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Kensington Cottage, Usk, Monmouthshire, Wales

By Juan Manuel Rodriguez Caso

A photograph of Wallace's birthplace. From My Life (1905)
A photograph of Wallace's birthplace, taken from My Life (1905). Image available in Public Domain.

This is the place where Alfred Russel Wallace, co-founder of the theory of natural selection, was born on 8th January 1823. Originally, Monmouthshire was known as Gwent, Wales, but today is part of the twenty-two principal areas of Wales.

The house is situated close to the river Usk, not so far from the town of the same name on a road leading to Llanbadoc. Wallace lived here for his first six years, and on his autobiography, My Life (1905), there are some mentions about these times:

“The river in front of our house was the Usk, a fine stream on which we often saw 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.”

Or his recollections about the fishes he used to catch:

“The lamprey was a favourite dish with our ancestors, and is still considered a luxury in some districts, while in others it is rejected as disagreeable, and the living fish is thought to be even poisonous… Since this period of my early childhood I do not think I have ever eaten or even seen a lamprey.”

The house still survives and is best known like Kensington House, although there have been some structural alterations and the houses which used to be to either side of it have been demolished. Nowadays there is no plaque in the house itself in order to remember how important is this place for the history of science. What we can found is a monument erected in 2006 by the Alfred Russel Wallace Memorial Fund, in the yard of Llanbadoc church, made from Carboniferous limestone with fossils on its surface and it has a black granite plaque, remembering Wallace.

Unfortunately, the house is currently up for sale, and the last news about the possibility to officially protect Kensington House through the support of the Welsh Assembly Government and the National Trust are not very good, since on their consideration there is not a strong relation between the property and Wallace. As it’s mentioned here, Wallace devoted many passages on his autobiography to stressed the importance of this house and its surroundings.

Hopefully, in the next years, especially through more research about Wallace and his contributions there can be a new possibility to protect Kensington House.

Further information

South Wales Argus: Time to recognise scientific pioneer by Chris Wood

A. R. Wallace’s birthplace up for sale! by George Beccaloni.