Local People

Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy was born at Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, on June 2, 1840, where his father worked as a master mason and builder. From his father he gained an appreciation of music and from his mother an appetite for learning and the delights of the countryside about his rural home.

Hardy was frail as a child and did not start at the village school until he was eight years old. One year later he transferred to a new school in the county town of Dorchester.

At the age of 16 Hardy helped his father with the architectural drawings for a restoration of Woodsford Castle. The owner, architect James Hicks, was impressed by the younger Hardy’s work, and took him on as an apprentice.

Hardy later moved to London to work for prominent architect Arthur Blomfield. He began writing, but his poems were rejected by a number of publishers. Although he enjoyed life in London, Hardy’s health was poor, and he was forced to return to Dorset.

Hardy published his first novel, Desperate Remedies in 1871, to universal disinterest. But the following year Under the Greenwood Tree brought Hardy popular acclaim for the first time. As with most of his fictional works, Greenwood Tree incorporated real places around Dorset into the plot, including the village school of Higher Bockhampton that Hardy had first attended as a child.

The success of Greenwood Tree brought Hardy a commission to write a serialized novel, A Pair of Blue Eyes, for Tinsley’s Magazine. Once more Hardy drew upon real life, and the novel mirrors his own courtship of Emma.

Hardy followed this with Far From the Madding Crowd, set in Puddletown (renamed Weatherby), near his birthplace. This novel finally netted Hardy the success that enabled him to give up his architectural practice and concentrate solely on writing.

The Hardy’s lived in London for a short time, in Yeovil, then in Sturminster Newton (Stourcastle), which Hardy described as “idyllic”. It was Sturminster Newton where Hardy penned Return of the Native, one of his most enduring works.

Finally the Hardy’s moved to Dorchester, where Thomas designed their new house, Max Gate, into which they moved in 1885. One year later Hardy published The Mayor or Casterbridge, followed in 1887 by The Woodlanders and in 1891 by one of his best works, Tess of the d’Ubervilles.

Tess provoked interest, but his next work, Jude the Obscure (1896), catapulted Hardy into the midst of a storm of controversy. Jude outraged Victorian morality and was seen as an attack upon the institution of marriage. Its publication caused a rift between Thomas and Emma, who feared readers would regard it as describing their own marriage.

Of course the publicity did no harm to book sales, but readers’ hid the book behind plain brown paper wrappers, and the Bishop of Wakefield burned his copy! Hardy himself was bemused by the reaction his book caused and he turned away from writing fiction with some disgust.

For the rest of his life Hardy focused on poetry, producing several collections, including Wessex Poems (1898).

Emma Hardy died in November 1912, and was buried in Stinsford churchyard. Thomas was stricken with guilt and remorse, but the result was some of his best poetry, expressing his feelings for his wife of 38 years.

All was not gloom, however, for in 1914 Hardy remarried, to Florence Dugdale, his secretary since 1912. Thomas Hardy died on January 11, 1928 at his house of Max Gate in Dorchester. He had expressed the wish to be buried beside Emma, but his wishes were only partly regarded; his body was interred in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey, and only his heart was buried in Emma’s grave at Stinsford.

Did you know?

A rumour has persisted since Hardy’s death that it is not the author’s heart that was buried beside Emma. The story goes that Hardy’s housekeeper placed his heart on the kitchen table, where it was promptly devoured by her cat. Apparently a pig’s heat was used to replace Hardy’s own. Truth? Fiction? We will probably never know.

T E Lawrence

During World War I, T E Lawrence masterminded a revolt of the Arabs against their Turkish rulers. The film Lawrence of Arabia, is based on that adventurous phase of his life.

In 1916, Lawrence, who had been working as an archaeologist and an intelligence officer in Cairo, became an aide to Emir Feisal, and persuaded him to launch the revolt. Lawrence travelled with bands of Bedouin warriors whom he much admired. An excellent tactician, he was with them as they sabotaged the Turk’s railway and captured the Red Sea port of Aqaba.

Reports by the American journalist Lowell Thomas made Lawrence internationally famous at the age of 31. But, embittered by what he saw as a betrayal of the Arabs at the Paris Peace Conference, Lawrence chose a life of obscurity. He died here in Dorset aged 46 after a motorcycle accident.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom, his account of his war experiences, wasn’t published until after his death. An abridged version, Revolt in the Desert, came out in 1926, and was best seller.

Clouds Hill bears testimony to the life of this extraordinary and enigmatic man. It was in this small, austere house that Lawrence, the illegitimate son of Sir Thomas Chapman, born in Tremadoc in Wales on 16 August 1888, lived on and off for the last 12 years of his life. Lawrence rented the nearly derelict brick and tile labourer’s cottage in 1923 under the name of Aircraftman Shaw. He’d been welcomed home with much acclaim after the war and later, he joined the Tank Corps at nearby Bovington Camp. He used the pseudonym to avoid publicity. Cloud’s Hill contains most of Larence’s original furniture and possessions.

“Nothing in Clouds Hill is to be a care upon the World,” he wrote. “While I have it, there shall be nothing exquisite or unique in it. Nothing to anchor me.” Over the door, he carved a Greek inscription that translates as “I don’t care.” Here, Lawrence revised the account of his wartime experiences, SevenPillars of Wisdom. The famous- Thomas Hardy and E M Forster- visited and mixed easily with ordinary soldiers, listening to music and eating Lawrence’s picnics. The cottage was a place where Lawrence worked and entertained, but he rarely stayed overnight. As a serving soldier, he was obliged to sleep at Bovington Camp.

