Buildings often played an important role in Hardy’s literature. In Far From the Madding Crowd, the wooden floors in Bathsheba Everdene’s barn for instance were “black with age and polished by the beating of flails for many generations.” … For Hardy, the architecture of their surroundings became an important way to express the stories of the people he created in his works.

 

The recent discovery of a Gothic design behind the altarpiece of a church in Windsor, UK would not have been of much significance perhaps, beyond the aesthetic pleasures of local churchgoers, but for the fact that the design was probably the work of the novelist Thomas Hardy. It resembles the panelling at the back of the church, along with designs previously recovered in the 1970s at the same site, all of which have been attributed to Hardy.

Thomas Hardy’s father was engaged in the family trade of stonemasonry. Naturally, Hardy was encouraged to join the same line of work and was employed as an apprentice to a Dorchester architect in 1856. As a pupil of an ecclesiastical architect, Hardy was trained in Gothic draughtsmanship, measuring and surveying Churches being considered for restoration. Soon after, he moved to London to pursue advanced training in the same field. The following year, Hardy won two awards for architecture.

In his Memories of Church Restoration however, Hardy lamented his involvement in what he believed to be the systematic destruction of Victorian architecture by essentially redesigning previous works rather than actually restoring them. In 1872, a time when Gothic revival was at its height, Thomas left the profession officially, but continued to be influential amongst the same circles as a member of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

Buildings often played an important role in Hardy’s literature. In Far From the Madding Crowd, the wooden floors in Bathsheba Everdene’s barn for instance were “… black with age and polished by the beating of flails for many generations.”  In Jude the Obscure, the boundaries of a yard had “… done nothing but wait, and had become poetical. How easy to the smallest building; how impossible to most men.” For Hardy, the architecture of their surroundings became an important way to express the stories of the people he created in his works.

The recent discovery was the accidental treasure found by a couple of churchgoers, Stuart Tunstall and Don Church, who were trying to locate the structure’s foundation stone. Tunstall says that he always wondered why the oak panel behind the altar, installed in the 1920s or 30s stuck outwards. He laid down with his I-Phone torch shone behind the panel and instead of a foundation stone, discovered a design that looked a lot like the one at the back of the church. Tunstall gave a presentation of his discovery to the Thomas Hardy Society’s conference to much general excitement.

The All Saints Church at Frances Road in Windsor is now looking to raise £9000 to remove the oak panelling without completely demolishing it. Once made visible again, the Church believes that the sight will prove to be of great importance to thousands of Hardy devotees across the world.

 

Ishan Mehandru

Ishan Mehandru

Ishan Mehandru is a student of English Honours at Hansraj College, University of Delhi.

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