Thomas Hardy's Wessex

The English author Thomas Hardy set all of his major novels in the south and southwest of England. He 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.[1] For example, Hardy's home town of Dorchester is called Casterbridge in his books, notably in The Mayor of Casterbridge.[2][3] In an 1895 preface to the novel Far From the Madding Crowd he described Wessex as "a merely realistic dream country".[4]

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; 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 – which, as a glance through most tourist giftshops in the south-west will reveal, 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.[5] Hardy's conception of Wessex as a separate, cohesive geographical and political identity has proved powerful, despite the fact it was originally created purely as an artistic conceit, and has spawned a lucrative tourist trade, and even a devolutionist Wessex Regionalist Party.

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

Thomas Hardy's Wessex names

Wessex regions and actual English counties

Thomas Hardy's Wessex map
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[6] 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:

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[6][7]
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 major neighbouring city of Overcombe, the principal location of the novel. It 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 Rhoda and Farmer Lodge's son is hanged. The Withered Arm. (WT)[8]
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
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[8] 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
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)[9] between Melchester and Christminster.[10] 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
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)
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)
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)[11]
Port Bredy South Wessex Bridport[8] 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[8] Where Tess Durbeyfield lives with Alec D'Urberville as his mistress, 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)
Where Tess and Alec lived after they got married. (TotD)
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[8] The major neighboring city 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)
Stoke Barehills Upper Wessex Basingstoke Where Great Wessex Agricultural Show was held. (JtO)
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.
Weatherbury South Wessex Puddletown[8] Farms of Bathsheba and Boldwood, main setting for Far From the Madding Crowd (FftMC)
Weatherbury Farm South Wessex Waterston Manor Bathsheba's farms, in Far From the Madding Crowd (FftMC)
Wellbridge South Wessex Wool Where Tess told Angel her story her 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. ^ "Map of Thomas Hardy's Wessex". British Library. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  2. ^ Birchall, Eugene. "Wessex Place Names". Wessex Photos. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  3. ^ "An Introduction To Hardy's Wessex". South Coast Central. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  4. ^ "Exploring Thomas Hardy's West Dorset" (PDF). Visit Dorset. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  5. ^ "Thomas Hardy's Wessex?". University of St Andrews. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  6. ^ a b "Wessex Novel Placenames". Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  7. ^ "Wessex place-names". Thomas Hardy's Wessex. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  8. ^ a b c d e f "Thomas Hardy's Dorset inspirations". BBC. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  9. ^ Paragraph 4, Chapter VII, Part Fifth, Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure at
  10. ^ Paragraph 6, Chapter X, Part Third, Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure at
  11. ^ Chapter IX, Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge at

External links

An Atlas of Fantasy

An Atlas of Fantasy, compiled by Jeremiah Benjamin Post, was originally published in 1973 by Mirage Press and revised for a 1979 edition by Ballantine Books. The 1979 edition dropped twelve maps from the first edition and added fourteen new ones. It also included an introduction by Lester del Rey.

To remain of manageable size, the Atlas excludes advertising maps, cartograms, most disproportionate maps, and alternate history ("might have been") maps, focusing instead on imaginary lands derived from literary sources. It purposefully omits "one-to-one" maps such as Thomas Hardy's Wessex (which merely renames places in southwest England), but includes Barsetshire and Yoknapatawpha County, which are evidently considered to be sufficiently fictionalized. The emphasis is on science fiction and fantasy, though Post suggests there exist enough mystery fiction maps to someday create The Detectives' Handy Pocket Atlas. Other maps were omitted due to permission costs or reproduction quality.

The maps are reproduced from many sources, and an Index of Artists is included.

Barbara of the House of Grebe

"Barbara of the House of Grebe" is the second of ten short stories in Thomas Hardy's frame narrative A Group of Noble Dames. It is told by the old surgeon. The story was published in The Graphic in 1890 and in book form in 1891.


Bridport is a market town in Dorset, England, 1.5 miles (2.4 km) inland from the English Channel near the confluence of the River Brit and its tributary the Asker. Its origins are Saxon and it has a long history as a rope-making centre and of fishing from West Bay. At the 2011 census, it had a population of 13,568.

In the 21st century, Bridport's arts scene has expanded with an arts centre, theatre, cinema and museum. It features as Port Bredy in Thomas Hardy's Wessex novels.

The town is twinned with Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, France.

Chronicles of Barsetshire

The Chronicles of Barsetshire is a series of six novels by the English author Anthony Trollope, set in the fictitious English county of Barsetshire and its cathedral town of Barchester. The novels concern the dealings of the clergy and the gentry, and the political, amatory, and social manœuvrings that go on among and between them. Of the six novels, the second in the series, Barchester Towers, is generally the best known, while the last was Trollope's own favourite. Together, the series is regarded by many as Trollope's finest work. It was continued into the twentieth century by Angela Thirkell.

