Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Saving The Best Until Last - Part Two
This is Stinsford church where Thomas Hardy's father and grandfather came every Sunday to play their violin and cello as part of the church choir. Those of you who have read Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Under The Greenwood Tree will know this as Mellstock Church. Hardy himself was christened here and was a regular member of the congregation as a boy and young man.
It was always Hardy's wish to be buried at Stinsford among all the other members of his family. In the end his wishes, and those of his family, were ignored and his ashes are buried in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey - only his heart was removed and buried in this grave with his first wife Emma. I find it astounding that it was possible to override the wishes of both Thomas Hardy and his family, including his wife, in this way. Hardy's second wife, Florence, was buried in this grave when she died in 1937 and the graves on either side also contain members of the Hardy family.
The church itself was not really all that exciting, there has been a good deal of Victorian 'restoration' and although it is a pleasant enough little church the really interesting things such as the musician's gallery, where Hardy's father and grandfather sat to play for the services, have been removed. There is now a modern replacement gallery, nice enough but without the history. This is the stained glass memorial window which shows Hardy's favorite Old Testament story (I Kings, chapter XIX) in which Elijah, here robed in purple, listens to the "still small voice" which followed the tumult of wind, earthquake, and fire.
This is the cottage where Thomas Hardy was born and where he wrote Under The Greenwood Tree and Far From The Madding Crowd. It was built in 1800 by his great grandfather. When he was only 16 years old he wrote the following poem describing his home.
It faces west, and round the back and sides
High beeches, bending, hang a veil of boughs,
And sweep against the roof. Wild honeysucks
Climb on the walls, and seem to sprout a wish
(If we may fancy wish of trees and plants)
To overtop the apple trees hard-by.
Red roses, lilacs, variegated box
Are there in plenty, and such hardy flowers
As flourish best untrained. Adjoining these
Are herbs and esculents; and farther still
A field; then cottages with trees, and last
The distant hills and sky.
Behind, the scene is wilder. Heath and furze
Are everything that seems to grow and thrive
Upon the uneven ground. A stunted thorn
Stands here and there, indeed; and from a pit
An oak uprises, Springing from a seed
Dropped by some bird a hundred years ago.
In days bygone—
Long gone—my father’s mother, who is now
Blest with the blest, would take me out to walk.
At such a time I once inquired of her
How looked the spot when first she settled here.
The answer I remember. ‘Fifty years
Have passed since then, my child, and change has marked
The face of all things. Yonder garden-plots
And orchards were uncultivated slopes
O’ergrown with bramble bushes, furze and thorn:
That road a narrow path shut in by ferns,
Which, almost trees, obscured the passers-by.
Our house stood quite alone, and those tall firs
And beeches were not planted. Snakes and efts
Swarmed in the summer days, and nightly bats
Would fly about our bedrooms. Heathcroppers
Lived on the hills, and were our only friends;
So wild it was when we first settled here.’
The cottage is National Trust property and when I asked my usual question about taking photographs inside I expected the equally usual answer of 'No'. The friendly warden amazed me by saying that I could take as many as I liked! It was quite difficult to get good ones as the rooms are very small and there was lots of sun pouring in through the windows but I did the best I could:) I really liked the parlour with it's flagstone floor and lovely big inglenook fireplace though I would have wanted a nice big rag rug on it in the autumn and winter months!
Thomas Hardy had a brother,Henry,and two sisters, Mary and Kate and this is the room which the two girls used. Thomas was the eldest child and it was 5 years before his sister Mary arrived. Henry was 15 years younger than Thomas and Kate didn't arrive until Thomas was 19 so the two girls were 14 years apart and probably didn't actually share the room for very long. And I have to say that I doubt whether the bed was that close to the fireplace when the room was actually in use!
I was standing as far back as I could to take this photo so you can tell how small the rooms are. This is the where Hardy and his brother and sisters were born.
This is Thomas Hardy's bedroom, he wrote Under The Greenwood Tree and Far From The Madding Crowd in this room, he used to sit on the lovely deep window-seat or at an old table that was set beside it. There was no electric light of course, only oil lamps and candles so he would have needed the light from the window to work. From here there was an incredibly steep, narrow stair leading down to the ground floor. It was more like a ladder really and I went down it facing the steps as if I was on a boat.
At the bottom of the stairs was the door into the kitchen with its brick floor. The original range has been blocked up but to the right of the fireplace is the old bread oven.
