I am having breakfast at The Lion Hotel, a 17th Century coaching inn in the the heart of Shrewsbury, on the old A5 road that links London to Holyhead on the Isle of Anglesey in North-West Wales and the ferry to Dublin, Ireland - at that time the second most important city in the British Empire.
It's an historic building on a street called Wyle Cop, that has accommodated such people as Charles Dickens, Benjamin Disraeli, Jenny Lindt(The Swedish Nightingale) and Pagannini. Charles Darwin was a local lad born 200 years ago in 1709 and after attending the original Shrewsbury School-now the local library and very friendly-(free internet access for visitors), he spent 2 years studying medicine at Edinburgh and the clergy at Cambridge. Both subjects bored him, since he had collected and studied insects, plants and fossils when younger.
He was invited to join Captain Fitzroy as his companion on the voyage of The Beagle. His father Robert said no, but he begged his favourite uncle Josiah Wedgewood II for help, which he did, and caught the stagecoach from The Lion to London and the Admiralty office to sign on. For 5 years he toured the world, to The Azores, South America, round the Cape Horn to The Galapagos Islands and on to Australia, via the Pacific, The Indian Ocean, Cape Town, and home. He caught the overnight coach to The Lion Hotel, had breakfast and ran home to see his family after 5 years away.
There is a Darwin Trail with way-markers featuring animals and birds, such as the marine iguana. set in the pavement around the town. These are sponsored by Royal Mail. who brought out commemorative stamps. www.discoverdarwin.co.uk. He called them 'The most disgusting clumsy Lizards'. 'Imps of Darkness'. Charles married his cousin Emma from the wealthy Wedgewood family and had 10 children after moving near to London. He never lacked for anything. His wife was given £10,000 as a wedding dowry(a huge some in those days), and an annual allowance, to allow Charles to write and study.
His 'The Origin of Species' was published and is one of the most important books in history. Two children died young but the rest were very successful. Three became fellows of The Royal Society in the field of botany, civil engineering and astronomy. He is one of only 5 non royal personages to be given a state funeral, and is buried in Westminster Abbey.
The present Shrewsbury School has a giant statue of its most famous son, about 4 times the size of the one outside the city library. Shrewsbury School was a pioneer of football since the mid 1850's and this week housed hundreds of youth players from around the globe for the annual English Cup at the splendid Shrewsbury Sports Village. www.soccerdestinations.com
Teams such as Cantalao, Peru, Cruz Azul, Pachuca, Mexico,Al Ahly from Egypt and others from Ireland, Wales, Albania, Romania etc., battle well known English clubs from Shrewsbury Town, Blackpool FC, Bristol Rovers, Hereford United, Stoke City, Wolverhampton Schools, Port Vale, Cardiff City, Blackburn Rovers. Decent refereeing was there including former Premier League and FIFA official, Dermot Gallagher. I chatted with Patrick from the 2nd Mercian Regiment, Mark, and Rick from The Rifles, who were offering the chance for players to try their mobile climbing wall. The David Beckam Academy was also entertaining players in some new fangled 'over under' game. The ever young Iain Skewis, of the former Ian Rush Tournament fame is the brains behind The English Cup. Manchester(MAN), Liverpool(LPL) airports are an hour away while Birmingham (BHX) is just a half hour distance.
Shrewsbury is almost surrounded by The River Severn, and has possibly the best collection of preserved Tudor buildings in Britain. Nearby in the countryside of Shropshire is one of my favourite villages, Much Wenlock. It is also the 200th anniversary of the birth of Dr. William Penny-Brookes, who in 1850 started the Shropshire Olympics in Much Wenlock-still going today every July-where Brits win all the medals!!.www.ronsblog.com 9/24/2006.The Shropshire Olympics. He was visited by Pierre Coubertin from Paris with whom he had regular correspondence, inspiring the Frenchman to resurrect the modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. www.muchwenlockguide.info .It is also the 300th anniversery of the year that Abraham Darby successfully smelted iron using coke as opposed to charcoal, and the very first iron bridge at nearby Ironbridge, where the industrial revolution began.