In the beginning

In a previous life I was a presenter on BBC Radio Shropshire, one of a number of local radio stations set up to serve communities across England. I would invite people to come on and talk about their interests and one such guest was a local hotelier, Henri Quinn. Henri was a keen amateur historian with a particular interest in Charles Darwin and his Shrewsbury connection. Henri expressed some dissappointment that more wasn’t done to recognise the town’s most famous son. “Why doesn’t Shrewsbury make more of Charles Darwin?” he asked and in all honesty, I didn’t know. I decided to transfer my radio production skills to pulling together some kind of celebration in time for Darwin’s birthday, 12th February. I brought together people from organisations I considered might have an interest in contributing; Dominic Wallis, Arts Officer at Shrewsbury & Atcham Borough Council, Fay Easton, Manager of the Shrewsbury Town Centre Management Partnership, Andrew Allott, Head of Biology at Shrewsbury School, Rev Mark Thomas, Vicar of St Chads Church, Shrewsbury (where Charles Darwin was baptised on the 15th November 1909) and John Hughes from the Shropshire Wildlife Trust. The meeting was held at the Trust’s headquarters in Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury. That evening I put forward the proposition that each person might organise an event scheduled for the birthday week and if someone could find me a little cash, I could order a stack of promotional brouchures. Fay pulled in a few favours and Shropshire County Council provided the funds for the brochure, Mike Ashton was the graphic artist. A few weeks later, by sheer coincidence, a decendent of Darwin, Randal Keynes was due in town to give a lecture. I arranged to meet Randal at Darwin’s birthplace, The Mount where I conducted a short interview for my radio show. Afterwards I pitched Randal my idea of an annual festival to celebrate his famous ancestor and he kindly gave his blessing on behalf of the family. On the 8th February 2003 the first Shrewsbury Darwin Festival was staged…and the rest, as they say, is history.

The original programme for the 2003 Shrewsbury Darwin Festival complete with obligatory typo (‘Distinguished’ should read ‘Disguised’)

The programme for the inaugural Shrewsbury Darwin Festival was as follows:

Saturday 8th – 10th February Exhibition: Darwin on Tierra Del Fuego staged by Andrew Allott, Head of Biology, Shrewsbury School – at Shrewsbury Library

Sunday 9th February The Freinds of Shrewsbury Museum present The Annual Charles Darwin Memorial Lecture “Charles Darwin’s Legacy and Cancer” A talk by Professor Paul Nurse, FRSA, Interim Chief Executive Cancer Research UK, Winner Nobel Rpize for Medicine 2001 – at The Music Hall, Shrewsbury

Tuesday 11th February SMARTBUSINESS@TheFestivals “Origin of the Business Species – Are entrepreneurs born or made?” A business breakfast seminar with Andrew Davidson, Internationally renowned author and journalist with The Financial Times – at Bar Med, Lower Claremot Street, Shrewsbury

Thursday 13th February “Welcoming the ‘disguised friend– Darwin is a man to believe” A lecture by Reverend Canon Dr Arthur Peacocke MBE of Christchurch Oxford, Winner of the 2001 Templeton Prize for Science and Religion – at St Chads Church, Shrewsbury

Saturday 15th February “The Misrepresention of Captain Fitzroy” A talk by Darwin Biographer Cyril Aydon – at The Ashton Theatre, Shrewsbury School

The Month of February “The Incredible Journey” The exciting story behind the county’s hills as Shropshire makes its way from 60 degrees south of the equator to its present location. Using the photography of Gordon Dickens and the expertise of geologist Peter Toghill and Wildlife Trust Geology Officer, Liz Etheridge – at The Photographic Gallery, The Music Hall, The Square, Shrewsbury

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