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A new place for Thomas Hardy’s madding crowds

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: December 08, 2012

Alistair Chisholme acting the role of Thomas Hardy reads extracts of poems to Norrie Woodhall. Picture by Steve Roberts/Bristol United Press

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Thomas Hardy’s fictional “Woodlanders” would find a wood near his birthplace cottage had failed to escape the madding crowds, if they were to come to life in the 21st century.

For plans to transform the area around the Dorset author’s simple cottage home have won £495,000 backing from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The money will be used to develop a visitor centre and education trails in Thorncombe Wood, which surrounds the writer’s birthplace at Higher Bockhampton, near Dorchester.

The project, which was recently granted planning permission, is a joint partnership between Dorset County Council and the National Trust to bring together the cottage and surrounding landscape for the first time.

As well as support from the fund, the project has also received donations from the Garfield Weston Trust, the Fine Family Foundation, the Kinsurdy Trust, and the Hardy Society.

Built on the edge of Thorncombe Wood, where the Dorset countryside rangers’ building is currently, the new visitor centre will also have improved access to the cottage.

The timber-built visitor centre will give people information about Thomas Hardy and the nearby landscape which influenced his work.

Sensitively designed to have minimal impact on its setting, the new centre will have space for school and community groups to use, as well as a small catering area with toilets and some retail space.

The project will also involve setting up more interactive activities and events to help visitors learn about Thomas Hardy’s life and work, as well as the conservation operations needed to look after the area.

Councillor Robert Gould, cabinet member for the environment at Dorset County Council, said: “It’s great that we now have secured funding for this exciting project. Our aim has been to share the place that Thomas Hardy loved and drew inspiration from.

“We would like to use the project to help people learn more about Thomas Hardy and his writing, and relate it to the surrounding landscape.”

Helen Sharp, the National Trust fund raising manager, said: “Thomas Hardy is a well-respected literary figure around the world and through this we can improve the way visitors to Hardy’s birthplace understand him, his works and especially how his beloved Dorset influenced him throughout his life.”

Richard Bellamy, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South West, said: “Far from the Madding Crowd and Tess of the d’Urbervilles are among the most famous works by literary great, Thomas Hardy, and have been inspiring aspiring authors and book-lovers across the world for many years. This project to improve visitor facilities will help to bring together his birthplace and the surrounding picturesque landscape for the first time, helping people to better understand how his Dorset roots influenced his achievements. The fund is sure that the new facilities will help Hardy’s legacy live on well into the future.”

Work is planned to start in September 2013 and for the new visitor centre to open by Easter 2014.

The late Norrie Woodhall, who knew Thomas Hardy, is read some of his work by Alistair Chisholme, acting the role of the author in the garden of the famous cottage at Higher Bockhampton, Dorset. Norrie was the last-living member of the original Hardy Players, before she passed away last year. In 1924, she played Liza-Lu (Tess’s sister), and in the 1990s, she handed the baton over by helping to found the New Hardy

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