Thomas Hardy, born in 1840 and died in 1928, lived and worked in Dorset for most of his life and many of his novels and other works use Dorset as inspiration for settings. In that time he published 15 novels, 3 collected works, countless poems and even a play. Throughout his books Hardy refers to 'Wessex' so if you want to get to the exact location he refers to in his books the following information is very useful:
Berkshire is North Wessex, Devon is Lower Wessex, Dorset is South Wessex, Somerset is Outer or Nether Wessex, Wiltshire is Mid-Wessex, Bere Regis is King's-Bere of Tess, Bincombe Down cross roads is the scene of the military execution in A Melancholy Hussar. It is a true story, the deserters from the German Legion were shot in 1801 and are recorded in the parish register. Bindon Abbey is where Clare carried her. Bournemouth is Sandbourne of Hand of Ethelberta and Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Bridport is Port Bredy, Charborough House and its folly tower is the model for Welland House in the novel Two on a Tower. Corfe Castle is the Corvsgate-Castle of Hand of Ethelberta. Cranborne Chase is The Chase scene of Tess's seduction. Milborne St Andrew is "Millpond St Judes" in Far From the Madding Crowd. Weatherby Castle is the location for the "Tower" in "Two on a Tower" with Little England Cottage, Milborne St Andrew being the location of Swithin St Cleeves home and remains as described to this day Dorchester, Dorset is Casterbridge, the scene of Mayor of Casterbridge. Dunster Castle in Somerset is Castle De Stancy of A Laodicean. Fordington moor is Durnover moor and fields. Greenhill Fair near Bere Regis is Woodbury Hill Fair, Lulworth Cove is Lulstead Cove, Marnhull is Marlott of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Melbury House near Evershot is Great Hintock Court in A Group of Noble Dames. Minterne is Little Hintock, Owermoigne is Nether Moynton in Wessex Tales.
Piddlehinton and Piddle Trenthide are the Longpuddle of A Few Crusted Characters. Puddletown Heath, Moreton Heath, Tincleton Heath and Bere Heath are Egdon Heath. Poole is Havenpool in Life's Little Ironies. Portland is the scene of The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved. Puddletown is Weatherbury in Far from the Madding Crowd, River Frome valley is the scene of Talbothays dairy in Tess. Salisbury is Melchester in On the Western Circuit, Life's Little Ironies and Jude the Obscure etc. Shaftesbury is Shaston in Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. Sherborne is Sherton-Abbas, Sherborne Castle is home of Lady Baxby in A Group of Noble Dames. Stonehenge is the scene of Tess's apprehension. Sutton Poyntz is Overcombe. Swanage is the Knollsea of Hand of Ethelberta. Taunton is known as Toneborough in both Hardy's novels and poems. Wantage is Alfredston, of Jude the Obscure. Fawley, Berkshire is Marygreen of Jude the Obscure. Weyhill is Weydon Priors, Weymouth is Budmouth Regis, the scene of Trumpet Major & portions of other novels; Winchester is Wintoncester where Tess was executed. Wimborne is Warborne of Two on a Tower. Wolfeton House, near Dorchester is the scene of The Lady Penelope in a Group of Noble Dames. Woolbridge old Manor House, close to Wool station, is the scene of Tess's confession and honeymoon.
