Mastodon The Writing Desk: Visiting Thomas Hardy’s house at Max Gate

23 July 2013

Visiting Thomas Hardy’s house at Max Gate

Max Gate is just outside Dorchester in Dorset and was the home of author and poet Thomas Hardy.  Originally trained as an architect, Hardy designed the house in 1885 commissioned his father and brother (both master masons) to build it.  The house was built on a one and a half acre plot which had been the site of the cottage and tollgate of a ‘turnpike keeper’ called Mack, hence the name ‘Max Gate’.  (It was later found that the house was right in the middle of a neolithic stone circle and an early Roman cemetery.)

Hardy lived at Max Gate for most of his working life and it was there that he wrote his most famous novels, including Jude the Obscure, The Mayor of Casterbridge  and my own favourite, Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Many famous writers were regular visitors to Max Gate, including Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, H G Wells, Robert Graves and George Bernard Shaw.

Thomas Hardy's Study
I was disappointed to realise that almost all the contents of Max Gate were sold before it was acquired by the National Trust  but largely thanks to the ‘encouragement’ of the Thomas Hardy Society,  they have tried their best to recreate the ‘feel’ of the place with similar furniture of the period.  All is not lost, however, as under a condition of his will the entire contents of Hardy’s study was relocated to the Dorset Museum, where it can be seen today.  The display includes Hardy’s collection of over four hundred books, many of which are his own first editions.  (Interestingly, Hardy moved his study at Max Gate to a different room with every book he wrote.)

It was particularly poignant to climb the narrow twisting stairway to the attic rooms of Hardy’s first wife Emma.  She asked Hardy to create her a private space where she could retreat from the world, and he was happy to do so.  Unfortunately, Emma became something of a recluse, spending most of her time in these small rooms until her death in 1912 at the age of 72.  After Emma died, Hardy searched her attic bedroom and found her writing, a small book she had written about her early life called ‘Some Recollections’  and a notebook entitled ‘What I Think Of My Husband’.  (After reading it he carefully burned the notebook in the garden, then spent the rest of his life full of remorse for the unhappiness he had caused her.)

Thomas Hardy lived in the house from 1885 until his death on 11th January, 1928. His youngest sister Kate bought Max Gate when it was auctioned in 1938 and bequeathed the house to the nation when she died in in 1940. Her wish was that income could be generated to pay for the purchase and upkeep of the old cottage at Higher Bockhampton where her brother had been born 100 years earlier.  (See Visiting Thomas Hardy's Birthplace.)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this...

    Read "Jude The Obscure" about a month ago :-)


Thank you for commenting