A controversial book was published 152 years today which caused an outcry then and the debate has been going on ever since.
On November 22, 1859, Charles Darwin, who was born in Shrewsbury, brought out his work on his expedition to the Galapagos Islands entitled On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, priced at 15 shillings (75p).
There were 1,250 copies printed about his evolution theory, most of which were sold on the first day.
When a gale blew down the top 50ft of St Mary’s Church spire on Sunday, February 11, 1894, the day before the anniversary of Darwin’s birth, and while the council were debating putting up a controversial statue of Darwin in the town, the vicar said it was divine retribution.
Scaffolding, which had been put up by workmen who were due to return to work on the Monday, crashed down, along with part of the spire into the nave which had been full with more than 300 worshippers only an hour or so previously.
Preaching in the wrecked sanctuary on the following Sunday, the vicar, the Rev Newdegate Poyntz, told the congregation: “Could anyone in the future doubt the providence of God. Not one soul was lost. Could they, therefore, doubt that God’s hand was present throughout all and that He was guiding and ruling all.”
Referring to the councillors and their debate he continued: “The fall of the spire should stop for ever, in their mouths at least, the jargon about natural laws, natural forces and the like, so common in this present day.
“One day this month a certain event occurred in Shrewsbury and a few days afterwards the spire was blown down by an Act of God. Was there any connection between the two events?
“If he was right, it was at least possible many had received a warning. Let them act upon it.
“If they pondered well over his remarks, and digested them, they ought to bring in during the week, sufficient funds to restore the church twice over.”
The sermon caused 14 readers to write letters to the Shrewsbury Chronicle over the next two weeks, most of them agreeing with the vicar.
Funds for the £6,000 repair bill for St Mary’s were eventually found. A statue of Charles Darwin, pictured below, who died on April 19, 1882, and was buried a week later at Westminster Abbey on April 26, was placed outside what is now Shrewsbury Library and can still be seen today.
There’s more about the Darwin story in Four Centuries at The Lion Hotel. Autographed copies of the book for the special Christmas price of £5 plus postage can be obtained by emailing John@jbutterworth.plus.com