‘When all this is over,' said the princess, ‘this bothersome Growing Up, I’ll live with wild horses.’ New grass, a new adventure, a new Boarding House and more than a ripple of applause; Emma Darwin Hall claimed its destiny overlooking the most beautiful playing fields in the world.
Over one hundred and fifty guests gathered in a newly created courtyard to celebrate the coming of age of co-education at Shrewsbury and a sister house to Mary Sidney Hall. With Peter Hankin’s remarkable portrait of Emma Darwin overseeing the gathering, the Headmaster spoke eloquently about the inspirational wife of a genius, who so perfectly embodied the artistry of her father's family (the Wedgwoods), the scientific intellect of her mother's family (the Allens) and the philosophical non-conformism of her husband, Charles.
Paying tribute to those who helped bring Emma Darwin Hall to life, Mark Turner went on to thank the visionaries who conceived of the project and the facilitators who made it happen. From the governors, to Jeremy and Isobel Goulding, to bursars old and new, to the architects, the builders, and to so many support and teaching staff at Shrewsbury, the pioneering girls and the people who live and work in the building owe an enormous debt of gratitude.
Emma Darwin Hall’s first Housemistress, Kait Weston, contributed with supreme dignity and good humour to the sense of occasion with thanks in particular for the wisdom and expertise of Mary Sidney Hall Housemistress, Sara Hankin, before taking a moment or two to reflect upon the value of role models such as Emma Darwin for the girls in the house. One other such role model is Gessica Howarth, one of the first female graduates from Shrewsbury who alongside studying Mathematics at Oxford University is one of the most exciting young opera singers in the country. Gessica’s extraordinary performance of a Handel Aria, so sensitively accompanied by Director of Music, John Moore, was breathtaking in its emotional power and artistic subtlety.
Following such a moment would require something very special indeed. Fortunately, Ruth Padel, a great-great-grandchild of Emma and Charles Darwin, who was described by The Telegraph as, "a poet and scholar with a beautifully patient understanding, reminiscent of Ted Hughes, of how the natural world invests itself in our experience," provided the audience with a spellbinding, personal account of the lives of Emma and Charles. Beyond all things, the audience was told, Emma comforted. For Charles this would have been an immense source of relief following a difficult early life where he found some sanctuary from school and upbringing working on his scientific experiments in a potting shed. Disagreements on the subject of religion were painful for both Emma and Charles, but their marriage had a depth and quality to it which proved steadfast and lifelong. With, passion, poetry, anecdote and visible delight, Ruth Padel moved and informed in equal and consummate measure. Her words will surely echo through the rooms and corridors of Emma Darwin Hall for years to come.
It fell to Isabella Barber, Head of House, to voice the thoughts of all present with a heartfelt thanks to Ruth Padel for sharing her time and wisdom so generously. With that, the guests made their way back into the courtyard for an excellent ‘al fresco’ late lunch and the opportunity for conversation.
After some considerable time, and with Astarte rising over the western Shropshire hills, the guests began to leave and the first young residents of Emma Darwin Hall paused to reflect upon their own trail of destiny. When all of this bothersome Growing Up is done, Emma Darwin Hall will have played its part in ensuring that future generations of exceptional young women will, in their own individual ways, find that they have the gift of understanding how to live with wild horses.