The lean-to at the side of the cottage with the old barrel being used as a water butt and handy for watering the vegetable garden. The cottage garden here is lovely and a couple of weeks after these photos were taken it would have been even better, there were so many plants almost ready to bloom. Like all cottage gardens it would be at its very best in mid to late June. I so enjoyed my visit, both cottage and garden were an absolute delight. I wish I'd had time to explore some of the surrounding woodland too, Thorncombe Wood is ancient woodland with nature trails and it has a Roman road running through it too. That will have to be for a future trip though- this time I wanted to go in search of Lawrence of Arabia.
I've known about Lawrence of Arabia for a long time of course but my first real encounter with his life was several years ago when I was in Jordan visiting various archaeological sites. We spent one of the days driving out into the desert in open top jeeps and visiting various places associated with T.E.Lawrence including the rock formation known as The Seven Pillars of Wisdom in Wadi Rum. Lawrence was a complicated and fascinating man and when I discovered that he had lived and was buried in Dorset I decided that I must see both his grave and his cottage.
Moreton Church where Lawrence's funeral service was held, it was attended by many famous people including Sir Winston and Lady Churchill and the poet Siegfried Sassoon. The church looks quite simple and ordinary from the outside but when you open the door and go in.......
...this is what you see, it's really beautiful inside and this photo doesn't do it justice. The church was hit by a bomb in WW2 (there was a US Army base at Moreton which was probably the actual target) and half of it was destroyed. After the war the church was rebuilt and they made a wonderful job of it.
The original stained glass windows were destroyed and they were replaced by plain glass which was etched by the artist Lawrence Whistler and I think they are the most beautiful windows I've ever seen. Do enlarge this so that you can see the detail. This was the only one where the light fell so that I could get a really good photo.
The main churchyard where Lawrence is buried is just across the road from the church but this is the original graveyard behind the church, what a wonderfully peaceful place to be laid to rest.
Clouds Hill, the cottage that Lawrence lived in from 1923 until his death in 1935. Another National Trust property now so we are back to 'no interior photography'. It was very interesting inside but even the Guide Book photos aren't up to much so you will have to take my word for it! Lawrence never actually lived here full time as he was a soldier and based at the nearby Bovington Camp. He used Clouds Hill as a place to write his books during his off duty times. The plan was to live here when his term of enlistment was up in 1935 but he was killed in a motorcycle accident a short time before this.
I think I stopped in Bere Regis so that I could look at the map, I turned off the main road and parked by the church and as the roads were busy with 'going home from work' traffic I decided I'd have a look round while I waited for it to quieten down a bit. It turned out that there was another Thomas Hardy connection here, Bere Regis was the manor of the Turberville family for over 500 years from the 13th to the 18th century and the family tombs are in the church. The inspiration for Hardy's novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles came from this powerful family which had eventually died out in the late 1700s.
The church itself was well worth seeing -and fortunately the verger, who arrived pretty much at the same time as I did to lock up, said he'd come back later so that I could look round. The photo shows the entrance to the church and above the porch door are two iron hooks with chains. These date to about 1600 and were attached to long poles and used to pull thatch from the cottage roofs in the face of an advancing fire. Fire was an ever present danger in an age when houses were built largely of wood with thatched roofs. Apparently there were several disastrous fires in the village and consequently there are very few really old buildings left here.
The interior of the church which dates originally from 1050 though there is little left from this period.
The really spectacular part of the church is the fabulous 15th century nave roof. It is made of oak with full length carved figures of the twelve apostles. There are various other carved heads and devices including a Tudor rose. These are all painted and gilded and it looks absolutely spectacular. It was the gift of Cardinal John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor of the Exchequer to King Henry VII.
The font is 12th century and really beautifully carved. It's amazing that it has survived for around 900 years in such wonderful condition.
The wheeled parish bier isn't as old as some I've seen, it was acquired in 1898 to "ease the burden of funeral bearers, who, since the establishment of the cemetery in 1881, had been required to walk the whole distance to and from the church."
On the north wall of the chancel is a lovely carved table tomb commemorating John Skerne who died in 1593. The three brasses depicting John, his wife Margaret and the family coat-of-arms. The lower photograph shows a detail of one of the brasses.
At this point I thought I'd better let the verger come and lock up though I'm sure there was alot more of interest to see. This was my last day in Dorset and definitely the best.