I carried out a small research project for the National Trust on Hardy’s Cottage in Bockhampton, Dorset. This is where the poet and novelist Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) was born. This two story thatched cottage was built by his great grand father around 1800. Here are a selection of some of the notes that I made.
c.1841 – “This same porch holds the afternoon sunshine; here the infant Hardy was put to sleep in his cradle one hot afternoon. His mother, returning from the garden, was horrified to see a large adder curled up asleep on the baby’s breast.” (8 Vol.16 Evans)
Accordion. “His earliest recollection was of receiving from his father the gift of a small accordion. He knew that he was but four years old at this time, as his name and the date were written by his father upon the toy: Thomas Hardy. 1844” (21 Hardy 1928)
c.1850 – Hardy says in 1920, that he never made a drawing of the cottage (40 Collins 1928) when he is discussing the high ground behind the cottage. He also says that “In my time the track at the back, leading up to the wood was much lower than it is now. The ground is very steep there, and in the winter the rain pours down the slope carrying with it earth and rubbish which have raised the level considerably. When I was a boy and wanted to climb on the roof for bird-nesting I had to use a long ladder. To-day one could almost reach with one’s hand.” (40 Collins 1928)
Grandfather Clock. “In the previous December  he had copied in pencil , on the inside door of the grand father clock at Bockhampton, the homely and sentimental verses by the Manchester poet, Charles Swain, ‘The Old Cottage Clock’, but original composition seems to have been outside his thought.” (31 Gittings 1975)
July 1856 – At 16 started apprenticeship with John Hicks inDorchester, an architect and church-restorer. His parents were charged reduced fee as they paid for the whole three years up front. His father had been working with another builder for Hicks on restoring the nearbyWoodfordCastle. Hicks had tested him by asking him to assist in the survey. (27 Hardy 1928). He started to lodge inDorchester during the week. He was an apprentice for six years.
“Thomas Hardy’s world was far more varied and broad-based than that of the usual bookish provincial boy. He recognized this when, looking back, he described it as ‘a life twisted of three strands – the professional life, the scholar’s life, and the rustic life, combined in the twenty-four hours of one day’. He would read his copy of the Illiad, Greek text with Latin interleaved, [and also the Aeneid and Greek Testament] from six to eight in the morning out at Bockhampton, then walk into Dorchester and work at Gothic architecture all day, and then rush off with his fiddle under his arm, often with his father and uncle James, to play at remote village festivals till dawn. Sometimes the bookish element was uppermost, as when he caught himself soliloquizing in Latin during his evening and morning walks to and from Bockhampton. Yet his feet were kept on the earth by the human scene around him, the fund of human experience at home, among relations in Puddletown, and the events of the neighbouring villages.” (42 Gittings 1975)
c.1870 – “The long, low cottage-like house at Bockhampton, on the edge of the heath, was always his refuge in stress; and here, reassuringly, he found his family in full strength. His father, by now prospering, had set up a little office by the stairs, with a tiny window facing the heath, through which he paid his workmen, who filed past the outside of the house. One can see here Jemima Hardy’s dislike of muddy boots in her neat rooms. With his father was now Hardy’s brother Henry, aged eighteen, and officially known as “father’s assistant”, especially in his family capacity as mason. He was a cheerful, outgoing youth, a complete contrast with his withdrawn elder brother. Identical with Hardy in quiet unassuming temperament was his sister Mary, now living permanently at home. She had left Minterne Magna and was now teaching in Piddlehinton, the next village up the Piddle valley, and in easy distance of Bockhampton. The renewal of his brother-sister relationship meant much to Hardy, and was reinforced by its frequent appearance in his favourite poet, Shelley. Finally, there was Kate, aged thirteen and still at school, but starting on a course that would lead her to her sister’s college, and a similar career as a school-teacher. Like Henry, she was cheerful, forthright, and amusing. In this family atmosphere of encouragement, Hardy pressed swiftly on with his novel, and by the beginning of March, he had finished it, all but the last three or four chapters.” (122 Gittings 1975)
“Frost and December drove the family indoors, to long evenings of talk and memory round the glowing kitchen hearth. Here, as always, Hardy was in the spell of the most powerful presence in his life, his mother. His summer manoeuvres with other women, the awkward break with an old love [Tryphena Sparks], and the perils and uncertainty of a new one [Emma Gifford later his wife], were nothing to the assured care and special understanding she gave him as a matter of course. Though Mary, his second self, might add to the calm and pleasure, coming home each day from school-teaching, even she was only a shadow to Jemima in Hardy’s life; she could add to their mother’s memory of old children’s rhymes, the special local verses used by her own school-children at Piddlehinton, but hers, as always, was the supplementary role in the firelit evening kingdom of which their mother was the centre.
