Tuesday, 20 July 2021

A Hardy Holiday

Hello, thank you for dropping in.  Here in Shropshire the weather has been sweltering hot for the last five days and I am hiding indoors with all the windows open. The heat gave me less than five hours sleep last night and I am trying my best to be patient and cheerful but it's taking a great deal of effort.  I am grateful that we have not seen the torrential rain and floods which have devastated parts of Europe and I am thinking of those families who are grieving for their lost loved ones while we have been celebrating family birthdays.  (Cottontail is two, how the years have flown, three-quarters of her life spent under pandemic restrictions.)  I have also been remembering another sweltering July almost forty years ago.

In 2019 I bought some second-hand Thomas Hardy novels at the closing down sale of my favourite bookshop and reading them rekindled my interest in the man and his writing.  I read The Trumpet Major, The Woodlanders and The Return of the Native as well as Claire Tomalin's biography, "Thomas Hardy: the Time-torn Man", and realised that I don't own a copy of the first Hardy novel I ever read, The Mayor of Casterbridge, which I studied for A-Level English a long time ago.  One evening in April I went online shopping at Oxfam and found a very nice hardback copy and a few days later, it landed on my doorstep.  (Actually, that's not true, my very cheerful postman has designated a safe place in my backyard where he leaves parcels if nobody answers the door.  He has to pass through my neighbour's property to reach my backyard so it's just as well that we're all on very good terms with each other.)  Anyway, my very nice book arrived and was soon read for the first time since 1983.  

Goodness, I did love that book.  I must have had an English teacher who loved it too.  After all our exams were finished, my best friend and I packed up her tiny car, a Fiat 126, and set off to Dorset for a five-day Hardy holiday.  We camped in Charmouth, a lovely village by the sea in the west of the county.  I have delved into my wooden chest and brought out a disintegrating paper bag full of treasures gathered on that holiday so that I can share them with you.

We visited Higher Bockhampton, the hamlet where Thomas was born on 1st June 1840 in a cottage built by his grandfather.  We weren't allowed into the cottage so we stood outside and here's the photo my friend took, as pretty as the postcard and probably a lot prettier than it looked in 1840.



This postcard published by J. Salmon Ltd. of Sevenoaks.

I don't actually remember us visiting Dorchester but I think we must have done because Dorchester is the fictional Casterbridge in both The Mayor of Casterbridge and Far From the Madding Crowd, which I read while I was on this holiday, so it would have been an important place in our pilgrimage...and I have these leaflets (Barbara, I am thinking of you here).  The Dorset County Museum holds a significant number of Thomas' artefacts and papers, including his desk in a recreation of his study.

I do remember our visit to Maiden Castle, an expansive Iron Age hill fort a couple of miles outside Dorchester which features in The Mayor of Casterbridge and Far From the Madding Crowd.  If you have read the book or seen any of the film or television versions you might recall the handsome Sergeant Troy flashing his sword around?  That scene happened at Maiden Castle.   


This postcard published by Judges Limited of Hastings.

The fictional village of Kingsbere is mentioned in both Far From the Madding Crowd and Tess of the d'Urbervilles, which I had read before we took this trip, so a visit to Bere Regis, its real counterpart, was a must.  The Turberville family became wealthy and influential here in the fourteenth century and their vault is in the Church of St John the Baptist.  I'm sure you can see the similarity between Turberville and d'Urberville and the church features in this novel.  In Chapter 52, Tess and her family have nowhere to stay and set their bed in the churchyard, against the wall of the church.

"Tess listlessly lent a hand, and in a quarter of an hour the old four-post bedstead was dissociated from the heap of goods, and erected under the south wall of the church, the part of the building know as the d'Urberville Aisle, beneath which the huge vaults lay. Over the tester of the bedstead was a beautiful traceried window, of many lights, its date being the fifteenth century. It was called the d'Urberville Window, and in the upper part could be discerned heraldic emblems like those on Durbeyfield's old seal and spoon."

This postcard published by Judges Limited of Hastings.

Adjoining Bere Regis is the parish of Wool.  Tess and Angel Clare spent their wedding night at Woolbridge Manor, renamed Wellbridge House in the novel, the home of the Turbervilles, some of whom are buried at The Church of the Holy Rood.  

Thomas Hardy died at his home, Max Gate, near Dorchester, on 11th January 1928.  He wished to be buried in the churchyard at Stinsford where his grandparents, parents, sister and first wife, Emma, already lay but his friend and literary executor, Sydney Cockerell, felt that he should instead be buried in Westminster Abbey because he "belonged to the nation" and persuaded Thomas' family to agree.  The Abbey insisted that it could not inter Thomas beneath the floor but said that if he were cremated, they would be able to accommodate a small urn containing his ashes.  The vicar of Stinsford suggested to the family that Thomas' heart could be cut out and buried in his churchyard before the cremation and on 13th January a doctor, surgeon and nurse went to Max Gate and performed that operation.  The rest of Thomas Hardy was cremated the following day and both funeral ceremonies took place on 17th January, one in sunny Dorset and the other in rainy London.  So my pilgrimage ended at St Michael's Church in Stinsford, less than two miles from Higher Bockhampton.

This postcard published by J. Salmon Ltd. of Sevenoaks.


