Welcome to Erasmus Darwin House’s first blog post! Through this blog we look forward to sharing with you the exciting progress and fascinating finds of our new project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The project is an investigation into the foundations of the museum to mark its 20th anniversary and through it we hope to not just reveal new insights about how Erasmus Darwin House came to be, but also to engage a new generation in the inspiring history of this local legend by involving young people in all areas of the project.
The first step of our mission has been to sort through a wealth of material relating to the beginning of Erasmus Darwin House. Our aim is to digitise and archive all of these documents to make them accessible to researchers and future generations.
Sorting through this material has of course unearthed many amazing finds which we hope to share with you over the coming months through a series of blog posts featuring an ‘Item of the Month’. For this first post it therefore seems appropriate to start with an item relating to the foundations of the house – literally – because in one of the boxes we found some marvellous plans showing the original the layout of the museum!
These plans were created in 1996 – three years before the opening of the Erasmus Darwin House – by Bremner & Orr Design Consultants Limited, the leading designers in the initial restoration of the house and creation of the museum. The plans shed light on not just the development of the layout of the museum, but also of the intention behind it.
For example, while the plans for the ground floor show a similar layout to the museum’s current design and include expected exhibitions regarding Dr Darwin’s work as a doctor and inventor, the plans for the first floor show something quite different.
Instead of traditional museum exhibits, the first floor housed two seminar rooms and a closed research study. This shows that at the beginning of Erasmus Darwin House, there was a greater focus on the house acting as a facility for academics and educational groups than purely as a public museum. Today, instead of the two seminar rooms, the Lunar Room and Exhibition Room can be found on the first floor, both of which were added during later refurbishments to the museum. The study has also become the Library, which is open for visitors to sit and watch an introductory video about Dr Darwin.
The final plan we have to share with you is this beautiful drawing showing the original design for the garden. Like the ground floor, there are many similarities between this plan and the garden as it appears today, including the flowerbeds which currently house the botanical collections known as Mrs Darwin’s Culinary Garden, Dr Darwin’s Medicine Chest, the Apothecary’s Garden, the Dyers Garden, and the Scented Garden. However, the trees have evidently grown since this drawing was produced over two decades ago since they now obscure much of the view of the house!
Thank you for joining us for our first blog post; we hope you have enjoyed reading about some of the exciting things going on behind the scenes at Erasmus Darwin House and that this small taste of the fascinating documents we are uncovering has sparked your interest. Keep an eye on our website for more ‘Item of the Month’ posts, as well as updates on the other ventures that will be taking place as part of this exciting new project for Erasmus Darwin House!
Finally, we would like to extend our thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the National Lottery players who have made this project possible!
Corin Peacock, Archive Intern