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Thomas Hardy's Wessex

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Locations in Wessex, from The Wessex of Thomas Hardy by Bertram Windle, 1902, based on correspondence with Hardy

Thomas Hardy's Wessex is the fictional literary landscape created by the English author Thomas Hardy as the setting for his major novels,[1] located in the south and southwest of England.[2] Hardy named the area "Wessex" after the medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom that existed in this part of that country prior to the unification of England by Æthelstan. Although the places that appear in his novels actually exist, in many cases he gave the place a fictional name.[3] For example, Hardy's home town of Dorchester is called Casterbridge in his books, notably in The Mayor of Casterbridge.[4][5] In an 1895 preface to the 1874 novel Far from the Madding Crowd he described Wessex as "a merely realistic dream country".[6]

The actual definition of "Hardy's Wessex" varied widely throughout Hardy's career, and was not definitively settled until after he retired from writing novels. When he created the concept of a fictional Wessex, it consisted merely of the small area of Dorset in which Hardy grew up; by the time he wrote Jude the Obscure, the boundaries had extended to include all of Dorset, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon, Hampshire, much of Berkshire, and some of Oxfordshire, with its most north-easterly point being Oxford (renamed "Christminster" in the novel). Cornwall was also referred to but named "Off Wessex". Similarly, the nature and significance of ideas of "Wessex" were developed over a long series of novels through a lengthy period of time. The idea of Wessex plays an important artistic role in Hardy's works (particularly his later novels), assisting the presentation of themes of progress, primitivism, sexuality, religion, nature and naturalism.[7][8][9] However, this is complicated by the economic role Wessex played in Hardy's career. Considering himself primarily to be a poet, Hardy wrote novels mostly to earn money. Books that could be marketed under the Hardy brand of "Wessex novels" were particularly lucrative, which gave rise to a tendency to sentimentalised, picturesque, populist descriptions of Wessex[10] (which, as a glance through most tourist giftshops in the south-west reveals, remain popular with consumers today).

Hardy's resurrection of the name "Wessex" is largely responsible for the popular modern use of the term to describe the south-west region of England (with the exception of Cornwall and arguably Devon). Today, a panoply of organisations take their name from Hardy to describe their relationship to the area. Hardy's conception of Wessex as a separate, cohesive geographical and political identity has proved powerful,[11] although it was originally created purely as an artistic conceit, and has spawned a lucrative tourist trade, and even a devolutionist Wessex Regionalist Party.

Thomas Hardy's Wessex names


Wessex regions and actual English counties

Map of the historic counties of England on which the approximate regions of Wessex can be found. Hardy did not always use the historic boundaries in his writings
Region of Wessex Actual English County[12] Position on Map
Lower Wessex Devon 9
Mid Wessex Wiltshire 37
North Wessex Berkshire 2
Outer Wessex Somerset 30
South Wessex Dorset 10
Upper Wessex Hampshire 14

(Note: The Isle of Wight, although today a separate administrative county, was considered to be a part of the county of Hampshire – and thus Upper Wessex – during Thomas Hardy's lifetime. Likewise, Alfredston (Wantage) and the surrounding area in North Wessex was part of Berkshire prior to the 1974 boundary changes but now lies in Oxfordshire.)

Outer Wessex is sometimes referred to as Nether Wessex.

Specific places in Thomas Hardy's Wessex


Key to references for the place name table


The abbreviations for Thomas Hardy's novels that are used in the table are as follows:

  1. DR – Desperate Remedies (1871)
  2. UtGT – Under the Greenwood Tree (1872)
  3. PoBE – A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873)
  4. FftMC – Far from the Madding Crowd (1874)
  5. HoE – The Hand of Ethelberta (1876)
  6. RotN – The Return of the Native (1878)
  7. TM – The Trumpet-Major (1880)
  8. L – A Laodicean (1881)
  9. ToaT – Two on a Tower (1882)
  10. MoC – The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886)
  11. W – The Woodlanders (1887)
  12. WT – Wessex Tales (1888)
  13. TotD – Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891)
  14. JtO – Jude the Obscure (1895)
  15. WB – The Well-Beloved (1897)

Table of Wessex place-names, their actual places, and their appearance in Hardy's novels

