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Dorset Museum's Thomas Hardy Archive, courtesy of Dorset Museum 2019

Thomas Hardy letters. Credit: Dorset Museum's Thomas Hardy Archive, courtesy of Dorset Museum © 2019

University of Exeter expert backs appeal to bring Thomas Hardy’s personal objects into the light

A University of Exeter expert is backing a Crowdfunder appeal to conserve and display a range of Thomas Hardy objects, many of which have never before been on public display.

The objects will form part of a blockbuster Hardy exhibition that takes place in summer 2022 across the Wessex Museums partnership – Dorset Museum, Poole Museum, The Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Museum. It will be the largest collection of Hardy objects ever displayed at one time.  

The exhibition will include letters to Thomas Hardy digitised as part of the Hardy’s Correspondents project led by Professor Angelique Richardson. One hundred letters sent to the author, and others written by him, have been digitised and made available online, and grant funding will be sought to produce an interactive online edition of the remaining 5000 letters he received over his lifetime.

Professor Richardson, one of the world’s key Hardy experts, and a historian of literature and science, said: “I am delighted to support this project. It is vital in bringing to wide audiences little known and previously unexhibited objects from the UNESCO-recognised Hardy collection 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 many-sided story of Hardy to be told. The donations will also support four internationally significant regional museums at a time when the heritage sector is facing unprecedented challenges.”

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 the museum stores and finding 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.”

Another of the appeal’s patrons, alongside Richardson, and the actor and musician Tim Laycock, is Lord Julian Fellowes of West Stafford, DL, creator of Downton Abbey and 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 grandmother’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 the stories of the man who loved Wessex and so beautifully captured its landscapes and people in his writing."

Hardy was one of the greatest English writers of the Victorian era, his most famous novels being Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Far from the Madding Crowd.

Wessex Museums partnership is hoping the appeal will raise £5,000 towards the specialist work needed to put on this ambitious exhibition. The Crowdfunder runs until 3 December 2021. Details can be found here

Date: 18 November 2021

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