Thomas Hardy was one of the greatest English writers of the Victorian era – here’s your chance to become part of his story. Our blockbuster Hardy exhibition will run across our four museums in summer 2022 - Dorset Museum, Poole Museum, The Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Museum. It will be the largest collection of Hardy objects ever displayed to the public at one time.
Bringing precious objects out of the dark
As part of the project, we have gathered together objects from our museum stores, many that have never before been on public display. These precious objects need specialist mounting and conservation so they can be enjoyed by current and future generations.
A treasure trove to tell Hardy's life stories
Our Hardy exhibition curator, Harriet Still, said: “Hardy found his inspiration in the landscapes and people of Wessex, but he was also passionate about issues such as women’s equality, animal welfare and the unfairness of the English class system. As part of the project, I was tasked with exploring museum stores and archives to find objects that gave insights into Hardy’s complex personality. It was a magical voyage of discovery and it will be wonderful to share this fascinating treasure trove with our visitors.”
Picture: Miniature painting, thought to be the only depiction of Hardy as a baby with his mother.
"I wholeheartedly support this project," patron Lord Fellowes
One of our patrons is Lord Julian Fellowes of West Stafford, DL, President of the Thomas Hardy Society. He said:
“I wholeheartedly support this project to conserve and display some fascinating objects from the Thomas Hardy collection – many of which have remained unseen in museum stores for years. These personal items will help people come to know Hardy as a man, not just as a writer. His grandma’s kettle, for example, evokes an image of a young boy sitting by the fireside, listening to the wise old woman's stories; while the tombstone Hardy designed in later life for his beloved dog, Wessex, tells of his deep love for animals.
"By donating to this appeal, people can help to unlock stories of the man who loved Wessex and so beautifully captured its landscapes and people in his writing." (Photo Nick Briggs)
"Please help us to make it happen," patron Tim Laycock
Another patron is renowned Dorset folk musician and artistic director of the New Hardy Players, Tim Laycock. He said:
"As a folk musician living and working in Dorset, my personal and performing lives have been hugely enriched by the writings and the music of Thomas Hardy and his family. I’m delighted to be a patron for this wonderful exhibition, which will cast new light on the great storyteller of Wessex, thrill confirmed admirers of his novels and poetry, and introduce thousands of people to the real and imagined worlds of Thomas Hardy. Please help us to make it happen!"
"A new and richly informed story of Hardy," patron Angelique Richardson
Professor of English at the University of Exeter, Angelique Richardson, is also a patron. As a Hardy scholar and historian of science, she said:
"This project is vital in bringing to wide audiences little known and previously unexhibited objects from the UNESCO recognised Hardy collections as well as helping to conserve these items for posterity. We are at a crucial stage in fundraising for a project that will allow a new and richly informed story of Hardy to be told. Your donations will also support four internationally significant regional museums at a time when the heritage sector is facing unprecedented challenges.”
Examples of the rare treasures we want to display
These are just some of the objects that your donations will help us to include in the exhibition. Please note that these are available in our Adopt an Object reward, but limited to two funders per object, on a first come, first served basis:
Hardy’s first landscape sketch - to be displayed at Wiltshire Museum
This landscape painting is Hardy's first sketch ‘from nature’. It shows a view which is a 15 minute walk from the cottage where he was born. Later in life, Hardy remembered the local natural spaces as his ‘playground’.
'The Trumpet-Major' notebook - to be displayed at Poole Museum
This fascinating notebook is stuffed full of Hardy’s research for his Napoleonic-era novel, 'The Trumpet-Major'. It is his only notebook dedicated to a single novel. There are notes on historical figures, dates and detail, interspersed with small drawings by Hardy of clothing of the time. He compiled it from the British Library Collection (at that time part of the British Museum) while living in London.
Emma Hardy’s 'Some Recollections' - to be displayed at Poole Museum
Many people have speculated on Hardy’s sometimes difficult relationship with his wife Emma. This page is an extract from her memoirs, looking back to the simpler days, and the first moment that they met: "I was immediately arrested by his familiar appearance as if I had seen him in a dream".
Granny Hardy’s kettle - to be displayed at The Salisbury Museum
Hardy’s grandmother could remember all sorts of things to entertain the young Hardy, from the news arriving of Marie Antoinette’s execution to stories of maypole dancing on the village green. She would just put on the kettle, then they'd sit by the fireside and out the stories would flow…
Design for tombstone of Hardy's dog - to be displayed at Dorset Museum
This is the design Hardy drew for the tombstone of his dog, Wessex. Hardy and his second wife Florence doted on the dog, even though he was a nightmare! He was known to stand on the table when they were eating, trying to steal the food off their forks! He also nipped their visitors. The tombstone can still be seen in the pet cemetery at Hardy’s home, Max Gate, in Dorchester.
Portrait of Hardy and his mother - displayed at The Salisbury Museum
This portrait was in private ownership for decades until it was recently given to Dorset Museum. It is believed to be the only depiction of Thomas Hardy as a baby with his mother, and has never before been publicly displayed. (Pictured above.)
Print of 'Les Violettes' - to be displayed at Poole Museum
From a young age, Hardy was fascinated by Napoleon Bonaparte and the French Wars. Several of his novels, short stories and poems are set in this period, including a reworking of a Dorset legend that Napoleon himself landed at Lulworth in 1804 to scout out for the invasion. This rare print was owned by Hardy. When Napoleon went into exile in Elba, he supposedly said that he would return with the violets in spring. Look closely - can you make out the ‘hidden silhouettes’ of Napoleon, his wife and son?
Hardy's phrenology report - to be displayed at Wiltshire Museum
When Hardy was a young architect in London, he got this phrenology report done by a ‘doctor’ on the Strand. Phrenology claimed to be able to assess personal attributes by measuring the client’s head. Hardy was obsessed with fate and what makes us act the way that we do.
Hardy's dog-handle walking stick - to be displayed at Dorset Museum
Hardy was an animal lover from a young age. This beautifully carved walking stick features a little dog on the handle, patiently lying waiting for its walk. On its back are engraved Hardy’s initials - ‘T.H.’ As a writer, Hardy used his novels to create empathy with our furry friends. He also actively campaigned for animal welfare. In 1924, he celebrated the triumphs of the RSPCA on their centenary, with a limited edition poem called ‘Compassion: An Ode’.
Handwritten manuscript from 'Far from the Madding Crowd' - to be displayed at Dorset Museum
This is a hand-written manuscript from one of Hardy's most popular novels, 'Far from the Madding Crowd'. It is the first draft of the scene where Bathsheba Everdene is celebrating a successful sheep shearing with her employees. She is torn between sitting beside her farm manager and ex-lover Gabriel Oak, and the wealthy but awkward Farmer Boldwood.
Variously, Bathsheba’s farm has been seen to be based on the real-life Athelhampton House and Waterston Manor in Dorset.
Become part of Hardy's story
Through our Crowdfunder appeal, we are aiming to raise £5,000 towards the specialist work needed to put on such an ambitious exhibition. By donating to the appeal, you’ll not only become part of this exciting project, but you’ll also have access to a range of unique rewards.
Thank you! The Wessex Museums' team
Above: Robin Mackenzie's map of Wessex, especially created for the Hardy exhibition. Available as one of our unique Crowdfunder rewards.
Below: Exclusive tote bag available as a reward, featuring a quotation from Thomas Hardy. The quote was selected by our curator, Harriet Still - because it is so relevant to the times we are living in today!