VISIT | Finding Hardy’s Heart at Stinsford | Dorset
Where Is Your Heart?
This is where the heart of Thomas Hardy lies - the churchyard of Stinsford Parish church
One of the final resting places of the literary great - novelist, writer, poet Thomas Hardy
A man of Wessex - proud and privileged of his Dorset connection - permanently drawn to its landscape and his home
"...the beloved place of Thomas Hardy and the roots of his literary genius..."
It really is a romantic tale. The heart of novelist Thomas Hardy lies not with the rest of his body in Westminster Abbey in London but in the grave of his first wife in the village of his family and his life. In Stinsford. In Dorset.
Thomas Hardy was the author of such classics of English Literature as Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Far From The Madding Crowd, Jude the Obscure and The Mayor of Casterbridge amongst others. His work was influenced by the Romantic poets of yesteryear and of course, by the Dorset countryside and settings of his early life.
The church at Stinsford is littered with the graves of the Hardy family. But Hardy’s end is as fitting as his story-telling. There is a story; even after death.
Thomas Hardy died in his 88th year after illness. He was considered by all including his doctors to be naturally robust in health and fit as a fiddle; so even at this age his death was seen by all as a shock. He had been busy to the last reputedly laying the foundation stone for a new building at the Dorchester Grammar School founded by another Hardy relation.
Thomas Hardy was born in Bockhampton in Dorset on the 2nd June 1840 in a family of local small-scale gentry. He had little formal education but became an apprentice at sixteen years to a local ecclesiastical architect in Dorchester. Who knew? Church architecture? Thomas Hardy.
But Hardy also began writing. Surprisingly Hardy was quite good at architecture; spending time in many old Dorset churches and becoming assistant to the distinguished architect Sir Arthur Blomfield R.A. in London. He won plaudits from the Institute of British Architects and began studying language and literature at King’s College whilst in London.
It is at this point Thomas Hardy began to find the point of no return – to be or not to be – a writer. By 1867, the stone was set. His first piece was completed in Weymouth and then through the influences of George Meredith, novelist in his own right and publishing advisor in his spare cash-strapped moments, he completed Desperate Remedies. It was Hardy’s first book published in 1871. But it was his own next book that was perhaps the most significant: Under the Greenwood Tree. Then came Far From the Madding Crowd in 1874, then The Return of the Native in 1878. Tess of the D’Urbervilles came in 1891 and then later The Mayor of Casterbridge and The Three Wayfarers.
His work continued into poetry – The Dynasts about the Napoleonic Wars – but more interestingly Hardy would focus on poetry and verse for most of the rest of his later life.
He was loved by many for his works and criticised by some for his nihilistic view of human nature but inbuilt into his books was a focus on brilliant characters and embedded into his Wessex world; descriptively set into the realism Hardy knew and loved.
Hardy’s first love was his first wife. He was married first in 1874 to Emma Lavinia Gifford. They had met when he was undertaking architectural renovations to the church in Boscastle, Cornwall. Their relationship was difficult; she believed she had married beneath her. It is hard to say whether she appreciated her husband’s literary talents. But she died in 1912. He had already begun to spend time with his future second wife. In 1914 Hardy married Florence Dugdale, his secretary and writer of children’s stories but sister-in-law of Bram Stoker. There was a sufficient age gap of nearly forty years.
He lived for much of the time at his home Max Gate in Dorchester where he had been visited by the Prince of Wales in 1923. He had already been awarded the Order of Merit in 1910 by royal decree. Countless honorary degrees were awarded by Universities and he was given the gold medal from the Royal Society of Literature.
On Thomas Hardy’s death on January 11th 1928, the King sent a telegram to Hardy’s wife:
The Queen and I are grieved to hear of the sad loss that you have sustained by the death of your distinguished husband, a loss that will be shared by all his countrymen in whose literature his name will live permanently. We offer you our deep sympathy in your sorrow.
George R. I.
His death in 1928 immediately posed questions. He was one of the literary greats. Would he be offered a place in Poet’s Corner where those individuals were laid. But there was no guarantee that Thomas Hardy would be buried in Westminster Abbey. For varying reasons including a possible lack of space in the abbey and a possible disagreement from the family, there was some doubt. But Hardy’s surviving wife finally agreed. His body was to be cremated first and then buried in London.
But for many, Hardy’s death meant for those who loved his books and adored his characters it was the end. The end of a book no one wanted to end. When his body left Max Gate for the final time, it was also the end of a relationship between Hardy and the local landscape which he loved – Came Woods, Fordingdon Fields, Puddleton, Bere Regis and Egdon Heath.
His coffin was inscribed with his simple biography:
Thomas Hardy O.M. born June 2 1840 died January 11 1928
There were narcissi beneath the coffin and lilies and lilies of the valley around it. A few locals waited at the gate whilst the hearse drifted past them, on to Woking for the cremation and then on to London.
But on that Monday in January 1928, three funerals took place at the same time. Three goodbyes to the author, the writer, the local man known as Thomas Hardy.
At two o’clock, the burial of Hardy’s ashes took place in Westminster Abbey attended by the great, the good and his wife. At the same time, a memorial service took place at St Peter’s church in Dorchester attended by the local dignitaries and the curious wider Dorset world; all shops were ordered closed for the duration of the service. And at Stinsford, his local church in the local village – the heart of Thomas Hardy contained inside a bronze casket would be placed in the grave of his first wife in the churchyard attended by his cousin Theresa, sister Kate, his brother Henry and the villagers; who would say their final farewell to a man they knew perhaps best of all. All of them squeezed into the parish church at Stinsford. For Stinsford was Hardy’s Mellstock – the rural idyll of Under the Greenwood Tree.
It is perhaps apt that Hardy’s heart remained here in the spot beneath this aged yew tree in Stinsford churchyard, adjacent to his family’s graves. He stayed home.
The rector of Stinsford spoke eloquently when he spoke of the impending funeral:
“The service will be a simple village burial amongst the villagers he so deeply loved”.
Directions and Map |
Find the village of Stinsford near Dorchester in Dorset and follow your nose off a roundabout on the A35 down Hollow Hill taking a turning down to the little church at the end of the lane near the river Frome