A Visit to Casterbridge

Our August outing took us to several properties near Dorchester, the town on which Thomas Hardy modelled his novel The Mayor of Casterbridge. The cottage in which Hardy was born was our first stop. Tucked away within Thorncombe Woods, the tiny house (built by Thomas’ great-grandfather) has a delightful small garden and is surrounded by the heathland countryside that Hardy loved throughout his life. Continuing our mission to test the abilities and patience of coach driver Tony, the approach to and parking at the cottage were a challenge, resolved partly by blocking the (fortunately limited) local traffic.

With neither of the properties we were visiting having café facilities, we stopped for lunch at a pub, called The Trumpet Major. This was just a couple of hundred yards from our final stop but another challenge for Tony to find. Our group of forty-two put some strain on the pub’s kitchen but we eventually got everyone fed and on to Max Gate.

This house was designed by Thomas and built by his father and brother. Hardy chose the name as a pun on that of the operator of the nearby Toll gate, Henry Mack. By the time it was built, in 1885, Hardy was a very successful author but, nevertheless, the house is modestly proportioned, initially being three up and three down although an extension, which included an airy writing room, was added later.

Hardy lived in the house until his death in 1928. His second wife died ten years later and the house came into the possession of the National Trust in 1940, Hardy and his siblings having had no children. Max Gate was tenanted until 2011 and retains little of the furnishings that it had in Thomas’ time. Nevertheless, it is easy to imagine the writer producing some of his best works – including Tess of the D’Urbevilles and Jude the Obscure – in its rooms and gardens.