Thomas Hardy

At 18 Westbourne Terrace, in 1867, Thomas Hardy wrote the curiously medieval love poem called 1967.  From 1867, when he lived there, the poem broods forward a hundred years, to a time when all those then living would be dead. It is an extraordinary  sort of memento mori in the form of a love poem.

1967

In five score summers! All new eyes,
A century which, if not sublime,
New minds, new modes, new fools,

Will show,
I doubt not, at its prime,
new wise: A scope beyond this blinkered time.

New woes to weep, new joys to prize. Yet what for me how far above?
With nothing left of me or you For I would only ask thereof
In that live century's vivid view That your worm should be
Beyond a pinch of dust or two: my worm, Love.

What possible explanation can there be for such a poem? Hardy's father was a builder in Dorchester, specializing in church restoration. In 1862, Hardy came to London with a letter of recommendation as an architectural assistant. By good chance he was employed by Arthur Blomfield and was to work in his office for seven years.

Blomfield, who was born in Lambeth Palace, was the son of one bishop (who gave his name to Blomfield Avenue, Paddington) and the brother of a second. Arthur Blomfield had an flourishing architectural practice at 18 Adelphi Terrace, with a bias, as one might perhaps expect, towards church architecture.

Few records remain of his actual practice, but a trawl through The Builder from 1862-67 reveals some of the work done in Hardy's time.

87 Chancery Lane, WC2
Built 1863 by Arthur Blomfied, now restored. Listed Grade II. The original drawings may have been made by Thomas Hardy

  • The church of St Lawrence Jewry, Gresham Street, was restored.
  • St Barnabas's Church in Bell Street was built (now demolished and adjacent to the site of Westminster Academy.
  • A  four storey set of solicitor's chambers built in 1863 in Chancery Lane, which is barely 14 feet wide. (shown left)
    In patterned red and yellow brick and stone and much influenced by Butterfield, is now listed Grade II.1 Tall and narrow, it has been beautifully restored. Presumably it was listed because of the quality of the work and Blomfield’s name. Perhaps there should be a plaque to Blomfield and Hardy. Adjacent buildings have had only their facades saved, but their backs are completely new. Only the frontages remain. Hardy could have written a poem on the transience of buildings, as well as of people.

During his work for Blomfield, Hardy supervised the clearance of the old St Pancras Cemetery to make way for St Pancras Station. There he found a coffin containing two skulls. Blomfield found this hilarious, telling the story at every dining table in London. To Hardy it was a sombre subject and could perhaps have inspired this poem, with its two lovers being eaten by the same worm. Today we are further away from 1867 even than Hardy imagined and far further then the young Thomas Hardy was from Mrs Siddons.

It was while Hardy was living in Westbourne Terrace that Neeld and Vigers, of whom we shall hear more later, were developing the streets to the north of Harrow Road.


Footnote

  1. 87 Chancery Lane. Ref TQ 3181 SW. Victorian Gothic. Slate roof, Entrance a pointed arch spanning the complete width.

 

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Updated February 3, 2011