Friday, 21 June 2013

Athelhampton House and Thomas Hardy's Cottage at Bockhampton

I'm a sucker for old buildings.

Not the grand untouchable sort that scream wealth and privilege where everything is made of gilt and utterly pristine so that not even the merest whiff of dust is allowed to suggest itself, and all the potentially interesting bits are cordoned off behind acres of red rope that make you feel you should whisper reverentially in a "we are not worthy" sort of way as you file past. 


Give me a hearty house that feels like it's been a proper home to people who lived their lives fully and robustly

Athelhampton has been on my list for years, so, taking advantage of all the kids being at school M and I headed down there yesterday and discovered a real gem of a place that fulfills all my criteria for house visiting.

It was built in 1485 under special license from the King because it is fortified and any fortified manor house of that period was kept under strict scrutiny by the Crown, The Wars of The Roses being in their final throws at that time and the ruling elite having been through a period of significant turbulence over the preceding twenty-odd years.
The house itself contains oodles of oak panelling, stone mullioned windows and stained glass, as well as spiral staircases and some very fine carvings. The gardens are to die for and have rightly won awards in the past.

I'm a bit iffy about guides on the whole, often preferring to be left alone to absorb the atmosphere, but as soon as we entered the Great Hall we were swooped on by one who reminded me of a slightly over-weight, breathless and squeaky fairy in a diaphanous green gown. She told us the story of the man in the painting 6 photos down. He was a Warrior Bishop who sustained a wound to his face in the battle of Sedgemoor in 1685 which was duly pasted over with tar to help the healing process. He was so proud of this wound that in every painting done of him afterwards he turned his face to make sure that side was displayed, hence the improbably perfect circular black mark on his cheek.

Here are some pics...  

Hardy's cottage and birthplace at Bockhampton is a stones throw from Athelhampton, and there is a connection between the two buildings in that Thomas Hardy's father worked as a stone mason on Athelhampton, and Hardy himself visited the old house and indeed produced a water colour of it.

I studied Hardy at uni and have always loved his work. Tess is one of my favourite reads so it was fantastic to be able to visit his old home.

Hardy was born at the cottage in 1840 and wrote Far from the Madding Crowd and Under the Greenwood Tree there in a bedroom overlooking the garden. The National Trust bought the property in 1948 and it is more or less as it would have been in Hardy's time, at the end of a rubble track on the edge of a wood nestled into a wondefully wild-looking garden. Indeed, we approached it through the woodland path and you really did feel like you'd stepped back in time to a more rural era. Built by his great-granfather who was also a stone mason, it is of traditional Dorset Cob and Thatch design with thick walls and a simple white-washed interior.

We had a great guide who was very knowledgeable and injected her talk with humour which always goes down well with me. We also agreed about not being huge fans of pristine stuffy houses where you can't touch anything and Hardy's cottage is definitely not one of those!

Hardy was a sickly child so not strong enough to be a stone mason, he therefore trained as an architect and lived at Bockhampton until he married at the age of 28 when he moved to London with his wife. After 12 years in London he returned to Dorset, bought a plot of land in Dorchester, designed a house and had his brother build it for him and this is where he then lived.

His grand parents were involved in the smuggling trade, with goods turning up at the cottage in the dead of night, being secreted away and collected the following night. Their involvement in the trade only stopped when Mrs Hardy decided it was no longer safe for the children, customs and excise men being pretty thorough in the county at the time. The trade was worth a lot and supplemented the stone mason income significantly.

The window at which Hardy wrote two of his wonderful novels

A replica of Hardy's Writing Desk

The garden which the window overlooked

Hardy's uncomplicated room 
I got goose bumps in here
It was very easy to sense him sitting at the desk working away

Extremely narrow stairs descending from Hardy's room.
What a pity modern planning has got so dull you wouldn't be able to have 
anything as thrilling as these today

The bread oven in the kitchen

The Kitchen

The Front Room
The cottage was originally built as a one up one down and this was the downstairs room 

Another really lovely day out spent exploring some truly fantastic and memorable places.

On a separate subject, I had the moth box out on Wedneday night and had between 50-60 moths in and around it on Thursday morning, with 34 species in all, 32 of which were new. It took me the best part of 4 hours to id and catalogue them all last night and I will be posting them over the weekend. Amazing! There were some real beauties among them, moths I never knew existed and had not seen before. I am so pleased I went ahead and got the box, it has been educational, exciting and fascinating all at the same time and I have learnt so much about these wonderful creatures that I really knew very little about before in a relatively short space of time.


  1. Hi CT This was a very interesting read and the photos are lovely also. I loved the vista through the gates in 2nd and through the 7th opening. also the stone stairs are wonderful, the frilly scarlet poppies are vibrant, and I could go on and on. Have a great weekend. Margaret

  2. Hi Margaret :-)
    It is a really lovely place and well worth visiting if you ever find yourself in that neck of the woods. I've enjoyed looking at your blog too. Have a lovely weekend.

  3. I was fascinated by this. I visited Athelhampton exactly 30 years ago (in a heatwave, I remember) but I haven't been to Hardy's cottage - your terrific photos show it very well and make me realise I must visit. I agree with you that so many of the larger stately homes are so obviously about wealth, privilege and lording it over the common folk. They have a cold atmosphere. I often prefer the older, mellow manor houses and cottages, too.

    1. I think you would love Hardy's place- simple but so evocative. I could see myself living there quite happily. And you are so right- a cold atmosphere is exactly the right description for some stately houses :-)

  4. Two great places to visit CT. Obviously so different in character, but each wonderful in its own right.
    So glad you've had a good week!

    1. It's been a real treat to see all the places we've been to this week. Nose back to the grindstone next week! Hope those gorgeous woodpecker chicks are doing well. Still no sign of any here, although mum and dad are about.

  5. You were almost a stone throw from here you could have come and had a cup of tea. Athelhampton House and gardens is lovely, we really should visit it more often. We often walk around the woods around Hardy's cottage. I was first introduced to Dorset through Hardy's book of the Tess D'Ubervilles and sometimes looking at the landscape of Dorset it takes me back instantly to his books. Tess was one of my favourites too!
    Sarah x

    1. It is such a lovely area. If I'd known you were nearby I'd have sent you a message before hand to arrange that cuppa! CT :-)

  6. Beautiful photos CT. I'm a real lover of Thomas Hardy novels. I think I have read them all. Great that you were allowed to take photos. I think we'll have to make a trip over to Dorchester to visit it, now that I've read this post.

    1. It's definitely worth it- you would love it I'm sure :-)


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them. CT.