8th July 1931.
In 1931 George Buckston Browne(FRCS) gave the Royal College of Surgeons (RCOS) an endowment and land at Downe, Kent, for the creation of a surgical research institute. Today the foundation stone was laid by Lord Moynihan (1).
The building on West Hill was just round the corner from Downe House, once home of Charles Darwin, the evolutionary scientist, was officially opened on July 12 1933 by the President of the RCOS of England, Sir Holburt Waring.(2)
Metal gates announced Buckston Browne Farm and underneath the words Royal College of Surgeons, and with its multi-gabled, pitched roofs and dormer windows, the building looked the typical country house.
The aim of the centre was to extend knowledge and biological procedures relating to the art of surgery and how these might be used in cure and relief in pulmonary tuberculosis (TB), a major killer at the time.
Post-war it was still in existence when a Buckston Browne, Benefaction Commemoration Dinner was held on Tuesday 8th July 1952, with a lecture given about the origins and development of the Centre, attended by the Secretary of State for Health, Hornsby-Smith.
Buckston Browne’s (3) association with Downe began four years before the foundation of the Centre, when on Thursday, September 1st 1927 he had read in the Times an appeal on behalf of the British Association for the Advancement of Science to acquire Downe House and he telegrammed offering to purchase the property from the heirs of Darwin for £4250. (4)
He spent £10,000 on repairs, and on 7th January 1929 presented it to the British Association with an endowment of £20,000 in memory of Darwin and for the benefit of science.(5)
However rising prices meant that the endowment proved insufficient and the British Association donated the House to the Royal College and is now a museum under English Heritage.
The research centre, in a more squeamish age, however didn’t survive as it was invaded by animal right protesters in August 1984, and closed down soon afterwards.
(1) KCMG. CB. and President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.
(2) nature.com/ Nature pp. 132 128-9, 22nd July 1933.
(3) Buckston Browne lived at 80, Wimpole Street, London, home to society doctors and surgeons.
(4) £188,091 in present day money.
(5) It was opened to the public on 7.6.1929.
Ref: wikipedia.org/Image of House.
Ref: derelictplaces.org.uk/Image for gates.
Ref: Annals of the RCOS England 1952, August 11th.pp. 120-2.
Whilst Darwin was looking for a house he was to write to his sister Catty (EC Darwin) on 24.7.1842: ‘the great astronomer Sir John Lubbock [3rd bart] is the owner of 3,000 acres here…I believe he is very reserved & shy & proud or fine…so I suspect he will be no catch, & will never honour us…the house is in good repair-I believe the price is about 2,200£’ (the £ sign at that time, came at the end of the number). In fact they became good friends.
Darwin’s house came on the market in 1897, when The Times on 25th February advertised that, ‘Downe House was to be let, furnished at 12 guineas per week including gardeners’: the area being described as ‘lovely and bracing’.
It was a girls’ school at one time.