Egdon Heath

Egdon Heath is a fictitious area of Thomas Hardy's Wessex inhabited sparsely by the people who cut the furze (gorse) that grows there. The entire action of Hardy's novel The Return of the Native takes place on Egdon Heath, and it also features in The Mayor of Casterbridge and the short story The Withered Arm (1888). The area is rife with witchcraft and superstition.

Far from the Madding Crowd

Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) is Thomas Hardy's fourth novel and his first major literary success. It originally appeared anonymously as a monthly serial in Cornhill Magazine, where it gained a wide readership.

The novel is the first to be set in Thomas Hardy's Wessex in rural southwest England. It deals in themes of love, honour and betrayal, against a backdrop of the seemingly idyllic, but often harsh, realities of a farming community in Victorian England. It describes the life and relationships of Bathsheba Everdene with her lonely neighbour William Boldwood, the faithful shepherd Gabriel Oak, and the thriftless soldier Sergeant Troy.

On publication, critical notices were plentiful and mostly positive. Hardy revised the text extensively for the 1895 edition and made further changes for the 1901 edition.The novel was listed at number 48 on the BBC's survey The Big Read in 2003. The book finished 10th on The Guardian's list of greatest love stories of all time in 2007.

The novel has been dramatised several times, notably in the Oscar-nominated 1967 film directed by John Schlesinger.

Florence Dugdale

Florence Emily Dugdale (12 January 1879 – 17 October 1937) was a writer of children's stories and the second wife of Thomas Hardy. Although Thomas Hardy's biography was published under her name, it was in fact written by Hardy himself in his old age.

Hardy Way

The Hardy Way is a waymarked long-distance footpath in southern England in the United Kingdom.

Human Shows, Far Phantasies, Songs and Trifles

Human Shows, Far Phantasies, Songs and Trifles is the penultimate collection of poems by English poet Thomas Hardy, and was published in 1925. A miscellaneous collection, Human Shows included old, new, and updated poems.

List of fictional Oxbridge colleges

This is a list of fictional colleges of either:

the universities referred to collectively as Oxbridge, but where the specific university is not specified or known;

fictional institutions spanning both Oxford and Cambridge universities; or

a fictional Oxbridge UniversityBoniface College, Oxbridge

Pendennis by William Thackeray, inspired by his time at Cambridge and home to the poet Sprott.

Fernham College, Oxbridge

A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf, based on Newnham College, established in 1871 as the first exclusive women's college at Cambridge University.

Footlights College, Oxbridge

from which came a team of participants in an imitation of University Challenge in an episode of The Young Ones called "Bambi". Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson and Ben Elton played contestants: "Lord Snot", "Lord Monty", "Miss Money-Sterling", and "Mr. Kendall-Mintcake", respectively. Fry, Laurie and Thompson were all students at Cambridge and members of the Footlights.

Omnibus College

in Middlemarch, Chapter 52, where Fred Vincy takes his bachelor's degree.

Pembridge College, Oxbridge: The Passing of Sherlock Holmes; by E. V. Knox

St Luke's College

"The Adventure of the Three Students", a Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle.In The Masters by C. P. Snow, the author decries the use of a fictional name for the college where the events he describes take place as being the "Christminster" convention, Christminster being the fictional version of Oxford in Thomas Hardy's Wessex.

Nick Brimble

Nick Brimble (born 22 July 1944) is an English actor whose long career takes in theatre, television, film, and voice work.

Stroll On

Stroll On is the debut album by British singer-songwriter Steve Ashley. It was released in April 1974 in LP format on Gull Records and was critically acclaimed in the UK, being awarded “Contemporary Folk album of the Year” in the leading monthly folk magazine, Folk Review. It has been described as "a masterful, beautifully textured and gentle epic" and "a masterpiece of its kind – a beautiful, rich and deeply atmospheric collection of very English songs, like a musical impression of Dickens, Victorian Christmas cards and Thomas Hardy’s Wessex with a running concept concerning seasonal change". According to the music collectors' magazine Goldmine, it is "one of the key albums in the entire history of English Folk Rock".

An extended version with three additional tracks, Stroll On Revisited, was released in 1999 as a CD on Market Square Records.

The Three Strangers

"The Three Strangers" is a short story by Thomas Hardy from 1883.

Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy (2 June 1840 – 11 January 1928) was an English novelist and poet. A Victorian realist in the tradition of George Eliot, he was influenced both in his novels and in his poetry by Romanticism, especially William Wordsworth. He was highly critical of much in Victorian society, especially on the declining status of rural people in Britain, such as those from his native South West England.

