Thomas Hardy’s Dorset
Arguably Dorset’s most famous son, the Victorian writer, Thomas Hardy is credited with reviving the modern day notion of King Alfred’s ‘Wessex’ an area stretching from Hampshire in the east and Somerset in the west, but the physical and spiritual heart of which lay in Thomas Hardy’s Dorset.
The novels of Thomas Hardy are firmly rooted in the county – he liked to write about places he knew well and people he lived amongst and it is still possible to visit places and landscapes, the villages with thatched cottages, market squares and the architecture of churches, mills and malthouses mentioned in his works. Although some of the sprawling heathland has been replaced by forestry (currently undergoing a process of restoration) the rolling countryside is largely unchanged, creating a beautiful, bucolic place through which to walk. His ‘partly real, partly dream’ description of Dorset still resonates today.
Footscape can provide a range of walks linking the most important places in Hardy’s life through the beautiful countryside which inspired his works.
We have highlighted below some places which may be of interest and which we can include on our trails. We have also provided a brief timeline for the author describing when and where many of his most famous works were written.
For more information on Footscape tailor-made walking holidays which include walking through Thomas Hardy country and visiting some of the places described below please click here Thomas Hardy’s trails
Born in 1840, Thomas Hardy spent his childhood in a cottage on the edge of “Egdon Heath” in the idyllic hamlet of Higher Bockhampton “between a heath and a wood” a mix of oaks, beech and sweet chestnut. Looking out of his window he could see the pastureland of the Frome Valley Far From the Madding Crowd. From the garden the view was of the heath, Hardy’s Egdon Heath, the setting for the Return of the Native.
The cottage was built of traditional cob, brick and thatch by Hardy’s great-grandfather, a mason and bricklayer in 1800 for his son. Today it is a picture- perfect example of a traditional Dorset thatched cottage and, maintained by The National Trust since 1948, has remained virtually unchanged since Hardy lived there as a boy and young man.
Website : Thomas Hardy’s Cottage
Winter : November- end February Thursday- Sunday 10am-4pm
Summer : March – end October 7 days a week 11am-5pm
Stinsford is Mellstock in Hardy’s novels (Under the Greenwood Tree) and the walk between the two villages was one of Hardy’s favourites. Central to the village is the picturesque 13th century church. Apart from worshipping here, Thomas Hardy played the violin in his family’s ‘string quire’ ( the church did not have an organ at that time and relied on the Hardy family to accompany the hymn singing. A tablet, written in Latin on the west wall commemorates the family’s contribution to church music. Like Hardy, himself, the family were not particularly religious – Hardy recalls that his grandfather was far more interested in the music than the service, often copying out music during the sermon.
The gallery in front of the tower, projecting over the nave – where the quire took refreshments during their carol singing – has been restored. A plan of the original gallery, drawn by Hardy, hangs in the tower. Hardy remembers sitting in the church beneath a tablet commemorating the Grey family (one of whom was Angel Grey, the inspiration for Angel Clare in Tess).
Hardy loved this little church and returned whenever he could. His own memorial is a stained glass window dating from 1930 in the south aisle.
Outside are the graves of Hardy’s family. Only Hardy’s heart is buried here- the rest is at Poets corner in Westminster Abbey.
Next to these are the graves of Cecil Day Lewis (1904-72) and his wife. He was Poet Laureate and detective novelist and a great admirer of Thomas Hardy. He was also father to the actor Daniel Day Lewis.
Having married Emma Gifford, Hardy lived in London and Sturminster Newton before returning to his beloved Dorchester. He designed, and his brother built, the red brick Max Gate on the outskirts of the town. Here he wrote The Woodlanders and Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Tess provoked interest, but his next work, Jude the Obscure catapulted Hardy into controversy, the book being seen by Victorian society as an attack upon the institution of marriage.
Hardy himself was bemused by the reaction his book caused, and he turned away from writing fiction with some disgust. For the rest of his life Hardy focused on poetry, producing several collections, including Wessex Poems (1898).
