In The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, his son Francis relates that “on September 14, 1842, my father left London with his family and settled at Down,” adding that his parents “choice of Down was rather the result of despair than of actual preference; my father and mother were weary of house-hunting . . . It had at least one desideratum, namely quietness. Indeed it would have been difficult to find a more retired place so near to London.” In a letter of March 28th, 1843 to his friend Fox, Darwin described the new family home as “a good, very ugly house with 18 acres, situated on a chalk flat, 560 feet above sea. There are peeps of far distant country and the scenery is moderately pretty: its chief merit is its extreme rurality. I think I was never in a more perfectly quiet country. ”
Francis provides a more detailed description of this “good, very ugly house” and his father's changes to the building and grounds:
The house stands a quarter of a mile from the village, and is built, like so many houses of the last century, as near as possible to the road—a narrow lane winding away to the Westerham high-road. In 1842, it was dull and unattractive enough: a square brick building of three storeys, covered with shabby whitewash and hanging tiles. The garden had none of the shrubberies or walls that now give shelter; it was overlooked from the lane, and was open, bleak, and desolate. One of my father's first undertakings was to lower the lane by about two feet, and to build a flint wall along that part of it which bordered the garden. The earth thus excavated was used in making banks and mounds round the lawn: these were planted with evergreens, which now give to the garden its retired and sheltered character.
The house was made to look neater by being covered with stucco, but the chief improvement effected was the building of a large bow extending up through three storeys. This bow became covered with a tangle of creepers, and pleasantly varied the south side of the house. The drawing-room, with its verandah opening into the garden, as well as the study in which my father worked during the later years of his life, were added at subsequent dates.
Eighteen acres of land were sold with the house, of which twelve acres on the south side of the house formed a pleasant field, scattered with fair- sized oaks and ashes. From this field a strip was cut off and converted into a kitchen garden, in which the experimental plot of ground was situated, and where the greenhouses were ultimately put up.
The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin. Volume I. Ed. Francis Darwin. Project Gutenberg EBook #2087 produced by Sue Asscher in February 1999. Web. 29 July 2012
Last modified 25 March 2012