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Dorset, Thomas Hardy and T.E. Lawrence

Updated on June 5, 2009

A Visit To Dorset

My wife and I recently had a few days in the English county of Dorset. The weather wasn't exactly perfect so we spent time looking at it's history and also finding out about previous residents Thomas Hardy, the author, and T.E. Lawrence, better known to many as Lawrence of Arabia.

Dorset, on the south coast of England, is a lovely area and at times it is like stepping back in time with it's thatched and Purbeck stone cottages and beautiful old churches and buildings.

This is by no means a full history of Dorset, or Hardy and Lawrence, but are simply jottings and photos I snapped during our short three day visit.

Photos are all taken by me unless stated to the contrary. Click on most of the photos to show a larger size.

Gold Hill In Shaftesbury Dorset - 18th Century Cottages

The photo shows some of the 18th century cottages of Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, Dorset. The cobbled roadway runs steeply down a 700 foot slope towards Blackmoor Vale. Many of the cottages are built of green sandstone.

Corfe Castle is a wonderful Dorset village and, as the name suggests, has a castle as well. In lots of ways it's like travelling back to the 1600's, if it wasn't for the cars and traffic which now trundle through the narrow village roads. There is even a set of traffic lights - what a shame - but most of the houses and cottages are virtually as they were hundreds of years ago, other than the odd television aerial that is.

The castle goes way back and was first built by William the Conqueror around 1066 to 1100. It is strategically placed on a high hill overlooking the village. Later King John took up residence and it became a royal stronghold for numerous kings and queens until 1572 when Elizabeth I decided to sell the property. Unfortunately in 1646, during the Civil War, the castle was deliberately demolished.

Much of the castle stone was used to build the old houses found in the village. The castle ruins is still very much a visitor attraction, but you'll be charged £5.90 each for the privilege of walking round the remains.

The village has a complete set of very old Purbeck stone cottages that have remained pretty much in tact since 1500 and 1600 - one of the pubs dates back to 1568.

Some of the cottages are also thatched.

How can west and east be in the same direction?

How can west and east be in the same direction?
How can west and east be in the same direction?

T.E. Lawrence, often known as Lawrence of Arabia, died in Dorset and owned a cottage called Clouds Hill near Wareham.

Lawrence died in 1935 following an accident while riding his Brough Superior SS100 motorcycle near to his Dorset cottage. He swerved to miss two boys on bikes, went over his handlebars and died a few days later.

I guess a lot of T.E. Lawrence's fame is because of the 1962 classic film Lawrence of Arabia starring Peter O'Toole. This tells the story of Lawrence's exploits in Arabia during World War 1.

Lawrence is buried in Moreton, another Dorset village.

There is a life size sculpture of him by Eric Kennington in the Saxon church of St. Martin in Wareham, see photo above.

I gather that the sculpture was intended for a much grander resting place but the likes of Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral in London refused because Lawrence is dressed in Arab clothing clasping an Arab knife and with his head resting on a camel's saddle. Not quite the image a Christian church, back in the thirties, wanted.

As well as a British soldier T.E. Lawrence was also a writer his best known book being the Seven Pillars of Wisdom which told of his exploits while serving as an officer with rebel forces during the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks 1916-18.

Photo of T.E. Lawrence on motor cycle is in Public Domain.

In mid Dorset is the fertile Piddle Valley named after the Piddle River. Over the years though some of the local villages with 'Piddle' in their name have been changed to 'Puddle'. Some were renamed to avoid embarrassing Queen Victoria when she visited the area.

There is, therefore, a mixture of vilages with strange names such as Tolpuddle, Puddletown (stll often known as Piddletown), Piddlehinton, Piddletrenthide, Affpuddle, Briantspuddle and Turnerspuddle.

Tolpuddle is probably most interesting because this is the home of the Tolpuddle Martyrs who formed the first ever trade union.

In 1834 six farm labourers united to try and gain better working conditions. They were subsequently arrested, charged as a secret society and sentenced to transportation to Australia. After an outcry they were pardoned two years later and offered a passage back to England.

Dorset and Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy: Born 2 June 1840, died 11 January 1928

Dorset is Thomas Hardy country, or Wessex as he called it, where a lot of his stories and writings are based.

A few examples of this, where his books use Dorset towns and villages:

Stinsford is the original Mellstock from Under the Greenwood Tree. Also found in his books are Casterbridge (which is Dorchester), Budmouth (Weymouth), Wetherbury (Puddletown) and Kingsbere (Bere Regis).

We visited Bere Regis where their Saxon church is a place for pilgrimage for admirer's of Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles. The heroine, Tess, was buried there and one of the 15th century windows bears the family crest of the old Turberville family on whom Hardy based his novel.

As you can see from the photo above it was an overcast day when we went to Bere Regis.

Thomas Hardy was born in Dorset at Bockhampton and when he died in 1927 there was controversy about where he should be buried. He was honoured with a funeral at Westminster Abbey in London but his family wanted him buried in Dorset.

