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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Down School Board   [after 29 November 1873]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.


For two successive winters the Down School room was lent by Sir John Lubbock, to be employed as a reading room to be open every day but Sunday from 7 to 10 o’clock & no refreshment but tea or coffee to be allowed— For this object he aided by a subscription.2

Some respectable newspapers & a few books were provided & a respectable householder was there every evening to maintain decorum. A woman was employed every morning to air & clean the room & put it in order before the school opened—

The end aimed at was to afford some amusement or possible instruction to working men & to give them a comfortable place of assembly without the necessity of resorting to the public house—

The late Vicar Mr Powell3 appreciated so highly the advantages of such institutions, that he not only subscribed but presented them with a bagatelle board.

The meetings were attended on the average by about 18 persons, & seemed to give great satisfaction, as was proved by the regularity of the payments of 1d a week by the members.

The only objection that we have heard to the employment of the School-room for this purpose is the smell of tobacco remaining in the room until the next morning. As the children must be so well accustomed to this in their confined rooms at home we cannot but think that this would not prove a serious objection, considering the height of the room & the absence of all hangings or furniture.4

Under these circumstances we the undersigned hope that you will grant permission for the room to be employed in the same manner as formerly for the months of Dec., Jan., Feb, & March in the ensuing winter

Gentlemen | your obedient servants | Charles Darwin

For | Sir John Lubbock | Ellen Frances Lubbock | S E. Wedgwood | Wallis Nash. | for E B Desborough | Mrs Desborough5

It having been suggested that the Education Department might not approve of the employment of the Schoolroom for the above purpose, an application was made & the answer is herewith sent. The proviso that there must be “no displacement of the school furniture” can only mean that is all to properly re-arranged before school hours; as whenever the room is cleaned the furniture must be displaced.

We therefore engage that the furniture in the room shall be daily left in proper order for the school, & that if any damage is done we will immediately make it good.

It may be added that other School rooms in the neighbourhood, as for instance that of Hayes, are used for a Reading Room.


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and a letter from Emma Darwin to Horace Darwin, postmarked ‘29 November 1873’, in DAR 258: 585. In that letter, an appeal to the Education Department seems to have been made, and the result is given in this letter.
For more on the dispute that inspired this letter, see the letter from E. F. Lubbock to Emma Darwin, [c. 29 November 1873] and n. 2. CD was a member of the Down School Board until November 1874 (see letter to Down School Board, 19 December 1873, Correspondence vol. 22, letter to Down School Board, 16 November 1874, and J. R. Moore 1985, pp. 471 and 480).
Henry Powell was vicar of Down from 1869 until 1871.
In the letter from Emma Darwin to Horace Darwin, postmarked 29 November 1873 (DAR 258: 585), Emma wrote: ‘We are now fighting Mr Ff– & Mr Allen tooth & nail about having the school room for a Reading room. There first objection was the smell of smoke which they said Mrs Laslett & Mr Pearson found so annoying. This turns out to be an invention as we have enquired of both, so their new dodge is that we shall lose the capitation grant if the school is used for any thing. So we have applied to the fountain head (wherever that is— Richard knows) but we are convinced it is another invention. I don’t know why Mr Allen is so zealous as he is going away; perhaps because Frank will not take any of his furniture (except what he is obliged to do so & one or 2 articles)’. Emma refers to George Sketchley Ffinden, Frederick Allen, Hannah Laslett, Charles Pearson, and Richard Buckley Litchfield. Allen was leaving Down Lodge, and CD’s son Francis was taking over the rental (see letter from Emma Darwin to Horace Darwin, [3 October 1873] (DAR 258: 583)).
Sarah Elizabeth Wedgwood (CD’s wife’s sister), Edward Brandram Desborough, and Martha Elizabeth Augusta Desborough.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Moore, James Richard. 1985. Darwin of Down: the evolutionist as squarson-naturalist. In The Darwinian heritage, edited by David Kohn. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press in association with Nova Pacifica (Wellington, NZ).


CD, Sir John Lubbock, Ellen Frances Lubbock, and S. E. Wedgwood, petition the Board to grant permission for the school hall to be used as a reading room in the evening during winter.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
Bromley Historic Collections, Bromley Central Library (P/123/25/31/2)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9122,” accessed on 31 July 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21