© John H. Wahlert, 22 August 1998


Darwin was in London intermittently between 14 October and 13 December 1836, when he departed for Cambridge. He was awaiting the arrival of the Beagle in order to pack up the remaining specimens and send them on to Henslow in Cambridge. The return address on his letters, 43 Great Marlborough Street in Soho, is the home of his brother, Ras (Erasmus).

Letter from C. Darwin in Cambridge to W. D. Fox, 15 December 1836 (Correspondence, p. 525):

To complete my annals; from Shrewsbury I went to London, where I staid a week with my good dear old brother Erasmus, and the day before yesterday arrived here.-- Whilst in London I disposed of the most important part of my collections, by giving all the fossil bones to the College of Surgeons.

On returning from Cambridge in March 1837, Darwin stayed again briefly with his brother Ras. He wrote to W. D. Fox, 12 March 1837 (Burkhardt, 1996: 55):

...on Tuesday I go into lodgings at Nor 36 Grt Marlborought St. which I have taken for the year.--I am at present in my brothers house no 43.-- It is very pleasant our being so near neighbors.

12 Upper Gower St [letter of 10 November 1839]

Francis Darwin (1995: 148) said the following of Charles and Emma Darwin's first home:

The house in which they lived for the first few years of their married life, No. 12 Upper Gower Street, was a small common-place London house, with a drawing-room in the front, and a small room behind, in which they lived for the sake of quietness. In later years my father used to laugh over the surpassing ugliness of the furniture, carpets &c., of the Gower Street house. The only redeeming feature was a better garden than most London houses have, a strip as wide as the house, and thirty yards long. Even this small space of dingy grass made their London house more tolerable to its two country-bred inhabitants.


The Athenaeum, a private club in Waterloo Place, was established in 1823.

"A prospectus inviting membership from 'Authors known by their scientific or literary publications; Artists of eminence in any class of the fine arts; and Noblemen and Gentlemen, distinguished as liberal patrons of science, literature, or the arts' was sent out on 12 December 1823..." [Wedgwood, p. 257]

The initial number of members, 300, was increased in 1924 to 1000. The architect selected to design the building was John Nash; construction began in 1828 and was completed in 1830. The most distinctive feature of the exterior, a frieze on three sides of the building is a facsimile of the Parthenon frieze of the Panathenaic procession; John Henning carved it in Bath stone, but its current painted condition of blue and cream colors is not original. The gilt statue of Pallas Athene by E. H. Baily was placed on the balcony in 1830. The attic storey was added in 1899 and radically alters the proportions of the building. Darwin would have known the more gracious proportions of the original.

Charles Darwin used the Athenaeum as his address in letters from the year 1838. In one, dated August 9, to Charles Lyell [quoted by Wedgwood, p. 261] he said:

I go and dine at the Athenaeum like a gentleman, or rather like a lord, for I am sure that the first evening I sat in that great drawing-room on the sofa by muself, I felt just like a duke. I am full of admiration for the Athenaeum, one meets so many people there that one likes to see...Your helping me into the Athenaeum has not been thrown away, and I enjoy it the more because I fully expected to detest it.

The hall, with a shallow tunnel-vault ceiling, leads to a impressive staircase that rises one flight and splits to ascend to the first floor landing. To the left of the hall, the coffee room (dining room) runs the length of the building and overlooks Carleton House Gardens. Upstairs, the drawing room, the grandest room in the building, runs the entire width of the building, and its balcony overlooks Waterloo Place. We inquired at the Club about photographs of the interior and were told a quiet and firm "No." Photographs may be seen accompanying Wedgwood's chapter.

References cited:
  • Burkhardt, F., ed. 1996. Charles Darwin's Letters, a selection. Cambridge, Cambridge Univ. Pr. 249 pp.
  • Burkhardt, F., et al., eds. 1985. The correspondence of Charles Darwin, Volume 1, 1821--1836. Cambridge, Cambridge Univ. Pr. 702 pp.
  • Darwin, Francis. 1995 (first published 1902 by John Murray). The life of Charles Darwin. London, Senate. 348 pp.
  • Wedgwood, Alexandra. 1992. "The Athenaeum." Pp. 254-261 in Boris Ford, ed., The romantic age in Britain. The Cambridge cultural history, Vol. 6. Cambridge, Cambridge Univ. Pr.

Last updated 22 August 1998 (JHW)