There is a popular route you can take to discover many of the places in Hardy Country starting of right here in Portland making the Heights Hotel the perfect place to discover 'Wessex'. Portland, or rather the Isle of Slingers, is the setting for The Well-Beloved. From here head to Weymouth, where Hardy worked for Crickmay as an architect from 1869-70. He also stayed in Weymouth for a time while working on The Trumpet-Major. Next head for Bridport and along the way you will see signs for Hardy's monument. Don't get confused as this is a monument to Captain Hardy, later Vice Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman, Nelson's Captain on the Victory at Trafalgar and erected to his memory in 1844. However, it is worth a visit as the site provides stunning 360 degree views of the area so you will be able to take in much of Hardy Country in one viewing! Back to the route, Briport is the setting for the story Fellow-Townsmen, and the nearby secluded harbour of West Bay is mentioned in The Woodlanders. Now head north to Beaminster where In Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Angel Clare's father was vicar here. In Melbury Osmond, Hardy's parents were married in the local church and continuing along a footpath from the church will take you to a quaint thatched cottage where his mother is believed to have lived as a child. The Woodlanders final scene also takes place in the churchyard. Next head for Sherborne where Giles Winterborne sold his apple trees in the Market Place here in The Woodlanders, and Sherborne Abbey also features in the novel. Next travel to Sturminster Newton where Hardy and his first wife, Emma, lived here at Riverside Villa in 1876-78. Hardy called his stay here "our happiest time".
Head north again to Marnhull and just outside the village is Tess Cottage, thought to be the model for Durbetfield's home in Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Shaftesbury (Shaston) in Jude the Obscure, Philotson was schoolmaster here. Gold Hill in Shaftesbury offers superb views over the Blackmoor Vale and must be one of the most photographed and well known streets in the UK. Now head over the border into Salisbury. In Jude the Obscure, Jude worked at Salisbury Cathedral, and Sue and Phillotson were married in St. Thomas Church. Sue attended the Teacher Training College as did Hardy's two sisters in real life. It was at nearby Stonehenge that Tess was arrested in Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Blandford Forum is the next stop, from the Iron age hill fort, Rawlsbury camp, a huge panorama of the Blackmore Vale lies before you. Now travel to Wimborne Minster, Hardy lived here from 1881-83 with his first wife Emma. Poole (Havenpool) in The Mayor of Casterbridge, Newson landed here on his return from Newfoundland. The town features in two poems, The Chapel Organist and The Mongrel. Now down to Swanage where he lived here in 1875-76 while completing The Hand of Ethelberta. He commented "Everybody in the parish who was not a boatman was a quarrier, unless he were the gentleman who owned half the property and has been a quarryman, or the gentleman who owned the other half, and had been to sea". Travel on to East Lulworth where Hardy worked on the restoration of St. Andrew's church in 1863, and the church now hosts a permanent exhibition on Hardy's life. Continue North again to Wool, Woolbridge Manor here was Hardy's Wellbridge Manor, where Angel Clare and Tess spent their honeymoon.
We suggest this route for those people who are staying with us for a few days as there is just so much to see. However, the tour above does not include the real heart of Hardy Country so lets explore that next.
At the edge of Dorchester (Casterbridge) is Max Gate, designed by Hardy in 1885, and his home for the rest of his life. Max Gate is now in the care of the National Trust. The Dorset County Museum has a fine collection of Hardy memorabilia, and numerous buildings in the town feature in Hardy novels. Higher Bockhampton is but a stones throw away and here you will find the beautiful thatched cottage where Thomas Hardy was born and grew up. This cottage is now owned and run by the National Trust. The church in West Stafford is the likely marriage place of Tess and Angel Clare in Tess of the d'Urberville's. Hardy's father was engaged to repair the thatched Woodsford Castle in 1856. Hardy helped prepare the plans for the remodelling, and on the basis of this work he was offered an apprenticeship to the architect John Hicks, owner of Woodsford Castle. Bere Regis (Kingsbere) features in Tess and Far From the Madding Crowd. Tess set up her family's bed under the Turberville window in the south wall of the church, and inside the church are the tombs of the Turbervilles. Hardy's father also worked on the restoration of the superb medieval hall at Athelhampton, and Hardy himself painted a watercolour of the house. Hardy's grandfather and great-grandfather were Puddletown natives, and the church gallery was celebrated by Hardy in Under the Greenwood Tree. In Far From the Madding Crowd, Troy spent the night in the church porch. Cerne Abbas, more famous for the ancient figure of a giant carved into the hillside, featured in The Woodlanders and Tess of the d'Urbervilles. The tithe barn in Cerne Abbas may also be the model for the great barn in Far From the Madding Crowd.
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