While Hardy wrote poetry throughout his life and regarded himself primarily as a poet, his first collection was not published until 1898. Initially, therefore, he gained fame as the author of such novels as Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895). During his lifetime, Hardy's poetry was acclaimed by younger poets (particularly the Georgians) who viewed him as a mentor. After his death his poems were lauded by Ezra Pound, W. H. Auden and Philip Larkin.Many of his novels concern tragic characters struggling against their passions and social circumstances, and they are often set in the semi-fictional region of Wessex; initially based on the medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom, Hardy's Wessex eventually came to include the counties of Dorset, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon, Hampshire and much of Berkshire, in southwest and south central England. Two of his novels, Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Far from the Madding Crowd, were listed in the top 50 on the BBC's survey The Big Read.

Thomas Hardy's Cottage

Thomas Hardy's Cottage, in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, is a small cob and thatch building that is the birthplace of the English author Thomas Hardy. He was born there in 1840 and lived in the cottage until he was aged 34—during which time he wrote the novels Under the Greenwood Tree (1872) and Far from the Madding Crowd (1874)—when he left home to be married to Emma Gifford.

The cottage was built by Hardy's great-grandfather in 1800. It is now a National Trust property, and a popular tourist attraction. The property has a typical cottage garden, and the interior displays furniture which, although not from the Hardy family, is original to the period. The property is situated on the northern boundary of Thorncombe Wood. It is only three miles from Max Gate, the house that Hardy designed and lived in with Emma Gifford from 1885 until his death in 1928.

In 2012 the go ahead was given to a project to build a new visitor centre near the cottage. The project also included new trails in Thorncombe Wood. The project, which secured £525,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, was a joint partnership between Dorset County Council and the National Trust. The visitor centre opened in September 2014.

Two on a Tower

Two on a Tower (1882) is a novel by English author Thomas Hardy, classified by him as a romance and fantasy and now regarded as one of his minor works. The book is one of Hardy's Wessex novels, set in a parallel version of late Victorian Dorset.

Wessex (disambiguation)

Wessex was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom in early medieval England.

Wessex or West Saxon may also refer to:

Wessex Archaeology, an educational charity and the largest UK archaeological practice,

Wessex culture, a name given to the predominant prehistoric culture of southern Britain during the early Bronze Age

Early West Saxon, the Germanic dialect spoken by the West Saxons following Anglo-Saxon settlement

Late West Saxon, the language usually known as Old English

Thomas Hardy's Wessex, a semi-fictional region of England in the novels of Thomas Hardy

Westland Wessex, a helicopter

Earl of Wessex, an English title of nobility

Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, a British prince and current earl, and

Sophie, Countess of Wessex, Prince Edward's wife, the Countess

Wessex (European Parliament constituency), a former constituency covering Dorset and part of Hampshire and Wiltshire

Wessex, Ontario, Canada, a fictitious city in the Canadian sitcom Dan for Mayor

Wessex Formation, an English fossil site and geological formation

Wessex RFC, a rugby union team in Devon, England

Wessex League, football league covering Hampshire and parts of the surrounding counties

The Wessex Institute of Technology

Wessex Stadium, home to Weymouth F.C.

The 43rd (Wessex) Brigade, British Army's regional command for the South West region

The Royal Wessex Yeomanry, a British Army territorial unit

Wessex Sound Studios, a renowned former recording studio, in Highbury, London

Wessex Trains, train operating company that used to operate in much of the South West region

Wessex Water, water supply and sewage company that covers much of the South West region

The Wessex Rangers

Wessex Scene, a student newspaper produced by Southampton University Student's Union (SUSU)

Wessex Saddleback, a pig breed originating from Wessex

The Wessex Way, a trunk road linking Bournemouth to the A31 and leading to Salisbury

Wessex, a community that is a part of Morningside Place in Houston

HMS Wessex, the name of more than one ship of the British Royal Navy

Wessex (ward), an electoral ward in Somerset, England

Wessex Poems and Other Verses

Wessex Poems and Other Verses (often referred to simply as Wessex Poems) is a collection of fifty-one poems set against the bleak and forbidding Dorset landscape by English writer Thomas Hardy. It was first published in 1898 by New York: Harper, ISBN 1-58734-021-6, and contained a number of illustrations by the author himself.

West Country

The West Country is a loosely defined area of south-western England. The term usually encompasses the historic counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, and often the counties of Bristol, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, in the South West region. The region is host to distinctive regional dialects and accents. Some definitions also include Herefordshire.

Short story collections
Short stories
Poetry collections


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