Emma Hardy died in November 1912, and was buried in Stinsford churchyard. Thomas was stricken with guilt and remorse, but the result was the creation of some of his best poetry
In 1914 Hardy remarried to Florence Dugdale, his secretary since 1912. Thomas Hardy died on January 11 1928 at his house of Max Gate. He had expressed the wish to be buried beside Emma, but his wishes were only partly regarded; his body was interred in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey, and only his heart was buried in Emma’s grave at Stinsford.
Website : Max Gate
Winter : November- end February Thursday- Sunday 10am-4pm
Summer : March – end October 7 days a week 11am-5pm
Home to Hardy’s mother, Jemima, and where his parents were married. Jemima’s mother, Elizabeth Swetman had married a poor man, George Hand of Affpiddle (now Affpuddle) who died young, leaving her to bring up her large family of seven children. Jemima was bright and largely self taught- she passed on her enthusiasm for books to Thomas. Jemima’s home was the thatched cottage over the church wall (northside) – 1 Barton Hill Cottages.
Bere Regis, (called Kingsbere-sub-Greenhill by Hardy) was a royal manor from Saxon times, In medieval times the manor was held by Simon de Montfort, regarded by some historians as the father of the British parliament. The Bere estate passed to John Turberville, whose descendants were lord of the manor from the 13th to the 18th century.
Thomas Hardy modified the name of this powerful Dorset family in his famous novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
Alex D’Urberville adopted the family name and the coast of arms as his own, an action which for Hardy reflected trend for the rise of new money and absentee landlords
Dorset County Museum
The museum has the largest collection of material related to Thomas Hardy including the draft first chapter of ‘The Woodlanders’ There is also an accurate reconstruction of his study at Max Gate.
The Museum will undergo an ambitious expansion and renovation project in 2018, following the conclusion of the ‘Dippy on Tour’ exhibition, a process which will last until 2020. The Museum will remain open throughout and will result in new galleries and improved exhibition areas
Website : Dorset County Museum
Current opening times :
Winter : November – March 10 to 4, Monday to Saturday
Summer : April – October 10 to 5, Monday to Saturday (Sundays late July to mid September)
Clouds Hill and Moreton
T.E Lawrence was a frequent visitor to Max Gate and Hardy considered him to be one of his closest friends. He was a hugely complex character, both enjoying and later shunning public attention. He was certainly famous during his lifetime, but he became much more widely known after David Lean’s 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia, which was loosely based on his autobiography The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
Sympathetic to arab nationalism he was a special adviser on Arab affairs to Winston Churchill in the early 1920s, but disillusioned by events he joined the Tank Corps at Bovington under the name of Private Thomas Shaw renting and then buying the tiny and dilapidated Clouds Hill. This became his retreat for writing and contemplation, but in 1934 he was killed riding his motor bike on a road near Moreton, hitting his head on a tree. His death led to the development of the motorcycle helmet.
Website : Clouds Hill
Opening times March- end October 11am- 5pm
T E Lawrence was buried at St Nicholas Church in nearby Moreton. The cemetery was filled to capacity by the 1930s so Henry Frampton, the then lord of the manor and cousin of T E Lawrence, gave a piece of land nearby to be used as an overflow cemetery. Here the beautifully lettered gravestone of T. E. Lawrence can be found on the Frampton family plot. Lawrence’s funeral was attended at Moreton, by amongst others, Mr. & Mrs. Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, Augustus John, General Wavell, Siegfried Sassoon and Thomas Hardy’s second wife, Florence.
A life-size stone effigy of Lawrence in Arab robes and holding a dagger, sculpted by his friend Eric Kennington, stands in St. Martins Church, Wareham.
The church is worth visiting in it’s own right. Rebuilt in the late eighteenth century, it is regarded as a fine example of 18th century architecture, and quite unusual for a small rural parish.
It is almost certainly the only church in the world in which all the windows are engraved. They were created over a long period by Laurence Whistler, and remain the summit of his professional achievement. As Jo Draper says in her excellent “Dorset, The Complete Guide”: “all [the windows] are based on the theme of light – the apse has candles, the north aisle the sun, the vestry lightning, and so on. Each window deserves close scrutiny, and the overall effect is magical …”.
