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Two hundred years ago, in the remote and wild setting of the Dorset heathland, John Hardy built a small 'cob and thatch' cottage for his family. The Hardy's were a firm of simple country builders, using old-fashioned materials and traditional methods, and the original three rooms of the cottage show far more quality in the building than the later extensions. But the cottage did not acquire it's place among England's famous houses for the skilled craftsmanship employed in its construction, that honour coming 40 years later with the arrival of Thomas Hardy, the builder's great grandson.
With memories of an extremely happy childhood spent at the cottage, and the additional bonus of its position, right in the heart of the countryside, Hardy was well-placed to gain an understanding of life and the beauty of nature. This rich source of easily accessible information provided plenty of material for his poetry and novels, two of which were written during his time at the cottage. 'Under the Greenwood Tree' contains many descriptions of the cottage, the local church, the village folk, and vistas that he was familiar with during his early years, and 'Far From the Madding Crowd' was written using similar real life situations. In 1874 Hardy married, eventually building his own home just a few miles from this cottage where he was born, but he frequently visited the family home right up to the time of his death.
Despite being just a few miles outside the busy market town of Dorchester, the cottage remains fairly isolated, even by today's standards. Dorchester is a market town in southern central Dorset, England, on the River Frome at the junction of the A35 and A37 roads, 20 miles (32 km) west of Poole and 8 miles (13 km) north of Weymouth. In 2001 the town had a population of 16,171 and a catchment population of approximately 40,000. There were 7,386 dwellings in 2001 and 205 shops in 1991. Dorchester has been the county town of Dorset since 1305.
Now encompassed by managed woodland, there are various trails and footpaths that wind through the woods and over the heath leading to Hardy's cottage, still partially hidden by the tall beech trees. Delightfully secluded, with a flourishing old cottage garden that attracts a huge variety of butterflies and birds, the property has changed little over the years.
Careful restoration work has returned the cottage to it's appearance at the end of the 19th century but it is possible to identify the original core of the cottage and the later extensions. Deep window-seats were a typical feature of this style of basic country cottage, and Thomas Hardy made full use of them. From this vantage point in his room, he would observe and record the seasonal sights and sounds of the countryside, recollecting every little detail when he wrote his poems and books. Even while he was working in London as an architect, Hardy could not wait to get back to this idyllic rural retreat to recharge his batteries and seek renewed inspiration for his writing.
By 1912, both parents being deceased and Hardy's brother and sisters having moved to a larger house, the family cottage was let to a number of local tenants. This in no way prevented Hardy from looking after the old property, as he would often visit the tenants and make recommendations for the maintenance of it. Lovingly built by his great grandfather, Thomas Hardy adored the cottage that had greatly influenced his literary work, and could not bare the thought that it should ever be abandoned or neglected. In its current state of preservation it is a tribute to the builder and the writer, both of whom contributed in no small way to the pleasure it continues to give visitors today.