can be legitimately claimed that the origin of 'The Origin' was in Staffordshire. In 1842, Charles and Emma with their two young children, stayed with Emma's parents at Maer, and it was in the relaxed family atmosphere there that Charles was first able to put together a 32 page essay that condensed his theory of natural selection.  This essay, 17 years later, eventually became 'On the Origin of Species'

It’s also believed that Darwin’s first diagram of the Tree of Life may have been drawn at Maer.
He wrote to Emma in 1844:   ‘I have just finished my sketch of my species theory. If, as I believe … my theory is true, and if it be accepted even by one competent judge, it will be a considerable step in science.’

Staffordshire MPs, including the Moorlands MP Charlotte Atkins, are among those calling for Darwin's birthday, 12 February, to be designated a public holiday.

When Charles and Emma left Staffordshire, after the wedding, to form their new life in London, they left from the railway station at Whitmore, a little village nearer to Keele.

According to the history told by the owners at the Leopard pub in Burslem in Stoke on Trent, Charles Darwin loaned his cook Mary and his butler Pepper Lees the money to buy the pub in 1850. 
Mary and Pepper then married; and she became one of the most formidable characters in the pub/hotel's history.

It is reputed that Charles stayed at The Leopard too.

The Leopard figures in Darwin's history in another curious way. 
In 1765 the pub was the scene of the first meeting between Josiah Wedgwood, Thomas Bentley, Erasmus Darwin and the engineer James Brindley who were meeting to discuss the building of the Trent and Mersey Canal.
It's odd to think that neither Josiah nor Erasmus could have known it then, but these two men were to be Charles' grandfathers.

Darwin was much opposed to slavery and the slave trade.  (In fact, this hatred of slavery may have opened him up to the idea that all beings have common ancestors... as we are all ‘equal’ in Nature and none is superior to another). 
The ideas of his grandfather Josiah Wedgwood, who was one of the eighteenth century’s greatest opponents to slavery, may have influenced this belief.

In his walks and trips around the west Staffordshire area, Darwin maintained his interest in geology and botany.
A geological formation, running through the Hanchurch Hills and Butterton, and identified by him, is even named after him as Darwin’s Dyke.

A piece of rock from this same Butterton Dyke travelled on the MIR space station from February 1998 to February 1999.  The piece of rock was donated to the space station by Staffordshire astronomer Phil Parker.
On the plaque attached to it now Phil added these words: "This piece of Dolerite rock is from the Butterton igneous dyke near Newcastle-under-Lyme, UK. This dyke was discovered in c. 1842 by Charles Darwin, famous scientist and author of 'On The Origin Of Species’. It was flown in space in the year 1998 aboard the Russian MIR space station. It is hoped that this token of our millennium will act as a focus for inspiration to descendants of our generation and species to continue the exploration of space with possibility of meeting extra terrestrial species and discovering their origins "
All three of the cosmonauts signed the rock.

It’s claimed that Darwin is among the many people who have tried to crack the mysterious code on the Shepherd’s Monument at Shugborough Hall near Stafford (see elsewhere on this website for more information on the monument).
However, no one has yet come up with a wholly satisfactory solution to the ‘code’.

It’s known that Darwin thought long and hard about whether marriage would suit him.  Perhaps this nervousness affected him on his wedding day – when he managed to blot his signature on his marriage certificate!
See a copy by pasting this URL into your browser: 

Another Staffordshire site that Charles would have walked, only a couple of miles from Maer Hall, is the house at Camp Hill (near the village of Baldwin's Gate up in the Maer Hills).
Sarah Wedgwood, who was aunt to both Charles and his wife Emma, moved out of her brother's house at Maer Hall after Camp Hill was built for her. It was commissioned by her in 1827 and she lived there until 1847.
The house had eight bedrooms and employed 25 servants (even though Sarah never married) and is hidden away in a natural gully on the hills.
Charles visited the house frequently; and even gave a name to a type of bilberry which was growing on the surrounding heathland.

(Sarah was not Camp Hill's only famous inhabitant.  The explorer Ewart Scott Grogan also lived here - in the early 1900s.  His claim to fame was that he once walked the length of Africa, from Cape Town to Cairo).

Keele University is not far from Maer.   When the second complex in the university’s Science Park at Keele was opened in December 1992, it was decided to name it “after a local scientist” as - The Darwin Building

Henrietta Litchfield was Charles and Emma’s daughter. In 1915 a book containing family letters, edited by her, was published.
In it, she wrote: “Round it [Maer Hall] there was a delightful up-and-down sandy walk a mile in length, diversified and well wooded, which made one of the charms of the place. The garden, bright and gay with old-fashioned flowers, lay between the house and the pool, and the little church was just outside the domain. My father [Charles Darwin] used to say that our mother only cared for flowers which had grown at Maer. There was a great deal of wild heath and wood around, and the country is, even now, as rural as ever and quite unspoiled by mines and manufactories.”

In 1840, Charles published his paper 'On the Formation of Mould'. It was an investigation into how earthworms turn over soil... all inspired by the observations his uncle Josiah had made on one of their walks around Maer.

Even now, more than a century after his death, Darwin is still a huge international figure.
The Maer Darwin Festival in 2009 drew coverage from across the world, with visits from a Japanese television channel, a German film crew and Chinese documentary makers!

last updated: 23/12/2009 at 08:25
created: 27/03/2009

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

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