Following in Hardy and Emma's Footsteps 150 Years Later - Barry West
It was the North Cornish coast the Valency Valley on the north Cornwall Coast where Dorset born poet and writer Thomas Hardy, met his first wife, Emma, in 1870.
Both the place the landscape and Emma herself provided inspiration for Hardy's works for years to come.
Thomas Hardy was a 29 year old architect who came to survey the building and prepare the design for St Juliot Church and the rectory. It was then he met Emma on 7th March 1870. Emma Gifford was living at the rectory with her sister, the Revd Cadell Holder’s second wife.
The first visit lasted four days during which Hardy visited Tintagel, Beeny Cliff and the Valency Valley.
Hardy returned to St Juliot in August that same year when he stayed longer. As well as working on the church he and Emma continued to explore the North Cornwall coast including places like Trebarwith Strand The Strangles beach and Beeny cliff.
Other visits followed and they married in 1874. Thomas Hardy's third novel, 'A Pair of Blue Eyes', had been published in 1873 and Emma was the model for the heroine of the book and was by many described as biographical in many ways about their time together and ensuing romance.
Sadly the marriage between Hardy and Emma turned sour but when she died 1912, Hardy, was full of remorse, wrote several poems in her memory.
He returned to St Juliot the following year and he designed the memorial tablet to Emma on the north wall of the church, and had it made by a Boscastle stonemason.
My Diary entry 6th March 2020 Thomas Hardy weekend celebration
We set off for St Juliots Rectory just after 5 30 in the evening it was still light for the journey over, to the little hamlet above Boscastle where we were to stay with Sally and Chris Searle it is now a bed and breakfast.
On arrival we found the keys in the front porch beside the potted miniature daffodils and we found our way up to the front bedroom known as Emma’s room.
Next we set off to the village and the Wellington hotel where we joined the Thomas Hardy society for the evening meal, the room was full
Sitting with Sally and Chris Searle there was lots of lively conversation and obvious enthusiasm about the weekend.
Then set off back to the Old Rectory of St Juliots where i sat and browsed some of the amazing historical resources that Sally has amassed over the years.
I have found some interesting and Important references to Hardy and His visit 150 years ago
March 7th 1870
He writes, about the dreary poetical drive over the hills, it is said he travelled by train as far as Launceston and then from there to St Juliots Rectory by horse drawn transportation.
He arrived at the old Rectory at between 6 and 7 in the evening, this was after a long day’s travel from Dorset and met at the door by a young lady wearing brown who we now know as Emma Lavinia Gifford she later married him.
Her sister Helen had married the vicar Rev Cadell Holder who was in bed with gout
Saturday 7th March 2020
My diary entry
Got up at sunrise
And took the short journey to Lesnewth Church and then to St Juliots the weather was just perfect and a gentle light lit the sky
Both Churches were already unlocked a rare thing today unlike in Hardys time
I arrived at St Juliots to the sound of Woodpeckers
There on the scattered graveside memorials were the most perfect dew covered primroses and daffodils
I looked through the old stile just as Hardy and Emma probably did and saw two deer stood at the bottom edge of the field looking up at me neither of us moved but instead took a moment to think and to enjoy that special moment before entering the Church on the morning of the day Hardy arrived for the first time 150 Years ago
On March the 8th he set about his role and went to St Juliots the dilapidated church where he had been sent as a young architect aged then 29 years of age
“The morning was described as “Austere Grey view of the hills from the bedroom window”
He then records that at the Church yard there was a funeral and a man tolled the bell, by lifting the clapper and letting it fall, the bell was stood inverted on the ground this would have been because the tower because it was unsafe
He stayed there for the rest of the day drawing and taking measurements with his meals being provided at the Rectory.
The next day 9th March he went with Emma to Tintagel and Penpethy slate quarries looking for suitable material to use on the roof.
He later writes the poem about Penpethy.
The weekend had several speakers that covered different topics including the archivists from Boscastle that told the audience of Boscastle of long ago and in particular that period when Hardy Came to visit.
Thomas Hardy Society weekend was a great success with talks, walks, food and entertainment.
Barry pictured centre, with THS Vice-President Andrew Leah (l), and THS Chairman Dr Tony Fincham (r).
Barry West is a Cornish Researcher and Historian.