Wessex Name Region of Wessex Actual Name Appearance in Hardy's Novels[12][13]
Abbot's-Cernel South Wessex Cerne Abbas Where Mrs. Dollery was driving to in the beginning of the novel. (W)
Abbotsea South Wessex Abbotsbury
Aldbrickham North Wessex Reading Where Jude and Sue lived together after Sue left Phillotson. It is also where Arabella used to work as a barmaid before she met Jude. (JtO)
Alfredston North Wessex Wantage Jude Fawley becomes a mason's apprentice there. It is also where he works following his marriage to Arabella Donn. (JtO)
Anglebury South Wessex Wareham Where Thomasin and Wildeve's marriage did not take place due to an invalid licence (RotN)
Where Ethelberta lodged in the beginning of the novel. (HoE)
Bramshurst Upper Wessex Lyndhurst Tess and Angel fled to an unoccupied manor house in Bramshurst near the end of the novel. (TotD)
Budmouth South Wessex Weymouth Where Frank Troy goes to gamble on horse races. (FftMC)
Eustacia Vye's hometown (RotN)
The working place of Owen. (DR)
On the way home from Budmouth, Dick and Fancy confessed to each other. (UtGT)
One of the cities where Farfrae did his business. (MoC)
The neighbouring village of Overcombe/(Sutton Poyntz), the principal location of TM, is sometimes called Budmouth-Regis in Hardy's novels, but that is more precisely Melcombe Regis, where George III popularised the watering place; Weymouth is the other side of the river.(TM)
Casterbridge South Wessex Dorchester The principal location of The Mayor of Casterbridge. (MoC)
Where Fanny Robin dies at the poorhouse, and whose Corn Exchange is frequently visited by Bathsheba and Boldwood. (FftMC)
Where Rhoda and Farmer Lodge's son is hanged. The Withered Arm. (WT)[14]
When Tess's horse died while delivering goods from her home town to Casterbridge. (TotD)
Chalk Newton South Wessex Maiden Newton Site of Flintcomb-Ash farm, where Tess worked after Angel left her. (TotD)
Chaseborough South Wessex Cranborne Tess passed through Chaseborough on the way from home to Trantridge. (TotD)
Christminster North Wessex Oxford Where Jude Fawley goes to become a scholar, and is advised to give up his career choice. Sue Bridehead works in a shop which produces religious artefacts there, meets her cousin, and is thrown from her lodgings. (JtO)
Cytherea and Owen's hometown. Although Christminster is technically not within the borders of Hardy's Wessex, as it is located to the north of the River Thames, he describes it in Jude the Obscure as "within hail of the Wessex border, and almost with the tip of one small toe within it". (DR)
Cliff Martin Outer Wessex Combe Martin Combe Martin is actually in Devon, indicating that Hardy's boundaries are not necessarily linked to current county boundaries
Cresscombe North Wessex Letcombe Bassett Arabella's hometown. (JtO)
Deansleigh South Wessex Romsey Sir Ashley Mottisfont and his Lady Philipa reside at Deansleigh Park (probably a reference to Broadlands).[15]
Downstaple Lower Wessex Barnstaple
Durnover South Wessex Fordington
Endelstow Off Wessex St Juliot The home of Elfride Swancourt and her Rector father (PoBE). In real life this was where Thomas met Emma whom he later married.
Emminster South Wessex Beaminster[14] The home of Angel Clare, and the site of Clare's father's vicarage. (TotD)
Evershead South Wessex Evershot Where Tess met Alec for the first time after they parted, when Alec was preaching. (TotD)
Exonbury Lower Wessex Exeter Where Grace went to after she found out Fitzpier's affair. (W)
Falls Park Outer Wessex Mells Park
Flintcomb-Ash Dole's Ash Farm at Plush[16] The "starve-acre" farm where Tess undertakes hard manual field work. (TotD)
Fountall Outer Wessex Wells
Gaymead North Wessex Theale (JtO and WT)
Havenpool South Wessex Poole Newson landed here on his return from Newfoundland. (MoC)
Isle of Slingers South Wessex Isle of Portland The principal location of the Well-Beloved. (WB)
Ivell Outer Wessex Yeovil
Kennetbridge North Wessex Newbury "A thriving town not more than a dozen miles south of Marygreen" (JtO)[17] between Melchester and Christminster.[18] The main road (A338) from Oxford to Salisbury runs past Fawley and through Hungerford, which may be Kennetbridge instead of Newbury, which is to the south-east of Fawley.
Kingsbere South Wessex Bere Regis Here is situated the Church of the d'Urbervilles. After Tess' Father's death, the Durbeyfield family take refuge outside the chapel. (TotD)
Knollsea South Wessex Swanage Where Lord Mountclere lived. (HoE)
Lulwind Cove South Wessex Lulworth Cove Where Sergeant Troy is thought to have drowned. (FftMC)