West Dorset really is lovely and we visited other places too, spending time on the beach and at Barney's Fossil and Country Life Experience in Charmouth and visiting Durdle Dor and Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens.  I considered showing you some of those photographs but decided against it because the main focus of the holiday was our Hardy Pilgrimage.  We also went to Wyke Regis and paid a surprise call on my aunt and uncle who kept a pub there.  I returned to Charmouth for a holiday with my family twenty-six years later and I telephoned my aunt and suggested we meet up. She asked where I was staying and when I replied she said, "You've stayed there before."  I think it might be time for another visit, and perhaps another Hardy novel.

See you soon, and do take care.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

26 comments:

  1. Nice places to visit and unusual writer,greetings from anna

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    1. Hello Anna, it's lovely to see you here. Thank you for visiting. x

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  2. I love it when I can place myself in the same landscape as the novel I've read. Landscape tells so much about a person, I think. Your Hardy Holiday sounded just lovely and I thank you for sharing it with us. I hope the heat soon dissipates.

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    1. Lorrie, the heat is nowhere near the temperatures you have had to endure but I am British so I'm not set up for it! I agree with you about landscape, I like to paint the author's pictures in my head and that's so much easier when I know the landscape. x

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  3. To travel with a purpose gladdens the heart!
    Tess was my school read. Recently, Radio 4 dramatised some of Hardy's books from the female characters ' point of view. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000s855

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    1. Thank you! I caught one of those accidentally and really enjoyed it. Hardy did love women but my goodness, he really put his heroines through the wringer! x

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  4. Lovely post full of happy memories of your 'Hardy holiday' you have lots of lovely keepsakes from that time to treasure too. I love that part of the country and have happy memories of holidays there:)

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    1. Thank you Rosie. It's a beautiful place, isn't it? I have a few fossils collected from the beach in Charmouth in 1999 which I keep close by. x

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  5. Sorry I’m a little late in replying to blogs at the moment. It must be the heat. Loved this post and loved all the places you visited. For three years in the seventies I was in the heart of Hardy country. So beautiful and unspoilt even to this day. I have read most of his books too and it may well be time to dust off a few of them and reread. We visited the cottage where he was born a few years ago and loved the feel of the place. Hope you get to visit it in person one of these days. B x

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    1. Thanks Barbara, I have been reviewing my Hardy books and working out which gaps need to be filled. Have you read Claire Tomalin's biography? I thoroughly recommend it. Take care - I know that Jersey's infection rate isn't good. x

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  6. Such a lovely post. I think I read Hardy for my A levels as well. I didn't know his heart had been removed and buried elsewhere. I would have buried him with his family, sod the nation.
    Jean. x

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    1. I think it was a typical case of women being manipulated by powerful men. x

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  7. A trip down memory lane. Jo x

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    1. They are the only trips I'm making at the moment! x

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  8. Thoroughly interesting post Mrs T! My Aunty and Uncle lived in Charmouth and would visit us when we were children living in West Somerset. I find it hard to remember them now but I do remember their old vintage car, at the time I thought it looked like a gangster's car! LOL! I think my favourite Thomas Hardy novel is "Far from the Madding Crowd" and like yourself it was a book I had to read for O'Levels but enjoyed so much that i brought myself another copy. I have enjoyed reading about your happy memories! keep well Amanda x

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    1. Thank you Amanda. My father had an old "gangster's car" in our garage for several years when I was a small child - we used to play in it! I'd like to read Far From the Madding Crowd again but I don't have a copy as I read my mother's so I'll have to look out for a second-hand copy of that one next. x

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  9. What a great holiday, no worries with exams behind you and just following the connections to Hardy. Do you know, I've never read a Thomas Hardy novel, I feel I should, he's so many people's favourite author. I think it's sad that his heart was taken and buried whilst the rest of his body was cremated. I've just read your last post. I'd have been worried having my wedding at the hotel where the England team were staying but it sounds as though it just added to the magical experience, and you all have some wonderful stories to tell.

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  10. Jo, I think The Trumpet Major is a good place to begin with Hardy. I don't like the removal of his heart either, I think his own wishes and those of his family should have been followed. As for the wedding, I think my sister was concerned that the presence of the England team would overshadow the event but you are right, it simply gave us more stories. x

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  11. Sounds like you had an enjoyable pilgrimage, very interesting. Though I've never read a Thomas Hardy novel, like many, I've watched Tess of the d'Urbervilles on film.
    I collected a classic set of hardback (fortnightly) back in the '90s I think. Before lockdown I decided they had to go as I'd only read one book Charles Dickens - Great Expectations, my favourite book. I took them to a local library hoping that they'd be loved and read. Cx

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    1. Great Expectations is a wonderful book! I think it was a good idea to take the rest to the local library for others to discover. I've seen the Polanski Tess but it was the BBC adaptation with Gemma Arterton which really did me in, I don't think I can bear to read the book again. It's good to see you again, Cathy. x

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  12. Such a lovely part of the Country. x

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    1. Isn't it just? I've been since but writing this post has made me yearn to go again. x

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  13. Did you go to the folk festival? We had to roll our ticket over because oldest girl got covid last week. ;( Give us a run down!

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    1. We did! I'm writing the post now - rotten luck for you, I hope she's recovering well. x

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