♔Thomas Hardy was born in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset- England and died nearby in Dorchester. The English novelist and poet set much of his work in Wessex, his name for the counties of southwestern England.
Hardy’s birthplace is a small cob & thatch cottage in Dorset built by Hardy’s great-grandfather in 1800- it has been little altered since the family left. Here Hardy lived until he was aged 34—when he left home to be married.
The cottage sits on a hill in a secluded position within the beautiful Thorncombe woods in Higher Bockhampton—now a nature reserve. The area would have been the setting and inspiration for many of Hardy’s works.
During his years in the cottage Hardy wrote the novels “Under the Greenwood Tree” (1872) and “Far from the Madding Crowd” (1874). Behind the cottage stretches a heath, possibly the inspiration for Egdon Heath, of which Hardy wrote in The Return of the Native. The term “cliffhanger” is considered to have originated with his serial novel, A Pair of Blue Eyes, which was also written at the cottage.
A short journey away from his birthplace is Max Gate, the red brick Victorian Villa that Hardy designed himself, and commissioned his father and brother to build. Hardy came from a family of builders and was himself an architect before becoming a full-time writer. The name of the house was a pun on the name of a previous gate-keeper, Henry Mack who worked in the nearby toll-house known as “Mack’s Gate.”
Max Gate would be Hardy’s home for forty years, and it was here that he wrote some of his most famous works: The Mayor of Casterbridge, Jude the Obscure, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, The Woodlanders, The Dynasts as well as numerous poems and short stories.
After his first wife Emma’s sudden death in 1912, Hardy married Florence Dugdale, his much younger secretary in 1914. She updated the house designing a new bathroom with hot water and installing a telephone — under much protest from Hardy who refused to use the hot water or answer the phone.
In 1926, two years before his death, Hardy had Virginia and Leonard Woolf to tea, looking back on the occasion Virginia famously recalled:
“The house which he had built for himself at Dorchester, and which, with its sombre growth of trees, seemed to have been created by him as if it were one of his poems translated into brick, furniture and vegetation.”
Little has survived of the forest of a thousand Austrian pines that were planted by Hardy against the winds of the nearby heath, and the prying eyes of passers-by. Many of the trees were cut down by the second Mrs Hardy after his death, complaining they made the house dark and gloomy.
Hardy became ill with pleurisy in December 1927 and died at Max Gate on 11 January 1928 aged 87, having dictated his final poem to his wife on his deathbed.
His two-volume “autobiography,” The Early Life of Thomas Hardy, 1840-1891 and The Later Years of Thomas Hardy, 1892-1928 were published under his second wife’s name, Florence Hardy, in accordance with Hardy’s instructions prior to his death.
In the year of his death Mrs Hardy also published The Early Life of Thomas Hardy, 1841–1891, compiled largely from contemporary notes, letters, diaries, and biographical memoranda, as well as from oral information in conversations extending over many years.
Hardy’s youngest sister Kate bequeathed Max Gate to the National Trust in 1940 with the stipulation that it should be lived in. The house has been continually occupied since then, with a knowledgeable National Trust volunteer taking up residence in 2011.
- “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”
- “Jude the Obscure”
- “The Return of the Native”
- “The Woodlanders”
- “Far from the Madding Crowd”
- “The Dynasts”
- “The Mayor of Casterbridge”
- “Desperate Remedies”
- “A Pair of Blue Eyes”
- “Poems of the Past and the Present”