Wednesday 2 January 2013

Photo Essay: Thomas Hardy's Cottage in Dorset

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) was an English novelist and poet who lived nearly all of his life near Dorchester in Dorset. He was born north-east of the town, in a village called Higher Bockhampton – although it now lies closer to the village of Stinsford. After apprenticing as an architect in Dorchester, Hardy moved to London in 1862 to study at King’s College. He never felt at home in London – he was very sensitive to the class divisions prevalent in society, and always felt socially inferior. He moved back to Dorset, and lived at home with his parents’ family in this cottage until 1874. He decided to become a writer.

Entry into Thomas Hardy's Cottage

Thomas Hardy first made his name as a novelist - later he became just as eminent a poet. He had a few false starts with some of his earlier attempts at novel-writing, but hit his stride with Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873), and Far From the Madding Crowd (1874) – written while he was still living in the family cottage.

That's me in front of Hardy's Cottage

I have visited Hardy’s Cottage twice – both times with my good friend Michael Hoskinson. It is an inspiring spot – the house and its setting is very picturesque, and you can hike to the cottage from the car park through a very attractive wooded area called Thorncombe Woods. I took the photos that appear in this blog post during our second visit, in 2009.
A better view of the front of Hardy's Cottage

Thomas Hardy’s Cottage has been a National Trust property since 1948. Miss K. Hardy donated the home in her will. A small collection of Hardy items were given to the Trust in 1965.

The site of Hardy's Cottage - just off A35, east of Dorchester

To get to Hardy’s cottage from London, take a train from Waterloo to Dorchester. By car, coming from the east towards Dorchester, the roads from Bournemouth, Southampton, or Salisbury, eventually merge with the A35. You turn left off the A35 into the village of Stinsford about 3 km east of Dorchester. Roads west from Lyme Regis, or north from Yeovil and Sherborne also meet the A35  - on the west side of Dorchester.

Another view of the front of Thomas Hardy's Cottage

Hardy’s Cottage was built ca. 1800 at the end of Cherry Lane by Thomas’s grandfather, also named Thomas. It stood at the top of the hill, just off Cuckoo Lane. The main materials used for the house were cob for the walls and thatch for the roof. Cob was a building material made by compressing together earth, clay or chalk, reinforced with straw. Thatch, used for the roofing, was made from dried vegetation – usually straw, reed, sedge, rushes, or heather.

Inside Hardy's Cottage on the ground floor

The building has been renovated and slightly expanded over the years. It was eventually given extra weather protection with a facing of brick, or rendered cement.  It features typical crossbeams and latticed windows.
The parlour on the ground floor

Thomas Hardy was born in this cottage on 2 June 1840, the first of four children to Thomas and Jemima Hardy. He was born in his parents’ bed in the middle bedroom on the upper floor. Thomas senior was a local builder and stone mason; he used to pay his employees through the barred window at the back of the house. That window looked out over the heathland that stretched out behind the cottage – this area was probably the inspiration for Egdon Heath in Hardy’s novel The Return of the Native (1878).
Where Thomas Hardy was born - his parents' bed

The original entry into the cottage was where the second window from the left is, as you face the front of the house.
Thomas Hardy's bedroom

There are seven rooms in the cottage. The upper left bedroom (as you face the front of the house) was the bedroom of his sisters Mary and Kate. The larger middle bedroom belonged to his parents, Thomas and Jemima. And the small bedroom to the right was Thomas junior’s room – which he shared later with his younger brother Henry. When he moved back to Dorset from London, as a young man, he used this bedroom as his study and office. This was where he wrote his novels.
Michael in front of the window in Hardy's bedroom - later to become his study/office

Thomas Hardy with bicycle
After Thomas Hardy finally moved out of this cottage in 1874, he stayed loyal to its memory all of his life. Even after he’d built his own large house at Max Gate in 1885, he would visit the cottage nearly every week – on foot, or by bicycle. And on his birthday he would take a stroll through the woods behind the cottage (the Thorncombe Wood). Hardy continued to pay the rent on the cottage up until 1923 – even after his mother’s death in 1904.

The wild garden at the front of Thomas Hardy's Cottage

The garden in front of the cottage has changed dramatically over the years. I have visited there twice – the visits separated by about 30 years. The garden in 2009 looks wild and unruly – a traditional type of English Country cottage garden.

The lane leading to the car park and Thorncombe Woods behind Hardy's Cottage

Thomas Hardy’s Cottage is worth a visit if you plan to be in Dorset. It would be very inspiring if you’re a fan of the famed novelist-poet; and a lovely half-day outing in the country, if you’re not.
This amazing fish-eye view of Hardy's Cottage by PanoScope's "Little Planets"


  1. Great pictures Clive. One of my favourite authors and one of my favourite parts of the country. Tony

  2. Very impressive! I love Thomas Hardy. My favourite poem by him is "An Upbraiding," and my favourite novel in his ouvre is "Tess of the D'Urbervilles." In fact, I even named my cat D'urberville.

    1. Thanks for your response - and the kind words.

      I've only read a few of his novels. Had to study "Jude The Obscure" twice for different university courses. A depressing read! But one of my professors did a substantial review of Hardy's poetry - which was quite the revelation, since I had no idea he was such an accomplished poet. Many of the poems he wrote about his deceased wife Emma are so poignant and affecting.

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