Lawrence transferred back into the RAF in 1925, but kept Clouds Hill and eventually bought it. To pay for the renovations, he sold a treasured gold dagger from Mecca. He retired here in 1935 and was killed in a motorcycle accident near the cottage a few months later.

Hidden amongst woodlands, the cottage consists of four rooms with a stairway rising through the middle. The low ceilings wouldn’t have bothered Lawrence, as he was only 5 feet 4 inches tall.

Given his complex personality, it’s not surprising that his home is heavily idiosyncratic. His bedroom is decorated with aluminium foil which he thought would be good insulation, The Book Room is dominated by what appears to be a large leather-covered double bed surrounded by book shelves. It turns out it’s a couch where guests sat and where Lawrence sprawled to read. His typewriter and an acoustic gramophone complete with 78 rpm records are displayed in the Music Room. The bathroom has a bath, but no toilet. Running hot water was only added shortly before he died. In the garage, is an exhibition with photos of his life.

T E Lawrence’s funeral took place at St Nicholas’ Church in Moreton, and was attended by Churchill, the King of Iraq and Vidal Sassoon. He is buried across the road from the church. The church has exquisite beautiful windows of clear glass sandblasted, etched and engraved with a variety of images by Whistler- well worth a visit!

At the Saxon St Martin’s Church in Wareham, you’ll find a life-size crusader-style effigy of Lawrence in full Arab dress. Artist Eric Kennington carved it out of Purbeck marble and Portland stone. The sculpture was originally intended for St Paul’s Cathedral, which ultimately refused it. It was then offered to Westminster Abbey and Salisbury Cathedral, which also rejected it.

The T E Lawrence display at Bovington Tank Museum includes rare film footage and a Brough Superior motorcycle similar to the one he was riding at the time of his fatal accident.

Some interesting facts – Lawrence was a vegetarian and suffered from profound motion sickness when riding a camel. His notes and original manuscript ofSeven Pillars of Wisdom were lost in 1919 at Reading Station. Despite wide press coverage, they were never found. After the war, he changed his name twice to keep his privacy. Seven Pillars of Wisdom has never gone out of print.

T S Eliot

Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888- 1965) was born in St. Louis, Missouri, of an old New England Family. He was educated at Harvard and did graduate work in philosophy at the Sorbonne, Harvard, and Merton College, Oxford. He settled in England, where he was for a time a schoolmaster and a bank clerk, and eventually literary editor for the publishing house Faber & Faber, of which he later became a director. He founded and, during the seventeen years of its publication (1922-1939), edited the exclusive and influential literary journal Criterion. In 1927, Eliot became a British citizen and about the same time entered the Anglican Church.

Eliot has been one of the most daring innovators of twentieth-century poetry. Never compromising either with the public or indeed with language itself, he has followed his belief that poetry should aim at a representation of the complexities of modern civilization in language and that such representation necessarily leads to difficult poetry. Despite this difficulty his influence on modern poetic diction has been immense. Eliot’s poetry from Prufrock (1917) to the Four Quartets(1943) reflects the development of a Christian writer: the early work, especially The Waste Land (1922), is essentially negative, the expression of that horror from which the search for a higher world arises. In Ash Wednesday (1930) and the Four Quartets this higher world becomes more visible; nonetheless Eliot has always taken care not to become a religious poet and often belittled the power of poetry as a religious force. However, his dramas Murder in the Cathedral (1935) andThe Family Reunion (1939) are more openly Christian apologies. In his essays, especially the later ones, Eliot advocates a traditionalism in religion, society, and literature that seems at odds with his pioneer activity as a poet. But although the Eliot of Notes towards the Definition of Culture (1948) is an older man than the poet of The Waste Land, it should not be forgotten that for Eliot tradition is a living organism comprising past and present in constant mutual interaction. Eliot’s plays Murder in the Cathedral (1935), The Family Reunion (1939), The Cocktail Party (1949), The Confidential Clerk (1954), and The Elder Statesman (1959) were published in one volume in 1962; Collected Poems 1909-62 appeared in 1963.

East Coker is the last resting place of T. S. Eliot and campaigners are claiming world heritage status for this Somerset in an attempt to thwart the development of thousands of new homes.

“East Coker” is one of a series of four poems and places the poet celebrates in Four Quartets. In the 16th century Eliot’s ancestor Sir Thomas Elyot lived there and wrote a treatise on how to become a virtuous, sophisticated, and accomplished member of the ruling class, and from there in 1669 another ancestor, Andrew Eliott, emigrated to New England. The poet’s ashes are interred at St Michael’s church, where a plaque carries the inscription: “In my beginning is my end … In my end is my beginning.” The lines occur in “East Coker”, the second being a saying of Mary, Queen of Scots. As well as the Eliot Connection, East Coker is notable for its typical “Englishness”, its sunken lanes, a medieval dancing circle, and its stone cottages. The Romans built elaborate villas there and the English buccaneer, sea captain, author, and scientific observer William Dampier was born and raised in the village.

One of the ironies surrounding the furore over keeping East Coker pristine and unspoilt is to be found in the poem “East Coker” itself. The famous opening line goes on to describe houses rising and falling, being removed and destroyed, making room for fields, factories, or by-passes:

“Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires.

Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth…”

And, as new houses are often constructed from the remains of houses of the past, so Four Quartets is built on references to earlier poems, deliberate allusions to Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, and Tennyson that enrich and deepen the narrative. Maybe Eliot would not have minded East Coker being subjected to enforce changed and, who knows? , he might have spoken against the rather fanciful call for world heritage status. As he points out in “East Coker”

“The only wisdom we can hope to acquire

Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless”