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Major exhibition of Thomas Hardy objects opens to the public at Wiltshire Museum

The largest collection of Thomas Hardy objects ever displayed at one time opens this week (28 May). Hardy’s Wessex: The Landscapes that Inspired a Writer is a ground-breaking exhibition which spans four museums in Wiltshire and Dorset, including Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.

Across the four venues, the exhibition tells the story of Victorian novelist and poet, Thomas Hardy, amidst the Wessex landscapes that shaped his view of the world. It runs simultaneously at Wiltshire Museum (Devizes), Dorset Museum (Dorchester), Poole Museum and The Salisbury Museum – each focussing on a different Hardy theme. The Wiltshire Museum theme is Ancient Wessex - Superstition and old beliefs, exploring how Hardy’s writing merged his present with the past and how his plots are set against a background of superstition in these ancient landscapes where old beliefs died hard.

Thanks to support from the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund, each museum has a ‘star’ object loaned from national collections, including original manuscripts and nationally-important paintings. The star loan at Wiltshire Museum is the original manuscript of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, one of Hardy’s best-known novels. On loan from the British Library, the handwritten manuscript is covered with Hardy’s scribbles and re-writes, including a change to the title of the book. Wiltshire Museum is less than an hour’s drive from Stonehenge where the climactic scene of the novel is set.

Also on display, from a private collection, is the original costume worn by Terence Stamp in the 1967 film of 'Far From the Madding Crowd', starring Julie Christie. Many of the other objects in the exhibition are from Dorset Museum’s Thomas Hardy Memorial collection, which is inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register for its ‘world significance and outstanding universal value’.

The exhibition has the support of Lord Julian Fellowes of West Stafford, DL, President of the Thomas Hardy Society. He said:

“After years of planning, I am delighted that this exhibition has finally come to fruition, displaying fascinating objects from the Thomas Hardy collection – many of which have remained unseen in museum stores for years. These personal items will help people come to know Hardy as a man, not just as a writer – a man who loved Wessex and so beautifully captured its landscapes and people in his writing.”

Harriet Still, curator of the exhibition for Wessex Museums, said:

“It is so exciting to share this amazing collection across our museum partnership. We hope the exhibition will encourage visitors to see Hardy in a different light – for example, how he used his writing to campaign for rural workers’ rights, women’s equality and animal welfare, or his conflicting interests in superstition and science. Each exhibition sheds light on different aspects of Hardy’s life, work and character.”

David Dawson, Director of Wiltshire Museum, said:

“This has been an invaluable opportunity for our museums to collaborate and share their collections. My favourite object may be rather unexpected. It is the uniform worn by Terence Stamp in the 1967 film of Far from the Madding Crowd, many scenes of which were set in Devizes. It is a film I remember from my childhood and captures the essence of Hardy’s Wessex.”

Hardy’s Wessex opens 28 May until 30 October 2022. Other venues across the two counties are also supporting the exhibition by putting on their own Hardy displays and events.

More information, including locations, admission prices, opening times and associated events can be found on the Wiltshire Museum – www.wiltshiremuseum.org.uk - or Wessex Museums’ websites, www.wessexmuseums.org.uk/hardyswessex
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Notes for editors

  • Photo/interview opportunities: To arrange photos at Wiltshire Museum or interviews with David Dawson, Director, please contact at  dawson@wiltshiremuseum.org.uk
  • For further information on the exhibition, contact Heather Ault. ault@wiltshiremuseum.org.uk  Tel 01380 727369
  • For general enquiries or images please contact:  Cathy Lewis, Marketing & Digital Officer, Wessex Museums - cathy.lewis@bcpcouncil.gov.uk (Tel: 0781 468 1996)
  • Wessex Museums - a partnership of the principal museums of Dorset and Wiltshire – Dorset Museum, Poole Museum, The Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Museum – and supports museums to connect, inspire and add value to people’s lives. The partnership exists to build the resilience and relevance of the partner museums and others across the region, and is guided by a shared vision of museums thriving through collaboration. Wessex Museums is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation (2018-2023) and a registered charity (Wessex Museums Trust, registration number: 1171104).
  • Wiltshire Museum is home to the best Bronze Age archaeology collection in Britain and our mission statement is ‘Inspiring people to explore the archaeology, history and environment of Wiltshire’. The collections are Designated by Government as being of National Significance.  Wiltshire Museum is an independent charity, with some revenue funding from Wiltshire Council and Devizes Town Council.  The Museum is run by the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society (WANHS), a registered charity founded in 1853.
  • Weston Loan Programme. The exhibition has been made possible by a grant from the Weston Loan Programme.  Created by the Garfield Weston Foundation and Art Fund, the Weston Loan Programme is the first ever UK-wide funding scheme to enable smaller and local authority museums to borrow works of art and artefacts from national collections.