Hardy's Wessex

The landscapes that inspired a writer

Dorset Museum

Rural Wessex - social tensions and animal welfare

Find out how Hardy felt about the social tensions and inequalities of the time, and how he campaigned against animal cruelty. Then take a walk around Dorchester, the market town that inspired one of Hardy’s most popular novels, The Mayor of Casterbridge.  

Star loan object at Dorset Museum

On loan from: The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Village Choir is an oil painting by Thomas Webster, 1847. Webster was known for paintings that depicted incidents from everyday life in Britain, in a genial and humorous way.

This painting illustrates the various ‘characters’ who might be found in a local choir. It captures a snapshot of rural life – similar to the community that Hardy grew up in. It also evokes the kind of characters found in Hardy’s novels such as The Mayor of Casterbridge and Under the Greenwood Tree. 

Our star loans were made possible by support from the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund.

A Village Choir by Thomas Webster

Screenshot 2022-04-01 at 15.32.14
Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Image number: 2006al3887

Discover Hardy's passion for all living things

As well as standing up for the rights of working people, Hardy campaigned against cruelty to all living things, becoming an animal rights champion.

From his first nature sketch, to his controversial article defending the Dorsetshire Labourer, visitors will come to understand Hardy’s humanity and compassion.

Explore these questions:

  • What role did Hardy play in the formation of early animal rights societies?
  • How did the son of a builder and a servant become one of the most famous men of the 20th century? 
  • Did this fame sit easily with Hardy?

Highlights for visitors

  • Witness a man’s grief at the death of his beloved pet, in Hardy’s hand-drawn tombstone design for his infamous dog, Wessex.
  • See Hardy’s first childhood watercolour of the landscape around him – and imagine this child who went on to write books that changed the world.
Handwritten manuscript
Handwritten manuscript for The Mayor of Casterbridge.
Sketch of a gravestone dedicted to Hardy's dog, Wessex
Hardy's design for the gravestone of his beloved dog,
Wessex. Photo: Dorset Museum

Planning your visit

For details of opening times, admission prices, facilities, directions, etc, please visit Dorset Museum’s website.

We are hugely grateful to Battens Solicitors for sponsoring this exhibition. 

Our star loans were made possible by support from the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund

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