Erasmus Darwin enjoyed his food so much that, as he grew older, a semi-circle had to be cut out of his dining table to accommodate his girth!
Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin, was born near Nottingham in 1731. After an education at Cambridge, he lived at Lichfield and later in Derby. He worked as a country doctor, but was a best selling poet, a botanist and an inventor, although he did not patent any of his inventions as he believed that this would damage his reputation as a doctor. Amongst his designs were a horizontal windmill for Josiah Wedgwood, a carriage that would not tip over, a canal lift for barges and an artificial bird. He was a prominent member of the Lunar Society, and a campaigner against slavery. His close friends included Josiah Wedgwood, Mather Boulton and James Watt, the philosopher Benjamin Franklin and the artist Joseph Wright. He was described as friendly, generous, full of humour and a man who paid little attention to authority. He married twice, with a mistress in-between and had 14 children. He also enjoyed his food and, as he grew older, a semi-circle had to be cut out of his dining table to accommodate his girth. He died in 1802 of a lung infection.
Erasmus Darwin's first wife died in 1769, when he was 38, leaving him with 3 young children. Mary Parker, an 18 year old girl, was bought in to look after the children. A relationship developed and she subsequently bore Erasmus 2 daughters, Susan in 1772 and Mary in 1774; they were known as the Miss Parkers and were brought up in his home with his other children. Many friends remarked that Darwin was particularly kind to these daughters. Both girls went on to serve as governesses for other families, but Darwin felt that they would not be satisfied in such posts and decided to create a career for them by establishing a school for girls, which opened in 1794. Susanna was in charge of the school until her marriage in 1817 when Mary took over. When Susanna married Dr Henry Hadley of the Priory Breadsall, near Derby, she transferred her share of the house and the church pew to her sister Mary. The school subsequently closed and in 1828, Mary Parker is listed as a private resident. Mary died in 1859 when the house was sold and left the Darwin family.