Dorchester, Hardy’s Casterbridge

Harriet Still
A one-day walking tour exploring the hometown of Thomas Hardy, with one of the UK's leading Hardy authorities
Harriet Still

Tour Dates

24/02/2022 Book

Dorchester, Hardy’s Casterbridge

A small county town with a huge literary and military history

Departs: Thursday, 24 February 2022 
Where: Dorchester

In this one-day Specialist Walking Tour of Dorchester, you’ll be guided by Harriet Still, curator of Dorchester Museum's Hardy Celebration in 2022, to explore Hardy's home town to see the sights and locations that inspired the books and poems that are still famous today. 

We visit his home at Max Gate, the Shire Hall where he worked and the Roman Town House that sparked his love of archaeology, and walk the streets that doubled as settings in his stories. 

This Specialist History Day is a chance to spend a full day with an expert and fellow enthusiasts, diving into a fascinating, historical topic so that you can deepen your knowledge and understanding of Hardy, his life and influences. 

The day begins with an orientation and background introduction from your guide, to set in context the places we will visit on the Tour. 

We’ll start at an indoor venue with teas and coffees, before heading out into the streets of Dorchester. Throughout the day questions and comments are encouraged – this is your chance to enjoy you passion with a friendly group that is well-informed and shares your love of the past.

You’ll visit:

  • Dorset County Museum
  • Max Gate
  • The Roman Town House 
  • Dorchester streets and byways
  • Fordington

Your guide:

Harriet Still is one of the UK's leading experts on Thomas Hardy. She is curator for the 2022 Hardy celebration that is taking place at Dorset Museum, Poole Museum, The Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Museum.
She studied English and History at the University of York before managing Hardy’s Cottage on behalf of the National Trust. Since this introduction to Hardy, over a decade ago, she has sat on the Council of Management for the Thomas Hardy Society and the Hardy Country steering group, as well as acting in various Hardy productions with the New Hardy Players and playing in Hardy folk band Tatterdemalion.
Harriet tempers her academic, historical and literary appreciation of Hardy with the experience of living on a small mixed farm, bringing a very real awareness of the struggle of Hardy’s rural characters whilst being immersed in the Wessex landscapes.

Tour Dates

24/02/2022 Book



Meet at Dorchester South station and then short walk to the King’s Arms hotel in Dorchester High Street. The King’s Arms, with its beautiful oriel-windowed upper room, was the scene of Michael Henchard’s mayoral party in The Mayor of Casterbridge. There will be a brief introduction to the background and context of the town and specifically the life of Thomas Hardy in Dorchester. Dorchester had a profound influence on Hardy all through his life and in his fiction and poetry. Teas and coffees.

11 - 12pm

A short visit to the County Museum, with its permanent Hardy gallery and recreation of his study, is followed by a leisurely 30 minute walk to Max Gate, soaking up the sights Hardy would have enjoyed growing up, including Higher Bockhampton and the Kingston Maurward estate. We head through Fordington, where we'll learn about the early influence of the Moule family on Hardy and his writing, and then walk along Mill Street, which doubled as the author's ‘Mixen Lane’ and the slums of Dorchester.

12 - 1pm

We visit Max Gate, the house designed by Hardy and built by his brother, with exclusive access to rooms not available to the general public.

1 - 1.30pm

Return to King’s Arms for lunch, heading across Salisbury Fields where the beacon was lit in The Dynasts, and then along Icen Way to pass Bell Street School, where Hardy’s sisters were teachers.

2.30 - 3.45pm

We'll walk to the Roman Town House to discover Hardy's love of archaeology and the building's links to The Mayor of Casterbridge. En route, we'll see the Shire Hall, where Hardy was a magistrate and where Martha Brown was tried - she became the basis for Tess of the D'urbervilles.

We'll also stop at the Top o’ town Hardy statue by Eric Kennington, which was unveiled by Peter Pan author J M Barrie, and then walk down to North Hays past a PoW hut, where we'll learn about Hardy's visits to prisoners during WWI.

3.45 - 4.15pm

We'll head past Hangman’s Cottage, along the river and past Dorset County Gaol, where a 16 years-old Hardy witnessed the last female hanging in Britain, an event that would impact his writing for the rest of his life.


We complete our day with a walk back to Dorchester South station via South Street, to see a range of buildings that appeared in the TV version of Mayor of Casterbridge, including Barclay’s bank, which doubled as Henchard’s House, Hardy’s architect’s office, Napper’s Mite and the Maumbury Rings. We'll also learn about the Skimmington Ride, which featured in the book as public humiliation for an unfaithful husband.