Lumsdon North Wessex Cumnor It is there that Jude Fawley meets up with his old teacher Mr. Phillotson again. It is where Sue Bridehead starts to work as a teacher and promises herself in marriage to Mr. Phillotson. (JtO)
Marlott South Wessex Marnhull Tess Durbeyfield is born and brought up there. After becoming pregnant by Alec D'Urberville she returns to the village and gives birth to a baby boy, who dies in infancy. (TotD)
Marygreen North Wessex Fawley Drusilla Fawley runs a bakery there. It is the place where Sue Bridehead spent her childhood. Jude Fawley is brought there following the death of his father, and it is where he matures into a man. (JtO)
Melchester Mid Wessex Salisbury This is the place where Jude goes to prepare himself for the ministry, and where Sue Bridehead is studying to become a teacher. The latter runs away from her school there, and later marries Mr. Phillotson in the town. (JtO)
Where Troy's military camp deployed. (FftMC)
Where Julian moved to after Ethelberta refuse his love. (HE)
Lord Helmsdale was the bishop of Melchester. (ToaT)
Tess and Angel pass through this city on their way to Stonehenge. (TotD)
Mellstock South Wessex Stinsford and Higher & Lower Bockhampton Thomas Hardy's birthplace. Hardy's heart is also buried here, next to his first wife, Emma. Jude Fawley's father died there. (JtO)
Nearly all of Under the Greenwood Tree is set in Mellstock. (UtGT)
Middleton South Wessex Milton Abbas Where Charmond lived. (W)
Middleton Abbey South Wessex Milton Abbey Where Charmond lived. (W)
Narrowbourne Outer Wessex West Coker Where the main character is a priest in A Tragedy of Two Ambitions a short story part of Life's Little Ironies.
Nuttlebury South Wessex Hazelbury Bryan Tess passes through here on her way back home. (TotD)
Overcombe South Wessex Sutton Poyntz The principal location of The Trumpet-Major.(TM)
One of the places from where the vans of carriers in and out of Casterbridge hailed. (MoC)[19]
Port Bredy South Wessex Bridport[14] Where Lucetta and Farfrae secretly married. (MoC)
Po'sham South Wessex Portesham The home of Captain Thomas Hardy, one of Lord Nelson's commanders at the Battle of Trafalgar, who lived at Portesham House. (TM)
Quartershot Upper Wessex Aldershot An important military station near Stoke-Barehills. (JtO)
Sandbourne Upper Wessex Bournemouth[14] Where Tess Durbeyfield lives with Alec d'Urberville, and where she murders him upon the return of her husband, Angel Clare. (TotD).
It is also where Sue Bridehead's freethinking friend was buried, and where she was the only mourner at his funeral. (JtO)
The principal location of The Hand of Ethelberta. (HoE)
Shaston South Wessex Shaftesbury Jack Durbeyfield visits the doctor in Shaston and learns that he has a bad heart. (TotD) Mr. Phillotson moves there to run a school. Jude Fawley travels there to see Sue Bridehead, who, married to Mr. Phillotson, is working in the town, and they flee the place together. (JtO)
Sherton Abbas South Wessex Sherborne[14] The major neighbouring town of the Hintocks, where The Woodlanders took place. (W)
Slingers South Wessex Isle of Portland The principal location of The Well-Beloved. (WB)
Solentsea Upper Wessex Southsea The setting of the short story "An Imaginative Woman."
Stancy Castle Outer Wessex Dunster Castle The principal location of A Laodicean. (L)
Stapleford South Wessex Stalbridge Stapleford Park was owned by Timothy Petrick in the short story Squire Petrick's Lady
Stoke Barehills Upper Wessex Basingstoke Where Great Wessex Agricultural Show was held. (JtO)
Stourcastle South Wessex Sturminster Newton Tess travelled through here. (TotD)
Street of Wells South Wessex Fortuneswell The main street on Isle of Slingers, where The Well-Beloved mostly took place. (WB)
Toneborough Outer Wessex Taunton
Trantridge South Wessex Pentridge Site of the D'Urberville estate. (TotD)
Warborne South Wessex Wimborne Nearest town and railway station to Welland. (ToaT)
Weatherbury South Wessex Puddletown[14] Farms of Bathsheba and Boldwood, main setting for Far From the Madding Crowd (FftMC)
Weatherbury Farm South Wessex Waterston Manor Bathsheba's farm, in Far From the Madding Crowd (FftMC)
Wellbridge South Wessex Wool Where Tess told Angel her story after they married. (TotD)
Weydon-Priors Upper Wessex Weyhill Where Michael Henchard sells his wife while he is drunk. (MoC)
Wintoncester South Wessex Winchester Tess Durbeyfield is imprisoned and executed in this former capital of Wessex. (TotD)

