Max Gate front entrance
Max Gate front entrance

Novelist Thomas Hardy designed and built Max Gate, and he lived in the house from 1885 until his death in 1928. It was during his period at Max Gate that Hardy wrote several of his most popular and enduring novels, including Jude the Obscure, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and The Mayor of Casterbridge, in addition to over 900 poems.

Hardy was an architect by training, before turning full time to writing, and he used all his not-inconsiderable skill to create an attractive Victorian villa at Max Gate. The house was originally quite modest in size, but as Hardy's novels began to gain popular acceptance he was able to afford to expand the building. The house is not overly ornate, but this was part of Hardy's intent.

The ground floor parlour
The ground floor parlour

The spacious drawing room looks out over the intimate gardens where you will find a pet cemetery that Hardy loved. The study where Hardy did much of his writing has been relocated to the Dorset County Museum, but the room has been recreated in its original setting here.

On the ground floor is the family parlour, a small conservatory, and the dining room, where you can see a set of Hardy's original plans for Max Gate. On the parlour wall is the most valuable item in the house; a painting by Welsh landscape painter Richard Wilson entitled The Three Mary's. The painting was originally owned by the Dorset dialect poet William Barnes, and purchased by Hardy after Barnes died in 1886.

It was sold by Florence Hardy, the author's second wife, after his death, and later repurchased by the William Barnes Society and presented to Max Gate for display. The two writers, Hardy and Barnes, are linked by more than a painting; exhibits on their lives and writing careers stand beside each other at the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester.

Emma Hardy's bedroom
Emma Hardy's bedroom

From the front hall a set of stairs rises to the first floor, where there are several family rooms, including the master bedroom. There is a fascinating display on the two Mrs Hardy's, Emma and Florence, and the rather rocky relationship each endured with the author.

The stairs rise further to Thomas Hardy's study (actually his third study, for he tried several arrangements of rooms at Max Gate before he built an addition with a large chamber where he felt comfortable writing). At the top of the house, under the roof, is the set of small rooms where Emma Hardy retreated for the last decade of her life, including the bedroom where she died.

Visiting

The house is signposted off the Max Gate Roundabout at the junction of the A35 and the A352. Unfortunately, there is very limited parking on the access road outside the house. When I arrived I found every spot filled, and had to drive around until I could find a place to safely park on a nearby residential street. Once inside the house I was free to wander, and there were volunteer National Trust stewards in several rooms, and information sheets to explain about each chamber and its role in Hardy's life.

I found the house magical to explore, with so many details of the writer's personal and public life explained. The exhibition on Hardy and his relationship with his wives was quite well done and very moving, though I couldn't help thinking that Hardy let his personal relationships suffer as his fame grew.

Whether you are a die-hard fan of Thomas Hardy and his writings or you simply enjoy historic houses, you'll find Max Gate a fascinating historic house to explore.

Related:
Thomas Hardy biography


Thomas Hardy's Dorset suggested itineraries

About Max Gate
Address: Alington Avenue, Dorchester, Dorset, England, DT1 2AB
Attraction Type: Historic Building
Location: 1 mile east of Dorchester at the junction of the A35 and A352
Website: Max Gate
Email: maxgate@nationaltrust.org.uk
Phone: 01305 262 538
National Trust - see also: National Trust memberships (official website link)
Location map
OS: SY688 907
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS

Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest

Keep Military Museum of Devon and Dorset - 0 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating

Dorchester Roman Town House - 0.2 miles (Roman Site) Heritage Rating

Tutankhamun Exhibition - 0.2 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating

Dorset County Museum - 0.3 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating

Dorchester, St Peter's Church - 0.3 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

The Dinosaur Museum - 0.4 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating

Dorset Teddy Bear Museum - 0.5 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating

Wolfeton House - 1 miles (Historic House) Heritage Rating



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    Nearest Tourist Information Centre ('as the crow flies')

Dorchester
Tourist Information Centre
11 Antelope Walk
Dorchester
Dorset
England
DT1 1BE
Tel: 01305 267 992
Fax: 01305 266 079
Web: http://www.visit-dorset.com/about-the-area/towns/dorchester
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