Whatever your religious beliefs or lack of, a visit to St. Nicholas Church is highly recommended.
Thomas Hardy Timeline
1840 Thomas Hardy was born in Higher Bockhampton, the eldest of four children.
1848 Hardy attended the village school in Lower Bockhampton which had been established by Julia Augusta Martin, the lady of the manor, Kingston Maurward where he was reportedly an eager student. A year later he went to school in Dorchester
1856 Having left school Hardy was articled to a local architect, John Hicks. He began to write verse and was influenced by modern thinking which challenged many accepted religious beliefs
1862 Hardy moved to London to continue his training as an architect, but after five years, tired of London, he returned to Dorchester and rejoined John Hicks to work on church restoration.
1870 Thomas Hardy completed his first novel The Poor Man and the Lady, now lost, and began to write Desperate Remedies. Work sent him to Cornwall where he met his future wife Emma Gifford. A year later Desperate Remedies was published, but to mixed reviews. He then began to write about people and themes which were more familiar to him-and Under the Greenwood Tree was the result.
1874 Following the successful publication of Under the Greenwood Tree, Hardy began to write for the prestigious Cornhill magazine- and married Emma in London.
1876 The Hardys moved to Sturminster Newton in north Dorset where they were very happy. Here Hardy started Return of the Native, inspired by the heathland at Higher Bockhampton.
1878 The couple moved back to London and The Trumpet Major, set during the Napoleonic Wars was serialised. Hardy was beginning to become well known in literary circles.
1880 Hardy fell seriously ill whilst writing The Lacedonian and the following year moved back to Dorset in Wimborne Minster where he wrote Two in the Tower.
1883 The Hardys moved back to Dorchester and Hardy wrote The Mayor of Casterbridge, set in the town in the years before the repeal of the Corn Laws.
1885 The couple moved into Max Gate and Hardy began The Woodlanders, published on both sides of the Atlantic in 1887. Hardy then wrote many short stories.
1891 Tess of the d’Urbervilles was published in the UK and America amidst much protest and criticism. This put additional strain on his marriage and having completed the serialised The Well-Beloved Hardy then began work on Jude the Obscure.
1895 Jude was published. So bitter was the criticism that Hardy turned to writing poetry. He had always considered verse to be ‘the better part of me’
1897 Hardy wrote and revised poems for his first collection ‘Wessex Poems’ Continued interest in the Napoleonic Wars led to the epic poem The Dynasts.
1910 Thomas Hardy was bestowed with The Order of Merit.
1912 Emma Hardy died. Full of guilt and remorse Hardy wrote some of his finest love poetry in her memory.
1914 Hardy married his long time secretary, Florence Dugdale. He continued to write verse and to entertain luminaries at Max Gate.
1928 Thomas Hardy died. His ashes were placed at Poets Corner, Westminster Abbey and his heart in Emma’s grave in Stinsford Church
For more information about Thomas Hardy and events held in Dorset please visit Thomas Hardy Society
Dorset skipped the industrial revolution which at the time meant that the county was less wealthy by comparison with many other industrial counties in England. Although ironically it was this that kept Dorset as a rural idyll which remains largely unspoilt to this day.
Along the coast where the ‘black economy’ thrived Smuggling was particularly rife.
Among many one of the most famous was Isaac Gulliver (1745-1822) whose gang ran 15 Tuggers from the continent to the Dorset coast running gin, lace, silk and tea and ran operations from Poole in the East to Lyme Regis in the West.
The Georgian period also saw a renaissance in Dorset as George III liked to visit Weymouth and it became a fashionable tourist destination and tourism remains a very important part of the modern Dorset economy.
Dorset played a very significant contribution to the two World Wars in the 20th Century with the Lulworth army range opening in 1916 and the sequestration of Tyneham village in 1943 to extend the range.
With preparations for D Day in Poole or the testing of Barnes Wallace’s bouncing bomb on the Fleet.
Dorset has played a pivotal role in the history of England since the dawn of time and it’s all here waiting for you to explore and discover its wonderful history.