A new visitor centre that brings together Thomas Hardy’s cottage and the surrounding landscape has been officially opened.
The centre is a joint project between Dorset County Council and the National Trust and was constructed by contractor Morgan Sindall. Visitors will be able to find out more about Thomas Hardy and the nearby landscape that influenced his work.
The timber-built visitor centre is located in Thorncombe woods, at Higher Bockhampton, near Dorchester. The cottage is a 15 minute walk from the new building through a wonderful example of historic broadleaved woodland.
At a ceremony HM Lord-Lieutenant of Dorset, Angus Campbell, cut the ribbon to celebrate the completion of the project. He was joined by Ian Wilson, assistant director operations and Helen Mann, West and North Dorset general manager from the National Trust, and Peter Finney, cabinet member for Environment and Economy from Dorset County Council.
Sensitively designed to have minimal impact on its setting, and built where the Dorset Countryside Rangers’ local depot previously stood, the new visitor centre will provide interpretation and refreshment facilities, toilets, and an office and workshop. It will have space for school and community groups to use, and will provide a significant service in helping visitors to access, use, and learn from both the cottage and the wood.
Interactive activities and events are planned to help visitors learn about Thomas Hardy’s life and work, as well as the conservation tasks needed to look after the area.
A £535,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund provided 50 per cent of the funding, with the balance from the National Trust, county council and additional grant-awarding bodies including the Garfield Weston Foundation and Fine Family Foundation.
Cllr Peter Finney, the county council’s cabinet member for environment and economy, said: “It’s great to see the centre open. It will fulfil our aim to share the place and land that Thomas Hardy loved and drew inspiration from.
“We would like the project to help people learn more about the author and his writing, and relate it to the surrounding landscape.”
Helen Mann of the National Trust said: “Thomas Hardy was born, raised and wrote his early works in this little cob and thatch cottage. We are really excited that visitors can now walk in Hardy’s footsteps through the landscape and experience the whole site in new and informative ways.
“Together with Dorset County Council we are bringing his birthplace to life. A big thank you to all who have given this project their support.”
For more information about the project visit www.dorsetforyou.com/hardysbirthplace
Information about Hardy’s cottage can be found at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hardys-cottage