Inauguration of Thomas Hardy Memorial Stone Stinsford Church
As most of you will know, Thomas Hardy wished to be buried in Stinsford Churchyard in the grave of his once-beloved first wife Emma, where he would subsequently be joined by his second wife, Florence – amongst the line of Hardy family graves.
His executors, however, decided that he belonged to the nation. So, a somewhat gruesome compromise was reached, whereby his heart was excised and buried with Emma, whilst his body was cremated at Woking and the ashes interred in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. The Thomas Hardy Society regularly holds memorial readings in the Abbey, commonly on the anniversary of his death (11th January 1928).
In 2018, we noted that the inscription on the memorial stone had become eroded to the point of being barely legible and asked the Abbey authorities if it could be re-inscribed. After due deliberation, the Abbey authorities instead ordered an identical replacement stone and consented to our request that the old memorial stone could be removed to Stinsford. With the kind cooperation of St. Michael’s’ Stinsford PCC and the Diocese, the stone has now been installed in the nave of Stinsford Church in front of the Thomas Hardy Memorial Window.
At Matins on Sunday 11th July, during our recent Hardy Conference, the stone was officially unveiled, blessed and inaugurated by The Right Reverend Karen Gorham, Bishop of Sherborne and acting Bishop of Salisbury. At the service, which followed the traditional BCP format, the first lesson was Hardy’s favourite biblical passage from 1 Kings 19 and the second lesson was from Mark 6: Herodias’ daughter Salome dancing before Herod; a dance which resulted in the beheading of John the Baptist. Bishop Karen then preached a thoughtful sermon on dance, linking Salome to dance in Hardy’s works, especially Far from the Madding Crowd. The service was well attended by Hardy Conference delegates.
Pictures and Words by Dr Tony Fincham - Thomas Hardy Society Vice President.