I bought this tea towel in a National Trust Shop, in Dorchester, having just visited Thomas Hardy’s Cottage in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset. It is a classic, traditional National Trust tea towel: pure linen with a detailed picture of a particular property owned by them, in this case the cottage where Thomas Hardy was born in 1840 and where he lived for the first 34 years of his life. The artist was Lee Parry, known for her detailed drawings which so accurately reflect the house; when I look at the tea towel, it is exactly as I remember – a cob and thatch cottage, built in 1800, fronted by a real cottage garden. It is a beautiful picture.
I know that today that Hardy’s Cottage is probably slightly different because there are regular opening hours and there is a Visitor Centre close by. When I visited, the opening hours were very restricted and there were no amenities. I think I prefer to remember Hardy’s Cottage as it was in 1993. Thomas Hardy was always one of my favourite authors and poets; I have great memories of English lessons at St Benedicts School with Philip Lawrence in his first year of teaching (he later became a Headmaster of a London school where one of his pupils stabbed, and murdered, him). He instilled in me a real love of Thomas Hardy, especially the poem ‘Darkling Thrush’, the words of which I can still recite to this day: “An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small/In blast-beruffled plume,/Had chosen thus to fling his soul/Upon the growing gloom”. I can picture the little bird in blast-beruffled plume, three words conjuring up such a picture.
Thomas Hardy wrote both ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ and ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ in this cottage. And I can imagine that. It is not a typical National Trust property, no fancy fireplaces or treasures from abroad, just a cottage that reflects his writing. In ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’, there is a classic line where Hardy writes “And at home by the fire, whenever you look up there I shall be – and whenever I look up there will be you”; and this is the setting for such a line, one of my favourites. Thomas Hardy was rather complex and possibly ‘completely screwed up’ but I can imagine him here. John and I visited because I really wanted to see the home Thomas Hardy was brought up in and visit various places in the locality that inspired his books or where he took his walks, where he met his wife, churches he visited. I loved the ‘freedom’ and ‘randomness’ of the garden, something that I have always aspired to achieve but never managed it. This tea towel is a real favourite because of its simplicity and accuracy of design and is also excellent at wiping up!`
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