Last week Sir Andrew Motion came to Max Gate to help us launch the Writing Places project. The previous night’s storm had thankfully calmed and the marquee stood strong and square on the lawn, and the Hardy volunteers were out in force, making sure cars were able to park and visitors were able to enjoy tours of the house, and soon the gardens were full of guests.
The house was empty and quiet and as we toured we were able to experience what it must have been like to visit the Hardy family as guests. As Lawrence Roots of the National Trust noted, it was wonderful to see so many National Trust staff, volunteers and partners come together to celebrate the launch of this exciting new project, and a real honour to have both Sir Andrew Motion and Dame Helen Ghosh there.
The restoration is almost complete and there are more plans to bring the house back to the way it was for Hardy to live in, but even so, at some points in the house it felt as if Hardy had just stepped out of the room (something we heard he was likely to do; he wasn’t overly keen on unannounced visitors). We were all particularly struck by Hardy’s ‘third’ study. He had designed and built this room to provide the perfect environment to work in and it perhaps offered a respite from the not terribly happy marriage to his first wife Emma. Emma, on the other hand, had chosen to occupy the tiny attic rooms at the top of the house, and as Sir Andrew noted in the talk he gave to a packed marquee afterwards, it was only on visiting the house that he realised Emma’s attic rooms were directly above Hardy’s study. He surely must have heard her moving about as he sat at his desk, always aware of her presence, and then her absence. This facet to Hardy’s writing can only be appreciated by being in the house, and seeing the internal layouts and feeling how the house was lived in.
The launch was a fantastic start to the project and as we go on we are sure to find many more of these domestic details which open up whole new perspectives on how these places affected our Writer’s lives.