A. R. Wallace's birthplace up for sale!

Kensington House, Alfred Russel Wallace's birthplace in Llanbadoc, near the town of Usk in Wales (UK) is currently up for sale for £525,000 (CLICK HERE to see the Estate Agent's advertisment). The house has been in the possession of the current owners for 17 years and very few people interested in Wallace have ever seen inside it. This is a rare opportunity for an organisation like the National Trust to buy the house, restore it to how it was when Wallace was born (1823), and open it to the public as the Wallace Birthplace Museum. There are Birthplace Museums in Britain commemmorating many people of much lesser historical importance than Wallace (e.g. Samuel Johnson - heard of him?), so why not a museum to one of the most famous people ever to have been born in what is now Wales?

This is what I say about the house in Natural Selection and Beyond: The Intellectual Legacy of Alfred Russel Wallace, a book I co-edited with Charles Smith (note that a cheap paperback edition is about to be released - CLICK HERE for info.):-

"Kensington Cottage, Usk, Monmouthshire, England (8 January 1823-1828)

Alfred Russel Wallace was born in Kensington Cottage, Monmouthshire, England (originally Gwent, Wales--later Gwent again, and most recently Monmouthshire again, but as one of twenty-two “principal areas” of Wales) on the 8th of January 1823 to Thomas Vere Wallace and Mary Ann Wallace (née Greenell), a middle-class English couple of modest means. He was the eighth of nine children, three of whom did not survive to adulthood. Wallace’s father was of Scottish descent (reputedly, of a lineage leading back to the famous William Wallace), whilst the Greenells were a respectable Hertford family.

Kensington Cottage is situated beside the river Usk, half a mile or so from the town of Usk on a road leading to the village of Llanbadoc. Wallace lived here until he was about six and when he was in his 80s he could still remember “the little house and room we chiefly occupied, with a French window opening to the garden, a steep wooded bank on the right, the road, river, and distant low hills to the left.” He continues:

"The house itself was built close under this bank, which was quite rocky in places, and a little back yard between the kitchen and a steep bit of rock has always been clearly pictured before me…In the house, I recollect the arrangement of the rooms, the French window to the garden, and the blue-papered room in which I slept...so far as I remember, only one servant was kept [the cook], and my father did most of the garden work himself, and provided the family with all the vegetables and most of the fruit which was consumed. Poultry, meat, fish, and all kinds of dairy produce were especially cheap; my father taught the children himself; the country around was picturesque and the situation healthy..."

Wallace recalls fishing for small lampreys from large slabs of rock which jutted into the river Usk not far from the house. These had been flung into the river from a nearby stone quarry many years before. He also remembers seeing “men fishing in coracles, the ancient form of boat made of strong wicker-work, somewhat the shape of the deeper half of a cockle-shell, and covered with bullock’s hide.” Wallace was “half-baptised” on 19 January 1823 (in case he died suddenly) and fully baptised in the nearby Llanbadoc church on 16 February 1823.

Kensington Cottage (now named Kensington House) still survives, although there have been some structural alterations and the houses which used to be to either side of it have been demolished. The bank of the Usk in front of the house has been built up to protect against winter floods and on the part of the bank nearest the house is a metal bench with a stainless steel plaque dedicated to Wallace’s memory. No plaque has been put on the house itself as it is set back too far back from the road for one to be seen. On 20 May 2006 a monument sponsored by the Alfred Russel Wallace Memorial Fund was unveiled by Wallace’s grandson Richard, outside the yard of Llanbadoc church not far from the cottage. The monument is made from Carboniferous limestone with fossils on its surface (best seen when the rock is wet) and it has a black granite plaque on it commemorating Wallace."

A nice article about the fact that the house is up for sale was published today in the South Wales Argus newspaper - see http://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/news/5010377.Time_to_recognise_scientific_pioneer/

 Kensington House as it was about 5 years ago. Copyright G. Beccaloni.


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