6 July 2013

Visiting Thomas Hardy's Birthplace

There is a road leading directly to the first home of writer Thomas Hardy in Bockhampton but I recommend taking the narrow footpath through the woods.  Set in a particularly peaceful and tranquil part of the Dorset countryside, the evocative smell of wood smoke drifts towards you before the old thatched cottage comes into sight. Even though my visit was on a hot summer afternoon, The National Trust, who own the cottage, had a log fire burning to help visitors travel back in time.

Built by Hardy’s great-grandfather and unaltered since his time, his early novels Under the Greenwood Tree and Far from the Madding Crowd were written there.  The thatch on the roof needs replacing and the original contents of the cottage have long since disappeared but I liked the way the National Trust have recreated how it may have looked, keeping a sense of a family home that was actually lived in.

Thomas Hardy was born in the cottage on 2nd June 1840 six months after his parents were married.  His father, also called Thomas, was a stonemason and local builder. His mother Jemima was a servant and cook and reportedly had no wish to marry before she became pregnant. (She warned the young Hardy not to make the same mistake, a theme he explored several times in his writing.) Surprisingly literate, Jemima educated Thomas until he started school at the age of eight. His father taught him to play the fiddle and paid for him to attend a reputable school in Dorchester, a three-mile walk away.  Hardy did well at school and went on to qualify as an architect, although his ambition n was always to be a successful writer.

It has been said that Thomas Hardy was reticent about his humble upbringing and silent about his birthplace until well into his seventies. From what I know of him I think he would be proud, however, to see how his birthplace has become a worthy monument to his writing talent.

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