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Thomas Hardy's manuscripts are coming 'home' to Dorset
Thomas Hardy in the garden of Max Gate in the late 1890s. Courtesy of Dorset County Museum
Author Thomas Hardy is said to have been 'a very gentle man'

A series of rare play scripts and stage set models by Thomas Hardy are coming "home" to Dorset, thanks to the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester.

With the help of the local community it has raised almost £60,000 to keep the manuscripts by the famous author in the UK.

Collected by Thomas Harry Tilley, a member of the original Hardy Players, they date from 1908 to 1924.

The documents went on sale in November 2009 in London and raised interest among overseas collectors and Hardy enthusiasts.

Dorset County Museum bid for the documents and had until April 2010 to raise the necessary funds.


Jon Murden is the Director of Dorset County Museum and will be handing over the cheque for £58,750.

He said: "When we started the process of trying to raise the money for the documents in January we didn't have very long and I thought it would be really tight [to make the April deadline], and to have actually got the money three weeks early is fantastic - I'm over the moon!

"It's been such a great community effort. Lots of people from across Dorset have been involved - given their support, sent money, badgered councillors - to make sure we've been able to do this.

"It's a really nice feeling to know that everyone has come together on this and shown how much they really care about the heritage of Dorset, and how much they really wanted the manuscripts to stay where they belong [in Dorset]."

'Next step'

A recreation of Thomas Hardy's study at Dorset County Museum
The manuscripts will go on display at Dorset County Museum

The manuscripts will now be housed primarily at Dorset County Museum, in Dorchester.

Jon said: "We will check through them and begin the process of cataloguing and documenting the collection. Conservation may also be required.

"The next step is to update the displays within the existing Writers Gallery at the museum and show as much of the new material as possible.

"We want people to be able to see the importance of the Hardy Players and the story of Thomas Hardy, and how he shaped literature and drama through these documents."

Any remaining documents will be available at Dorset History Museum, in Dorchester, for researchers and scholars to use.

The rest will go to Exeter University, which has links with Dorset County Museum, for students studying English Literature to refer to.

The Hardy Players

The documents demonstrate Thomas Hardy's "special" relationship with the people of Dorchester and the original Hardy Players, who performed his works in public.

Norrie Woodhall, 104, is the only surviving member of the original Hardy Players and, at the age of 16, played Liza Lou in their 1920s performance of Tess of the d'Urbervilles.

Her sister Gertrude Bugler played Tess.

Norrie said: "Everybody [who became a member of the Hardy Players] was chosen by Hardy himself.

"He was a very gentle, understanding man."

When Norrie celebrated her 100th birthday she decided she wanted her present to be a reformation of the Hardy Players.


Norrie Woodhall, of the original Hardy Players and Andy Worth, Chairman of the New Hardy Players
The notes on the documents will help the New Hardy Players 'play better'

Andy Worth is chairman of the New Hardy Players which formed, as a result, in 2005.

He said: "We are producing the work of Hardy and bringing him back to life just like Norrie wanted - it's very exciting and rewarding.

"The manuscripts are so important because they connect Hardy directly to us and show us what was happening in that community, at that time [in the early 1900s].

"They even have notes on them which explain how the plays were supposed to be performed.

"Some of them were written by Thomas Harry Tilley who worked very closely with Thomas Hardy and did most of the adaptations of Hardy's work for the stage.

"These notes will help us to play better."

A leading university in America was amongst the strongest rival bidders in the sale of the manuscripts, if the necessary funds had not been met in this country.

Norrie said: "What good would they be in America?"

Andy said: "The Americans are very supportive - they love Hardy and want everything to do with him, but so do we.

"This is [the manuscripts] rightful place. They're coming home."

Hardy collection to remain in UK
24 Mar 10 |  England
'Last' Hardy player back on stage
12 Mar 10 |  Dorset
In pictures: Thomas Hardy's Dorset
10 Aug 09 |  History
School makes Hardy feature film
02 Jul 09 |  Dorset


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