What Happened to Darwin’s House on Gower Street?

view of location for number 110 Gower Street in relation to University College quad, 1946 aerial photograph courtesy Historic England. Image EAW000537

Charles Darwin lived in number 12 Upper Gower Street between 1839 and 1842, before moving to Down House at the end of summer 1842. (Charles moved into the house on 31 December 1838, spent his first overnight on New Year’s Eve, and experienced his first full day in the house on 01 January 1839.) Emma Darwin (nee Wedgwood) joined him on their wedding day, 29 January 1839. I’ve written about the history of this house, and I’ve written about the use of this residence for the purposes of Darwinian heritage

The building was destroyed by fire in April 1941. I’ve recently located an 1946 aerial photograph held by Historic England that shows the site after initial clearing. This is their image EAW000537. Along the east side of Gower Street, numbers 88-100, 104, 112-onwards remain standing, though some appear damaged. The roof on the National Central Library is missing. Further north on Gower Street, the Wilkins building of University College (UCL) is missing and its dome is damaged. Missing too is University Memorial Hall immediately behind UCL’s Wilkins Building. 

view of location for number 110 Gower Street in relation to University College quad, 1946 aerial photograph courtesy Historic England. Image EAW000537

I described the scene in a 2014 article, “Darwin in London,” published in The Linnean.

The building incorporating number 110 was not destroyed by explosion; rather, it collapsed following fire begun in adjoining properties, notably the National Central Library, now UCL Science Library, overnight 16-17 April 1941 (collapsed Shoolbred building shown in Barlow 1945: 279). Bloomsbury suffered particularly intense air raids that night (Filon 1977; Saunders 2005). Incendiary bombs caused damage to properties across 45 streets near Gower Street. According to London Fire Brigade reports, at 02:32 hours, incendiary bombs caused damage to Malet Place and the National Central Library. Damage and other particulars were reported as: ‘A building of 2, 3, and 5 floors and basement, covering an area of 250×120[ft], used as Library, Studios, Offices, and Stores about 3⁄4 [75%] and contents severely damaged by fire and roof off. Rest of building Heat, smoke and water.’ At 03:15 hours, further incendiary bombs caused damage north on Gower Street near University Street, including a range of buildings of 2 and 3 floors and basement covering and an area of about 5 acres, adjoining and communicating. These were used as lecture halls, laboratories, library, offices and stores. The South Cloisters area of UCL’s Wilkins Building was severely damaged, and the roof collapsed.12 The site was cleared and remained vacant until construction began on the Biological Sciences Building in 1959.

Additional images show the damage to UCL Wilkins Building and UCL Rockefeller Building.

UCL Wilkins Building showing bomb damage, April 1941, University College London, Gower Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1UCL Wilkins Building showing bomb damage, April 1941, University College London, Gower Street.

UCL Rockefeller Building on Gower Street showing bomb damage from April 1941 | ProfJoeCain
UCL Rockefeller Building on Gower Street showing bomb damage from April 1941. The dark spots are patches from shrapnel damage from the the bombing.
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