Plans to reopen Darwin’s Shrewsbury birthplace to the public 'slipping away', warns councillor

Ambitious plans to reopen Charles Darwin’s birthplace to the public are slipping away, a councillor warned.

Mike Marchant and Louis-James Davis
Mike Marchant and Louis-James Davis

Mike Marchant has presented plans to transform Mount House into a research centre for universities to Shrewsbury Town Council. A number of American billionaires have committed to ploughing millions of pounds into the project, according to Mr Marchant.

The co-ordinator and curator recently emerged out of the blue as the man bidding to take on one of the most important buildings in Shrewsbury’s history. He is working alongside cyber-security entrepreneur Louis-James Davis and the pair are in talks with owners Mapeley to take over the lease, but councillors have raised concerns over the future of the building.

Councillor Jane Mackenzie, who is also part of the Mount House steering group, said: “I’d hoped Mike might say something new at his presentation but he spent a lot of time talking about hopes and aspirations – there were not many actual facts.

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"As a council, we tried to drill down the detail but it all seems a bit fantastical. If what he says it true it would be fantastic but I am cautious.

"There are supposedly these American billionaires who will be investing but he won’t tell us who they are or any more details about where the money is coming from, and that’s worrying.”

Mount House was built by Darwin’s father Robert Darwin in 1800. Charles was born there in 1812, remaining in Shropshire until he went to medical school in Edinburgh in 1825.

Opening the building to the public would be a springboard to driving tourism, Councillor Mackenzie said.

“I questioned him whether it would be open to the public, tourists and visitors but he said no,” she said.

“For us that is a key point. The house, for such a long time, has been shut away from the public but for us it’s all about public involvement because we know so many people want to get in and see this piece of history.

“To see this slipping through our fingers is heartbreaking. He hasn’t engaged with the public, which is a shame. I don’t think he realises how important it is to the town.”

Mount House Steering Group has approached Mapeley since learning of Mr Marchant’s plans to urging them to proceed with caution.

The backers have previously said the current plans include transforming the house into a £100 million research centre for universities.

Councillor Mackenzie added: “If he has got this money, we can’t fight it but this is very much his vision – not ours. We will be waiting if nothing comes of it.”

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