This is the small thatched country cottage at Higher Bockhampton, a few miles from Dorchester, where the author,Thomas Hardy, was born. Today it’s owned by the National Trust. The small village, surrounded by woodland, is pretty isolated, even though it’s only just under four miles from the county town of Dorchester. Mind you, in 1840, the year he was born, four miles was a long way.
Hardy grew up in the cottage, being educated at the local village school before transferring, when he was ten, to a school in Dorchester – he used to walk the three miles there and back. After a spell of five years in London he returned, staying until he was 34. It was here that he wrote his early novels Under the Greenwood Tree and Far from the Madding Crowd. His father was a builder, and for a time had a small number of employees, so his background could be considered to be either upper working class or lower middle class. But, in either case, life would have been hard.
The house looks pretty idyllic today. A real “chocolate box” cottage with an attractive country garden planted with flowers and ornamental plants. Very typical of those picture postcard cottages seen throughout the county of Dorset. But appearances can be deceptive. For a start, it’s not as big as it looks. The low building on the right of the picture is a later addition and the right hand third of the cottage is an extension, built by Hardy’s father for his mother – a sort of “granny cottage”. You can see the join if you look at the thatching. Hardy, his parents, brother and two sisters lived in the other two thirds, to the left of the middle chimney. The cottage is only one room deep and was effectively “two up two down” until they knocked through into the extension, enlarging the house (although there were still only three rooms on each floor).
The cottage is constructed using the traditional building technique of the region – cobb and thatch. The walls, typically two feet thick on this type of building, are made from cobb, which is, effectively, compacted mud, with a lime rendering. A brick facing has also been applied to part of the front facade, although there was no information available on when this was done.
The rooms are quite small and must have felt crowded with for a family of six – Hardy had a brother and two sisters.
This is the parlour / kitchen in the “granny cottage”. The small door half way up the wall to the right of the fireplace is the bread oven.
This was the master bedroom where the parents slept
This is Hardy’s bedroom where he did his writing.
The furniture isn’t “original”. That’s all been dispersed. But has been selected by the National Trust as representative of the type of furnishings that would be found in this type of cottage at the end of the 19th Century.
Today the garden has been planted up with flowers in a English cottage garden style and is very pleasant to wander around.
However, I guess in Hardy’s time it was more likely that most of the land would have been devoted to growing vegetables for the table.