Discover Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy’s Dorchester
Explore the words of Thomas Hardy in Dorchester
Hardy was born in 1840 in a small village called Stinsford just a short walk from Dorchester. The writer cared deeply about preserving the local area, his strong connection with the town is mirrored in his writing as he creates a fictional version of the town (Casterbridge) and surrounding areas, known as Hardy’s Wessex. The writer brilliantly describes the town as “clean-cut and distinct, like a chessboard on a green tablecloth.” – The Mayor of Casterbridge
Hardy has forever preserved his vision of Dorset through his writing. Luckily, we can still see much of what he wrote about today in Dorchester. If you want to explore the life and writing of Hardy here’s where you could go…
The writer’s birthplace known as Hardy’s Cottage is now managed by the National Trust, the beautiful, thatched cottage and gardens are viewable by bookable tours. The house was built by Hardy’s great-grandfather in 1800 and very little has changed since then. It’s well worth discovering the place where he wrote Under the Greenwood Tree and Far from the Madding Crowd.
Not only was Hardy a renowned writer he also was trained architect he designed and built his stunning redbrick Victorian home, known as Max Gate. Hardy and his wife Emma moved into the home in 1885. He spent 40 years in the cottage writing some of his most famous novels here including The Mayor of Casterbridge, The Woodlanders, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure, The Dynasts as well as numerous poems and short stories. The writer passed away in 1927 at the cottage. He dictated his final poem The Last Performance to his second wife Florence on his deathbed. The home is now managed by the National Trust and is viewable by booked tours.
Hardy’s Final Resting Place
Only Hardy’s heart is buried in his birth village of Stinford with his beloved wives Emma and Florence. He is located at a beautiful rural church called St Michal’s. It was his wish to be buried with Emma but his fame meant that it was insisted he should be interned to the famous poets corner at Westminster Abbey. This is where the rest of his ashes remain.
Hardy is buried close to other members of his family. Also near his grave is former Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis, the writer admired Hardy so much so that he asked to be buried close to him. Although there was some controversy around Hardy’s burial it seems fitting that his heart remains in the place, he cherished with the women he loved.
This magnificent bronze statue was erected by Eric Henri Kennington in 1931. The piece commemorated the writer’s life and career. The sculpture is said to have depicted Hardy seated as he wasn’t particularly tall! The monument was unveiled by Hardy’s friend James Barrie, who wrote Peter Pan. You can find Hardy sitting pride of place at the Top O’ Town Roundabout.
Dorset Museum holds the worlds largest Thomas Hardy collection which is on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. The archive holds many fascinating pieces that paint the picture of Hardy’s life. This includes the pens he wrote Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure with; each pen is aptly named after the protagonists. Also, many original manuscripts including the Under the Greenwood Tree and The Woodlanders. Some of the pieces capture Hardy’s personal experiences too, including his desk calendar, that remains on the same date that his wife Emma passed away. There is also a replica of Hardy’s study from Max Gate if you miss out on seeing it in real life.
Hardy knew the first curator at Dorset Museum Henry J Moule. The writer supported the museum and was even involved in the conservation of the Fordington mosaic, an eye catching feature of the museum to this day.
The museum has just opened its new Hardy exhibit ‘Hardy’s Wessex’ highlighting specifically the rural aspects of his writing. Admissions to the museum are available as a day pass or annual pass.
Real life Casterbridge
The novelist was inspired by local places and happenings in the town. You can still visit these places and imagine how Hardy may have seen them over 100 years ago.
The Mayor of Casterbridge alludes to many well-known parts of Dorchester. Such as Antelope Walk, a traditional cobblestone shopping arcade situated off Cornhill Road. The walk was once an 18th century Coaching Inn and was written about by Hardy in his novel.
Further down Cornhill Road is the Mayor of Casterbridge’s (Henchard’s) House, the building now holds Barclays Bank but from the outside you can see why the elegant building would be fit for the mayor. Hardy wrote “Henchard’s house was one of the best, faced with dull red-and-grey old brick.” The building has a blue plaque for its cameo in the book.
Maumbury Rings was the secret meeting place of Henchard and his long-lost wife. Hardy shows off Dorchester’s Roman heritage in his writing, “The Ring at Casterbridge was merely the local name of one of the finest Roman Amphitheatres, if not the very finest, remaining in Britain.” Interestingly the site was actually a Neolithic henge that the Romans modified for their own uses.
Not only did Hardy write about places he knew but also his own experiences. Martha Brown was the last woman to be publicly hanged in Dorset. She was executed outside Dorchester Prison for the murder of her husband. A young Hardy witnessed her execution at only 16. It is believed that the story of Martha Brown influenced Hardy’s novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles.