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21st DarwIN Shrewsbury Festival to celebrate Charles Darwin’s enduring legacy

As the birthplace of Charles Darwin, Shrewsbury has a unique connection to one of history’s most transformative scientific figures.

DarwIN Shrewsbury Festival

This February, the town celebrates this connection with the 21st DarwIN Shrewsbury Festival, a month-long programme of around forty unique events that pay homage to Darwin’s life, work, and enduring influence on our understanding of the natural world.

In a time when the importance of science and fostering our connection with our ecosystem has never been more apparent, the DarwIN Shrewsbury Festival offers a chance to explore and engage with Darwin’s legacy. Throughout February, Shrewsbury will play host to forty events that reflect both the historical significance and contemporary relevance of Darwin’s work.

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This year’s diverse programme encompasses a variety of activities designed to appeal to everyone from science enthusiasts to history buffs, young families, educators looking to encourage an interest in local history or the natural world, and casual visitors.

Walk in Darwin’s footsteps

Members of the public will have the opportunity to explore Darwin’s local connections by walking in his footsteps on a series of guided tours, along with lectures and talks delving into his formative years and ground-breaking work.

The ever-popular tours of Darwin’s childhood home and garden, and sites connected to his life and legacy within the town, will be held on February 12-15 (house) and February 17 (garden), following the ‘thinking path’ at Darwin House, will offer a rare and intimate glimpse into the early environment that shaped Darwin’s curiosity and intellectual development.

Be inspired by a programme of talks and exhibitions

A series of events throughout the DarwIN Shrewsbury Festival have been planned that highlight Charles Darwin’s impact on various scientific and cultural fields.

Art exhibitions in the town are set to showcase works inspired by Darwin, while several talks and exhibitions will further explore his childhood family home and gardens, his studies, the intricacies of his personal life and his local ties, offering a rare chance for the public to gain a comprehensive understanding of his life and legacy through diverse lenses, from the scientific to the artistic, and the historical to the personal.

This year, the DarwIN Festival has partnered with James Wade’s Streetscape Project, which features around 10 buildings which are part of Darwin’s story. A private view of the artworks will be held, with a tour of the works highlighting relevant sections of the Streetscape and how they fit into Darwin’s story.

On February 10, a Sympoisum at Darwin House will explore the fascinating life of Susannah Darwin, nee Wedgewood, often silenced, anonymised and referred to only as ‘Darwin’s mother.’ This unique, free event is an opportunity to discover more about Susannah’s life, including her experiences of motherhood, her guiding influence on the young Charles, and her contribution to the Darwin family home, business interests, and garden.

One of the festival’s most anticipated events is the annual Darwin Memorial Lecture, to be held on February 11 at The Walker Theatre, Theatre Severn. Dr Isabelle Winder, a notable figure in the field of Natural Sciences from Bangor University, will lead this year’s lecture. Her talk promises to bring a contemporary perspective to Darwin’s work, linking his foundational theories with modern scientific inquiry into primate evolution.

On Darwin’s 215th birthday, on February 12, the annual Darwin Birthday Toast will be held at the Bellstone in Morris Hall Courtyard, hosted by Jon King, founder of the DarwIN Shrewsbury Festival. Locals and visitors alike are invited to come together, raise a glass, and celebrate the man whose work continues to inspire curiosity and scientific inquiry to this day.

Music during the Festival

Later on February 12, Andrew Bannerman will deliver a talk on the relationship between Charles Darwin and his wife Emma Darwin (nee Wedgwood), accompanied by John Bowen on piano, in the beautiful setting of Darwin House. Guests are warmly invited to join in a birthday toast to the great man with a glass of Prosecco, kindly supplied by Tanners Wine Merchants.

Speaker Ted Maidment and notable local pianist John Moore will make a welcome return to the festival on February 18, with a musically illustrated talk examining the composer Frédéric Chopin, from whom Emma Darwin received a number of lessons. Emma was a gifted pianist and Charles greatly enjoyed listening to her play the works of Chopin in the evenings. This event will be repeated on 21 February.

Guests to events at Darwin House can view Charles Darwin’s birth room and tour some the Darwin family’s principal rooms.

For families and young explorers

Over February half term, the festival welcomes little scientists and offers an array of interactive and educational opportunities to keep your kids busy, active and engaged with the legacy of Shrewsbury’s most famous son.

Help them foster a healthy interest in science, history and nature with a programme of events including the chance to build their own miniature HMS Beagle at Shropshire Archives, get muddy with Darwin’s Wiggly Worms at Wroxeter Roman City and build and explore with the Darwin Lego Workshop at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery, and much more.

Special children’s event: Charles Darwin’s Birthday Treat!

Children aged 8–16 whose birthday falls in the month of February are invited to apply for a special birthday treat at Mount House.

Six winning children will be able to celebrate their (and Charles Darwin’s) birthdays on February 12 at Mount House, with a private tour of the house and grounds and a special sweet treat provided by Toot Sweet. See where the great man was born and spent his childhood studying the natural world around him.

To apply, send a paragraph explaining why you like sharing your birthday with Charles Darwin to darwinbirthday@gmail.com by the deadline of January 26, 2024.

Short film: Son of Shrewsbury

To celebrate the 21st DarwIN Shrewsbury festival, a small team of young people aged 16–19, from the BFI Film Academy at MediaActive in Shropshire, have created a short film – ‘Son of Shrewsbury.’ In the film, two grammatically opposed investigative journalists take a look at the legacy and ubiquity of Charles Darwin in our town.

About the Festival organisers

The annual DarwIN Shrewsbury Festival is managed and coordinated by John K Hughes, Project Manager at Darwin House, and supported by Shrewsbury BID.

“Plans for the 21st DarwIN Shrewsbury Festival are progressing very well with around forty individual events taking place this year,” he stated. “We have seen a real growth in interest and I am sure it will be the best Festival yet. We are extremely grateful to everyone who is participating and for all the help and support received in making the Festival happen in celebration of Shrewsbury’s most famous son.”

Emma Molyneux, Project Coordinator, Shrewsbury BID, commented, “As a proud supporter of the DarwIN Shrewsbury Festival, we love seeing our community come together to honour the legacy of Charles Darwin.”

“This festival not only celebrates Darwin’s contributions to science but also reinforces the rich cultural and historical significance of Shrewsbury,” she continued. “We’re excited to see residents and visitors alike engage with the diverse programme of activities on offer and gain a deeper appreciation for Darwin’s enduring impact on our world, and our town!”

The full DarwIN Festival programme of around forty events can be found at darwin.originalshrewsbury.co.uk.

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