The raw materials of research and discovery

The Thomas Hardy Archives at the DHC

The raw materials of research and discovery

An unrivalled resource

Dorchester, Hardy’s Casterbridge, is home to the world’s largest archive relating to the author. That is, written or pictorial material created by Hardy and those he interacted with – from childhood through to his final few weeks of life. It is the richest collection of primary sources for anyone seeking to study or understand Hardy and his contemporaries. The archive is inscribed by UNESCO in its Memory of the World as a collection of international significance  . The archive which is now held in optimum environmental conditions at Dorset History Centre (DHC) , is made up of the archives of Dorset Museum and DHC respectively as well as other private collections. Collectively, this represents the key archival source for the understanding and appreciation of one of Britain’s literary greats.

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Photograhic images of Max Gate                                                                                      Architectural plan of Max Gate


What’s in the archive?

It consists of over 150 boxes containing thousands of individual items. These include:

* Three manuscript novels; The Mayor of Casterbridge, The Woodlanders and Under the Greenwood Tree
* Poetry
* Hardy’s schoolboy copy of Horace and many other volumes owned by the author
* A huge body of correspondence whose provenance ranges from local people to literary greats
* the architectural plans for Max Gate
* diaries and notebooks
* photographs
* A wide range of rare printed material
* Ephemera

It is a broad and eclectic mix of material that reflects the breadth of Hardy’s interests and the range of people he interacted with.

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The Mayor of Casterbridge - Page 1                                                                      Under the Greenwood Tree - Page 1


A growing collection

The archive is steadily and actively increasing in size thanks to charitable support with recent acquisitions of letters, photographs and plans. A 2021 grant from the National Manuscript Conservation Trust has allowed DHC to undertake work on some of the most fragile of the items to enhance their longevity.

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Manuscripte - 'The Clasped Skeletons'


Accessing the archive

Access to this superb archive is currently very restricted with limited listing and barely any online presence. Whilst the collection is freely accessible, when searching DHC’s web catalogue enquirers are told that a list of the Hardy archive exists and that a detailed catalogue is planned for the future. This presents a real obstacle in terms of simple and intuitive access. However, please be assured that staff at DHC will do everything they can to assist and to identify material of likely interest to aid your research.

Current project: Unlocking Hardy’s archive

Cataloguing is the best way of opening up Hardy’s archives to the world. DHC is actively seeking to address this cataloguing deficit. With partners including the Thomas Hardy Society, Dorset Museum, the University of Exeter and Dorset Archives Trust, we have launched a campaign to raise £60,000 to create a permanent, freely accessible catalogue to this remarkable collection. The catalogue will allow scholars and the public alike to drill down into the collection to identify items of interest. It will also open up opportunities for display, interpretation and public engagement. In short, it will provide the key to Hardy through the rich resource of text and images that form the archive. It will constitute an essential part of Hardy’s legacy to sit alongside the Bockhampton Cottage, Max Gate and the collections at Dorset Museum.

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A sample box of the Hardy Archive                                                    Dorset History Centre Strongroom


Can you help?

Anyone wishing to contribute to the project can visit the crowdfunding page on the website of the Dorset Archives Trust. Any eligible contribution can also benefit from Gift Aid. We know this is no easy task and times are hard, but we are determined to give this collection the prominence it so richly deserves.

For further information about the Hardy archive or the fundraising campaign, please contact:

All images provided by the Dorset History Centre.


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