Thomas Hardy

Weymouth, or Budmouth Regis as it is known to Thomas Hardy fans, was loved by the author

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) lived in Dorset for most of his life and the county was the inspiration for many of his books and poems. He was born in 1840 at Higher Bockhampton just outside Dorchester (known to Hardy enthusiasts as Upper Mellstock) in a cottage built by his great-grandfather in 1801. Whilst living here, Thomas Hardy wrote Under the Greenwood Tree and Far from the Madding Crowd. Thomas Hardy’s Cottage was acquired by the National Trust in 1947 and is now open to the public.

At the age of 16, Thomas Hardy was articled to a firm of architects in Dorchester (Hardy’s Casterbridge) and he could have become an accomplished architect had he not chosen to concentrate on writing instead. He lived in London for five years before returning to Dorset.

Thomas HardyFor a while Hardy lived at No 3 Wooperton Street in Weymouth (Budmouth Regis), where he continued to work as an architect for G R Crickmay. Judged by the frequency that characters in Hardy’s novels visit Budmouth and, in the case of Diggory Venn in The Return of the Native eulogise by saying “I was happy enough at Budmouth. O the times, O the days at Budmouth!”, Hardy must have loved and respected the town. Eustacia Vye went on to say “Now Budmouth is a wonderful place – wonderful – a great salt sheening sea bending into the land like a bow – thousands of gentlepeople walking up and down – bands of music playing – officers by sea and officers by land walking among the rest – out of every ten folk you meet nine of ‘em in love”. In fact, although The Mayor of Casterbridge is probably Hardy’s most famous novel, Budmouth (Weymouth) is mentioned in his texts far more frequently than Casterbridge (Dorchester).

Thomas Hardy resurrected the old name of Wessex to describe the region in which he set most of his novels. In Under the Greenwood Tree, written partly while Hardy was staying in Weymouth, we are told “The scene was the corner of Mary Street in Budmouth-Regis, near the King’s statue”. Anyone walking in Weymouth’s main shopping area will inevitably pass by the exact spot that he describes. In Far From the Madding Crowd, Sergeant Troy visits Budmouth Races on several occasions; the races used to be held at an area of Weymouth called Lodmoor, which is now part of an RSPB nature reserve. Similarly, there is a village called Overcombe, which overlooks Lodmoor. However, the village of Overcombe that features in Hardy’s The Trumpet Major is based on Sutton Poyntz, a village a few miles to the east of Weymouth. The King also comes to Budmouth Regis for his holidays in The Trumpet Major, a novel set during the Napoleonic Wars, and the real King of that time certainly holidayed in Weymouth, the real Budmouth.

The novel The Well Beloved is set on Portland (to Hardy, the Isle of Slingers), and the causeway linking Weymouth and Portland is clearly recognisable in the quote “Jocelyn prepared to leave and…set out from the stone house of his birth in this stone isle to walk to Budmouth-Regis by the path along the beach”. The cottage (Avice’s Cottage) which is thought to be the one in which Avice Caro, one of the main characters, was supposed to have lived, was at one time owned by Marie Stopes. It now houses the Portland Museum.

In 1883, Thomas Hardy made his home in Dorchester and in 1885 he moved to Max Gate, a house that he designed and that was built for him by his brother on the outskirts of the town. Max Gate is now owned by the National Trust and is open to the public. Dorchester boasts many buildings that were featured in The Mayor of CasterbridgeFar from the Madding CrowdThe Trumpet Major and Under the Greenwood Tree, including St Peter’s Church, The King’s Arms Hotel, The White Hart Hotel, The Corn Exchange, Barclays Bank (Henchard’s house) and Grey’s Bridge.

Thomas Hardy died in 1928. He had requested that he be buried at Stinsford (Mellstock) Church where he was christened and his family had served for many years. However, on his death, his ashes were interred at Westminster Abbey in London and only his heart was buried in Stinsford churchyard in the grave of his wife. Cecil Day Lewis, the Poet Laureate, is also buried there.

Other places of interest in Dorset to Hardy fans will include Lower Bockhampton (Lower Mellstock), Bere Regis (Kingsbere), Athelhampton (Athelhall), Puddletown (Weatherbury) and Cerne Abbas (Abbot’s Cernel) to name but a few.