This is the house where Thomas Hardy lived from 1885 until his death in 1928. He designed it himself – he trained as an architect – and it was built by his father and brother who were builders with Hardy supervising the project. So it was very much a family affair.
It’s on the edge of Dorchester, just a couple of miles from the small cottage where he was born and raised and where he lived until he moved into the new house.
It’s a relatively modest Victorian villa with no particularly outstanding features. It was originally built as a “two up two down” with rooms on either side of a central hallway, and is set in quite pleasant, but not particularly extensive, grounds. As he became more wealthy following the success of his novels, he extended the house, building out at the back. The extension can be seen on the following picture.
Like his birthplace, the house is now owned by the National Trust as it was left to them by Hardy’s sister. It’s only partly accessible; a condition of the legacy was that Max Gate should be let out and the rent used to preserve and support his birthplace. Today, the tenants occupy more than half the rooms in house, the remainder being open to visits by the public.
Inside the Trust has furnished those rooms accessible to the public in a style representative of the period and probably gives a good impression of how a prosperous, upper middle class Victorian household would look. Although very little of the furniture belonged to Hardy, they have acquired some pieces on loan from Dorset County Museum, including this bookcase – bureau which stands in the corner of the dining room.
There are also a couple of his dining chairs and as you are allowed to touch the furniture and sit in the chairs around the house (a change from the usual policy of “keep your hands (and backside!) off” I can actually say I’ve sat in a chair that Thomas Hardy, and, possibly some of his well known visitors, once used.
The central hallway had a grandfather clock that was very similar to one shown in a photograph taken while Hardy lived there.
The Drawing room, to the right of the hall, is surprisingly bright and airy, due to the windows being much larger than those in most Victorian houses.
It was here that he’d entertain visitors, including Robert Louis Stevenson, H G Wells, Robert Graves, Siegfried Sasoon, George Bernard Shaw, Gustav Holst and Virginia Woolf. There’s a small conservatory built on to the side of the room – one of the later additions.
The fireplace has the original Delft tiles set in the surround. I’m not sure whether the mirror was also owned by Hardy.
There was only limited access to the upstairs – just two of the three rooms that Hardy used as studies and where he wrote works including, Jude the Obscure, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, short stories and poems. The contents of his study were removed after he died and are now in the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester.
This is the second room he used as his study. It’s quite spacious and overlooks the garden. I could happily work there!
The third, and final, room used as a study is not accessible.
One of the things I found most interesting was that his first wife used to spend much of her time in the attic, where she had a small room, painting, reading and sewing. It appears she was a bit of an odd ball and that their relationship was strained. The wife in the attic – reminds me of something!!