The map that Hardy drew

A sketch map of Wessex is a priceless companion to Hardy’s masterpiece, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, says Roger Guttridge

The BV magazine, October ‘22

Dorset Council – Thomas Hardy records

 LOOKING BACK Thomas Hardy’s novels often come with a map of the writer’s Wessex, complete with all his renamed towns and villages. Far less well-known – but vastly more interesting to me at least – is the rough-and-ready sketch map of ‘Tess’s Country’ that Hardy drew as he was preparing to write Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

It was published in Harper’s magazine in 1925, three years before Hardy died. Dorset’s most famous literary son knew North Dorset well, of course, not least because he lived at Riverside, Sturminster Newton, for two years, and wrote The Return of the Native during that period.

The first thing that jumps out at me from the map is the oval-shaped dotted line surrounding the words ‘Vale of Blackmoor’. Most people today, of course – including the editor of this magazine – spell it ‘Blackmore’, but it’s interesting that Hardy was originally thinking of this alternative version.

 By the time Tess was published in 1891, he had adopted the third option, and hedged his bets, writing in the opening sentences of both chapters one and two of the ‘Vale of Blakemore or Blackmoor’. This suggests that in Hardy’s time or earlier, some people might have pronounced it ‘Blakemore’.

The only Blackmore Vale town or village that appears on the map is Marlott, but unlike most of the other locations further afield, Hardy doesn’t bother to add its real name, Marnhull. Marlott also appears in the novel’s opening sentence as Hardy describes John Durbeyfield’s walk to his home in the village following his weekly visit to the market at Shaston (Shaftesbury), which also appears on the map. Semley Station on the South Western Railway, which served Shaftesbury and appears in Jude the Obscure, is one of two stations on the map, the other being London Waterloo. It’s during his journey home from Shaston that Durbeyfield meets the antiquary Parson Tringham, who sows misplaced ideas of grandeur in his head by calling him ‘Sir John’ and alleging his descent from Sir Pagan d’Urberville, who came over with William the Conqueror. The suggestion sets in motion a tragic train of events that culminates in the ill-fated Tess Durbeyfield’s execution at Wintoncester (Winchester). As elsewhere, Hardy used real buildings in his descriptions of Marlott, including Durbeyfield’s local, Rolliver’s (thought to be based on the Blackmore Vale Inn) and the Pure Drop (the Crown), which according to John offered a ‘very pretty brew’. Identification of the Durbeyfields’ cottage is more challenging.

In Thomas Hardy’s Wessex, published in 1913, Herman Lea said the ‘the old cottage in which Tess was imagined to have been born appeared to have been swept away. In the introduction, Lea thanked Hardy for correcting a few place identifications. This is contradicted by later sources, which claim that Hardy identified ‘Tess’s Cottage’ during a visit to Marnhull in later life.

Other places on Hardy’s map include Emminster (Beaminster), the home town of Tess’s husband, Angel Clare; Flintcomb-Ash (Plush), which he calls a ‘farm near Nettlecombe Tout’; Shottsford (Blandford); Trantridge (Pentridge), home of the Stoke d’Urbervilles and Tess’s seducer and rapist Alec d’Urberville; nearby Chaseborough (Cranborne), where Tess waits for her friends at the Fleur-deLuce, which in real life has happily regained its traditional name the Fleur de Lys; and Melchester (Salisbury), where Angel and the fugitive Tess pass over ‘town bridge’, based on St Nicholas Bridge, built in 1245

To the south of Dorset, Hardy creates a smaller dotted shape enclosing the words ‘Valley of the Frome (Froom)’, which he also calls the ‘Valley of the Great Dairies’, in contrast to the Vale of Blackmoor, which is the ‘Vale of Little Dairies’. Close to the River Frome are Wellbridge (Woolbridge Manor), which once belonged to the d’Urbervilles and where Tess and Angel stay after their marriage, and the ‘half-dead townlet of Kingsbere’ (Bere Regis), where the similarly named Turbervilles were lords of the manor for 500 years. Casterbridge (Dorchester) and Budmouth (Weymouth), which commonly feature in Hardy’s work, are also shown, as is Sandbourne (Bournemouth), which in Hardy’s lifetime had grown at a breakneck pace to become a ‘fashionable watering place’. It’s at Sandbourne that Tess effectively seals her fate by murdering Alec d’Urberville with a carving knife following the unexpected return of her beloved Angel Clare.

The BV magazine, October ‘22

Dorset Archives Trust (DAT)  Dorset History Centre (Archives) – Dorset Council is leading a fundraising effort to unlock the internationally significant, UNESCO-listed archive of author Thomas Hardy.

At present, the collection (which consists of more than 150 boxes of material including diaries, photographs, letters, books, architectural plans and poetry), is almost invisible to the wider world. The archive contains such items as the manuscript of The Mayor of Casterbridge, correspondence to Hardy from TE Lawrence and Siegfried Sassoon, and the plans for Max Gate. Dorset History Centre is keen to unlock this fantastic resource by creating a free online catalogue for all to access. DHC estimates that it will take around 18 months to complete the task. Once done, Hardy’s archives – the bedrock of any research into the author, his life and work – will be permanently discoverable online. Anyone can then come to the History Centre to view the physical collection. The archive is a true jewel in Dorset’s heritage crown and deserves to be recognised and celebrated as such. The project will require £60,000, and DAT has started a crowdfunding campaign in support of this. Anyone wishing to contribute can do so by going to: or clicking the image above.

The BV magazine, October ‘22


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