The long strange history of his mother’s own childhood was the chief theme of their nights of talk… She talked of the superstitions and weird apparitions of an isolated childhood…” (173 Gittings 1975)
William Keats. Was the basis for the Under the Greenwood Tree character ‘the Tranter’. He did haulage of building material for the Hardy’s. He also rented a field for his horses from Thomas Hardy’s father. His wife Mary Lovell was born in Askerswell. They are both buried in Stinsford churchyard. Their gravestone reads “In memory of Mary, wife of William Keats, who died March 11, 1869, aged 80 years, also William Keats, who died Aug. 5, 1870 aged 72 years.”. There is a rather gruesome description of the tranter’s death, which brings out the fact that one of his legs had been injured many years before by his wagon going over it. (185-6 Vol.51 Last)
The Tranter’s death is described by a witness:- “He was quite in his senses, but not able to speak. A dark purple stain began in his leg that was injured many years ago by his waggon going over it; the stain ran up it about as fast as a fly walks. It ran up his body in the same way till, arriving level with his fingers, it began in them, and went on up his arms, up his nack and face, to the top of his head, when he breathed his last. Then a pure white began at his foot, and went on up upwards at the same rate, and in the same way, and he became as white throughout as he had been purple a minute before.” (121-122 Hardy 1928)
A Village Story. Recalled in Hardy’s diary for March 1889. “Mary. L., a handsome wench, had come to Bockhampton, leaving her lover at Askerswell, her native parish. William K. fell in love with her at the new place. The old lover, who was a shoemaker, smelling a rat, came anxiously to see her, with a present of a dainty pair of shoes he had made. He met her by chance at the pathway stile, but, alas, on the arm of the other lover. In the rage of love the two men fought for her till they were out [of] breath, she looking on and holding both their hats the while; till William, wiping his face, said: “Now Polly, which of we two do you love best? Say it out straight!” She would not state then, but said she would consider (the hussy!). The young man to whom she had been fickle left her indignantly, throwing the shoes at her and her new lover as he went. She never saw or heard of him again, and accepted the other. But she kept the shoes, and was married in them. I knew her well as an old woman.” She died aged 80, when Hardy was 29. (186 Vol.51 Last)
The novels that he wrote all or in part at the Cottage were:-
1867-1868. “The Poor Man and the Lady.”
1868-1869. “Desperate Remedies.” Lived alternately at Weymouth.
1871. “Under the Greenwood Tree.”
1872. “A Pair of Blue Eyes.” Begun inLondon.
1873. “Far from the Madding Crowd.”
- Collins, Vere H. “Talks with Thomas Hardy at Max Gate.” Duckworth. 1928.
- Gittings, Robert. “Young Thomas Hardy.” Heinemann. 1975.
- Hardy, Florence Emily. “Early Life of Thomas Hardy 1840-1891.” Macmillan. 1928.
- Stevens Cox, J. (ed.) “Monographs on the Life Times and Works of Thomas Hardy.”Toucan. Variously between 1962 and 1971:-
- Vol.16. Evans, Evelyn L. “The Homes of Thomas Hardy.”
- Vol.51. Last, Edwin A. “Thomas Hardy’s Neighbours.”