The cottage where author Thomas Hardy was born in 1840 is being opened to the public during the winter months. Guests staying there will have to learn about the harsh realities of life in the 1840s - they'll only be able to use candlelight during the long, dark winter nights and they'll have to do all the laundry by hand.

The TimesOctober 19, 2006
Hardy guests learn how to live far from the madding crowd

By Simon de Bruxelles

Thomas Hardy's cottage is owned by the National Trust

THE clock is to be turned back at the Dorset cottage where Thomas Hardy grew up to allow visitors to experience for themselves the spartan comforts of life in the 1840s.

The National Trust plans to let out the cottage in Higher Bockhampton during the winter, when it is normally closed to visitors.

Paying guests will have to cook on an ancient stove and do their laundry by hand. But they won’t have to endure all the hardships of Hardy’s childhood.

Modern health and safety rules mean that the candles will be battery-powered and the water will come from a tap rather than a well. There will also be a flushing lavatory and an electric kettle.

The guests will be given points for how authentically they manage to live there, and each year a prize will be given to the most “hardy” visitor.

Hardy wrote two novels in the cottage, Under the Greenwood Tree and Far from the Madding Crowd, and the trust hopes that visitors will also be inspired to write.

In Hardy’s time the family entertained themselves by playing musical instruments and singing, and visitors will be encouraged to do the same.

The trust was bequeathed the cottage in 1948. Helen Mann, who manages the property, said: “We want to encourage people to live as much like the Hardy family did in the 1840s so they can find out what life was really like.

“This would create an increased income for the cottage and allow us to offer an innovative and evocative demonstration of Hardy’s lifestyle. It will also help conserve the building over the winter months.”

She added: “There are some changes that we can do nothing about. We can’t use candles because of the thatch, so battery-powered lights will replace them. There will be smoke alarms, but they won’t be attached to the building itself.

“In Hardy’s time the family would have brought their water up from a well, but instead we have an outside tap.

“The only real modern-day luxury is the bathroom, which is to be plumbed into a room that is not generally open to the public.

“Other differences people might find is the height of the ceilings, which might cause them to stoop because we are much taller now than people used to be.

“Hardy and his family were keen musicians and an accordion, violins and a table piano will be provided.

“Children will be able to play with toys — including a replica of a sword that Hardy’s father made for him — and there will be a telescope like one that a seafaring relation gave to the young author.

“Visitors will be given a starter food box and authentic recipes and they will learn how to keep milk cold without a fridge, how to cook on an open fire and how to use a flat iron.

“We are sure there are many fans of Hardy who would jump at the chance of living in his house.”

The cottage was built by Hardy’s grandfather. It is made from cob and laid with large Portland flagstones. The trust said that it would conduct a consultation exercise before going ahead.

Several Hardy enthusiasts have expressed concern about the idea