A compromise was eventually reached whereby Hardy's ashes were buried in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey but his heart was buried at Stinsford in Dorset.

For information on Thomas Hardy's cottage at Higher Bockhampton go to the National Trust website. This is where he wrote both Under the Greenwood Tree and Far from the Madding Crowd.

Books of Thomas Hardy

Though not very clear, because of it's age, we came across this 7th century inscription in Wareham, Dorset.

The inscription reads:

CATGUG. C ...

FILIUS. GIDEO

The translation for this, from Latin and Welsh, is: Catgug, son of Gideon. I don't know why this would be in those two languages. I presume that Catgut is buried at this place.

I find it fascinating, almost spooky, that you can touch something that was carved some 1300 years ago.

Random Dorset Photos

Wareham and Shaftesbury

A trio of photos giving a flavour of Dorset. The first is of Wareham by the river and overlooking the old Abbey, with the chuch behind. The other two are of Shaftesbury

King Edward of England Murdered 978 A.D.

King Edward of England Murdered 978 A.D.
King Edward of England Murdered 978 A.D.

There is, of course, a lot more to Dorset. All I have written about is what we managed to see in three days.

I haven't mentioned, for example, the Jurassic Coast which is a World Heritage Site where you'll find fossils millions of years old; seaside towns like Weymouth and Swanage; Dorset's main town of Poole, with the second largest natural harbour in the world; Sandbanks where the millionaire's live in expensive houses, other towns such as Dorchester and Wimborne and so much more.

Dorset is one of my favourite counties in England but I am a little prejudice as I lived in Poole for about five years - though that was many years ago.

Things change in life but there is still a lot of the old England to be found in Dorset - and we must protect this at all cost. Too much of England is being lost and changed beyond recognition.

Us English must hang on to our heritage and traditions.

The photos in this section show part of the Dorset coast around Lulworth Cove. The photo immediately above looks down on Lulworth Cove - on a misty day, below is the limestone arched rock known as Durdle Door and the picture at the top of this part shows the coastline looking west from Durdle Door. I took these photos on a visit to the area last year.

P.S. More Photos

If you like photos please also see A Year In My Cornish Garden with photos of flowers from my garden (updated every month) and also Monumental Hotel Funchal And Madeira Reviews with photos of Madeira, Funchal and flowers from my visit to the island earlier this year.

Thanks, Mike.

Your thoughts on Dorset - or anything else - Please leave a comment - thanks.

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    • mysticmama lm profile image

      Bambi Watson 8 years ago

      Wonderful lens, love the photos :-)

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 8 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      Ooh, yes, great! I sure can't wait to visit the U.K. I think a long walk is in order for next year. This is beautiful! I'm favoriting this, so I can refer back to it before we go.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Improvement???? Now way. How could you improve on something that's already so awesome? Your lens is a site to behold! Wow, the photos are worthy enough alone.

      I traveled to great Britain in '85. What an awesome thing to have been able to do, but heck, I was only fifteen, so I don't remember much. But, we did see the thatched roofed houses used in the movie The Quiet Man (great movie, by the way if you like John Wayne and awesome Irish countrysides).

      Darn it. If we only had such scenery here in the US.

      But, realy. You have some great stuff to look at here, and information too.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Wonderful photographs and a great lens. Thanks you.

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 8 years ago from Concord VA

      This is a fantastic lens! Thanks for the history lesson and virtual trip with you! The photographs are wonderful!

    • roamingrosie profile image

      roamingrosie 8 years ago

      Your photos are gorgeous! I especially love the cottages of Gold Hill. Great lens!

    • LizMac60 profile image

      Liz Mackay 8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Really great lens. Interesting with lovely photos.

    • profile image

      MrLewisSmile LM 8 years ago

      I might actually go! :)

    • debnet profile image

      Debbie 8 years ago from England

      Great lens which is bringing back memories of my travels and days out in Dorset :)

    • Tiddledeewinks LM profile image

      Tiddledeewinks LM 7 years ago

      I would love to one day visit the Cotswolds in England

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Thank you for the great photos. Being a descendant of a Thomas Wareham of Dorset it was a joy seeing where my ancestors once lived.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      we used to holiday in cornwall untill we tried dorset.now we go back every year.possibly the most beautifull part of the british isles.you can keep abroad. the view from portland on a sunny day is breathtaking.the area is a credit to the residence. clean, tidy, and very well presented.very friendly people too. will i be going back there? TOO RIGHT I WILL. love the place

    • puerdycat lm profile image

      puerdycat lm 6 years ago

      Thank you for this. It's been 40 years since I've seen Dorset. A photo of me at Corfe castle survives!

      I visited a small cottage, home of Thomas Hardy. Walked the moors until, surrounded by thick fog, was rescued by a spirited elderly couple to a local tavern. Thanks again!

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 5 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Dorset is a wonderful county, I was born there too, in Poole. I have a loose family connection to Thomas Hardy as well, my great-grandfather was married to the widow of Thomas's cousin George. I did say it was a loose connection.

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