1840-1928 - Thomas Hardy

The novelist and poet was born in this modest cottage at Higher Bockhampton in Dorset. Despite its archaic appearance it was built as recently as 1800, by Hardy's great-grandfather, in a plain and simple style common in this part of the country. Hardy came from a family of builders and his original ambition had been to become an architect. Here the writer lived for most of his first 34 years, and it was at a table by the window in one of the upstairs rooms that he wrote Under The Greenwood Tree and Far From the Madding Crowd. Later he designed his own home in Dorchester. Where did Hardy draw inspiration for his famous 'Wessex'?

Hardy came from a remote, upland part of Dorset that was only just beginning to drag itself into the 19th century. Even today, the cottage where he was born cannot be reached directly by road, and must be approached on foot along a lane. Later, when he saw just how quickly the modern world was encroaching on the landscape he knew, he remodelled the county of his childhood to create 'Wessex', the setting for many of his poems and novels. They are works on whose earthy humanity and deep compassion he built his reputation as one of our greatest writers. He rarely, either in mind or body, left Dorset for long, and though his ashes are interred in Westminster Abbey - the Prime Minister was a pallbearer at the funeral - his heart is symbolically buried at Stinsford, his local Dorset church. The novels are infused with the landscape of sheep farms, wild heaths and remote hamlets with names like Victorian actor-managers - Winterborne Herringston, Compton Valence, Melbury Bubb. Local legends and anecdotes provided him with plots and characters, like Michael Henchard, the Mayor of Casterbridge, who sold his wife and child at a fair. His earliest surviving poem, 'Domicilium', describes his grandmother's recollections of the cottage:

Our house was quite alone, and those tall firs
And beeches were not planted. Snakes and efts
Swarmed in the summer days, and nightly bats
Would fly about our bedrooms. Heathcroppers
Lived on the hills, and were our only friends;
So wild was it when first we settled here.
.

Much later, in 1901, he describes his return to his childhood home:

Here is the ancient floor, footworn and hollowed and thin,
Here was the former door, where the dead feet walked in

 

1834-1896 - William Morris

1866-1943 - Beatrix Potter