History of the Museum

museum-garden-welcome-boardErasmus Darwin House is a stunning Grade I listed Georgian house with a Palladian front a stone’s throw away from Lichfield Cathedral. As well as being the home and workplace of 18th-century physician, poet and inventor, Erasmus Darwin it has previously served as a residence for cathedral officials and as a women’s shelter.

Today it is a museum, dedicated to Erasmus Darwin, with three main exhibition rooms, a library, conference facilities and a herb garden. Find out about the garden here.

When Darwin moved here in 1758, the building would have looked more like the timbered buildings that still surround it. Darwin himself added the fine facade and reoriented the house to face Beacon Street rather than into the Close.

You can still see elements of the medieval structure that developed into this home. In the driveway, the remnants of the thick medieval walls surrounding the cathedral can still be seen. In our cellars, evidence of the earlier medieval structures is still visible. You can explore them on our behind-the-scenes cellar tours.

Saving Erasmus Darwin House

back-door-2steps-2Looking back to 1994, this Georgian House was in a very poor state. A group of doctors and cathedral officials discussed what could be done to help restore Darwin House, and celebrate the genius of Staffordshire’s forgotten heroes.

From humble beginnings came The Erasmus Darwin Foundation and continued discussions of how to develop the museum on Beacon Street. The initial group (Gordon Cooke, David Wallington, Denis Gibbs, Chris and Hazel Baker, Anne and Tony Barnard) was soon joined by Erasmus Darwin Barlow, a direct descendant of the great man, Dr Desmond King-Hele, a leading scholar and biographer of Erasmus, and John Sanders, the local creator of the Erasmus Darwin Walk.

house-2 labour-stepsOver the next five years, working with the Cathedral and with the help of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Europe, this 1.25 million pound project came to fruition. The designers, Bremner & Orr, were guided by Desmond King-Hele in the development of three main exhibition rooms, loans of objects acquired from various sources including English Heritage, and on April 9th 1999, the Museum opened to the public.

Onwards and Upwards!

museum-interactionThis initial enthusiasm has not dwindled and everyone at Erasmus Darwin House strives to keep the Museum and its interaction with the public moving forward. There are always more exciting and challenging plans!

In 2009 refurbishment of the two main exhibition rooms took place and then again in 2013 major changes were made to the Inventions Room, bringing the thoughts and inventions from Erasmus Darwin’s fascinating Commonplace Book off the page.  The designers excelled with their version of Erasmus’s speaking machine and the stunning flying bird!

_dsc7419People give back in so many ways to keep the cogs of the Museum working; from reception desk duties, making Georgian costumes, to running education and science workshops.  Anyone who visits the Museum is greeted by a wonderful and enthusiastic group of volunteers, many of whom have been with the House from the beginning.

For a small independent Museum, started from such humble beginnings, Erasmus Darwin House is wonderful place to visit with something for every member of the family.

The museum is a registered charity and company limited by guarantee run by an independent Foundation.

If you’d like to be a part of our future plans or help by donating please click here.