In art and books


Artists such as Walter Tyndale, Edmund Hort New, Charles George Harper and others, have painted or drawn the landscapes, places and buildings described in Hardy's novels. Their work was used to illustrate books exploring the real-life countryside on which the fictional county of Wessex was based:


  1. ^ Williams, Harold (January 1914). "The Wessex Novels of Thomas Hardy". The North American Review. 199 (698): 120–134. JSTOR 25120154.
  2. ^ Darby, H.C. (July 1948). "The Regional Geography of Thomas Hardy's Wessex". Geographical Review. 38 (3): 426–443. Bibcode:1948GeoRv..38..426D. doi:10.2307/210904. JSTOR 210904.
  3. ^ "Map of Thomas Hardy's Wessex". British Library. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  4. ^ Birchall, Eugene. "Wessex Place Names". Wessex Photos. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  5. ^ "An Introduction To Hardy's Wessex". South Coast Central. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  6. ^ "Exploring Thomas Hardy's West Dorset" (PDF). Visit Dorset. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  7. ^ Birch, B.P. (1981). "Wessex, Hardy and the Nature Novelists". Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 6 (3): 348–358. Bibcode:1981TrIBG...6..348B. doi:10.2307/622293. JSTOR 622293.
  8. ^ Farrell, John P. (Autumn 2010). "Hardy versus Wessex". The Hardy Review. 12 (2): 126–147. doi:10.1179/193489010X12858552463204. JSTOR 45301021.
  9. ^ Tait, Adrian (Autumn 2013). "Hardy, Sassoon, and Wessex: The Enduring Appeal of the Immutable". The Thomas Hardy Journal. 29: 140–161. JSTOR 48568997.
  10. ^ Bennett, Alan (2008). "Hardy's Wessex in Railway Representations". The Hardy Society Journal. 39 (2): 47–60. JSTOR 45274571.
  11. ^ Kester Rattenbury (February 2018). "The Invention of Wessex". Places Journal (2018). doi:10.22269/180213. Retrieved 20 September 2021.
  12. ^ a b "Wessex Novel Placenames". Dorsetshire.com. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  13. ^ "Wessex place-names". Thomas Hardy's Wessex. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  14. ^ a b c d e f "Thomas Hardy's Dorset inspirations". BBC News. 30 April 2015. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  15. ^ Ray, Martin (2016). Thomas Hardy: A Textual Study of the Short Stories. London: Routledge. p. 105. ISBN 978-1351879378.
  16. ^ Harper, Charles G (1904). The Hardy country: literary landmarks of the Wessex novels. London: Adam and Charles Black. p. 170.
  17. ^ Paragraph 4, Chapter VII, Part Fifth, Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/153/153-h/153-h.htm#5-7
  18. ^ Paragraph 6, Chapter X, Part Third, Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/153/153-h/153-h.htm#5-7
  19. ^ Chapter IX, Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/143/143-h/143-h.htm

Further reading

  • J. Stevens Cox, Hardy's Wessex: Identification of Fictitious Place Names in Hardy's Works, Guernsey: Toucan Press, 1972.
  • Joanna Cullen Brown (ed.), Figures in a Wessex Landscape: Thomas Hardy's Picture of English Country Life, Allison & Busby, 1987.
  • Anne-Marie Edwards, Discovering Hardy's Wessex, Arcady Books, 1982.
  • Tony Fincham, Exploring Thomas Hardy's Wessex, Wimborne: The Dovecote Press, 2016.
  • Desmond Hawkins, Hardy's Wessex, London: Macmillan, 1983.
  • Clive Holland, Thomas Hardy's Wessex Scene, London: Longmans, 1948.
  • Denys Kay-Robinson, Hardy's Wessex Reappraised, Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1972.
  • Hermann Lea, Highways & Byways in Hardy's Wessex, London: Macmillan, 1925.
  • Hermann Lea, Thomas Hardy's Wessex, London: Macmillan, 1913.
  • James W. Worth, Thomas Hardy's Wessex, Pitkin Guides, 1978.