This month is another unusual one for ‘quilt spot’ – no ‘spots’ in movies or on the telly, but serendipitously (quite an apt word as you will see later…) a number spotted in Thomas Hardy’s birth cottage in Dorset.
Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) is one of my all-time favourite writers. I read all of his books in my early 20s whilst commuting into London for work. I actually looked forward to the tube journeys as it would usually guarantee me at least two hours of reading a day! (More, if there were delays on the network, which was a regular occurrence…)
He is described as a Victorian realist. From what I know about him, he seems to have been completely in love with the landscape and the countryside that surrounded him in Dorset. His focus was on the working classes and the hardships they endured. I can’t pick a favourite book… though Tess of the d’Urbiville’s, Far from the Madding Crowd, The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure stand out for me – I remember crying on the train reading the last few pages of Jude…
So when the opportunity came to visit his birthplace, I was thrilled. It had been a place I had wanted to visit for a VERY long time.
We travelled down to Dorset on the first weekend in September. We took the girls with us as they were keen to see the Jurassic coast, and in particular the famous Durdle Door, and on the way back we stopped at Hardy’s Cottage.
This is the cottage where Thomas was born, where he grew up and where he wrote some of his earlier works. It was built by Thomas’s great grandfather and is now owned by the National Trust. It is a modest cob and thatched cottage, and beautifully simple.
Downstairs there is a cosy parlour, where the family gathered in the evenings, an office for Thomas’s father’s stonemasonry and bricklaying business, and the kitchen. Upstairs there are three rooms, for the parents, his sisters (Mary and Kate) and one for Thomas and his brother (Henry).
The rooms are white washed and simply furnished. In the bedrooms, each bed is covered with a quilt. Although the quilts, like everything else in the house, are not original, the hexie quilt in the sisters’ room is a replica of one they started but never finished, and which is now kept in storage at the Dorset County Museum. The replica was made by a group of dedicated quilters who decided to leave the quilt unfinished. They named it ‘Serendipity’.
More information on the group of quilters and the replica quilt can be found on the following National Trust webpage: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hardys-cottage/features/the-art-of-quilting-and-the-hardy-sisters (accessed 27.09.19). As links can sometimes break or not work, I have taken the liberty to screen-grab the page and have included it below as an image.
I was told by one of the property’s stewards that the others quilts in the house – the one on the bed in the sisters’ room and the ones in the other rooms – were also made to look of the period.
Of course, the quilts were a highlight for me on this visit. But my favourite place in the whole house, was the replica desk and chair in Thomas’s room. This is where he wrote many of his earlier works, including Far from the Madding Crowd and Under the Green Wood Tree.
He would have sat at this desk, like I did in the photo above, with the views from his window providing the inspiration for his fictional county of Wessex. Even the window itself and the light it cast on the inbuilt bookcase on the opposite wall inspired one of his poems:
Extract from ‘The Sun on the Bookcase’ by Thomas Hardy
Once more the cauldron of the sun
Smears the bookcase with winy red,
And here my page is, and there my bed,
And the apple-tree shadows travel along.
Soon their intangible track will be run,
And dusk grow strong
And they have fled.
What a fabulous place… I am so pleased I got the chance to visit. I came away completely awe inspired and with a desire to read Hardy again. But which book to start with?! If you’re a fan of Thomas Hardy, I would highly recommend a visit.
Till next time!
Check out my previous quilt spots: January 2019, February 2019, March 2019, April 2019, May 2019, June 2019, July 2019, August 2019 and a review of my quilt spots in 2018. And click here for a review of my 2018 quilting adventures.