A black-and-white photograph of Puddletown Church eventually replaced the elegant engraving as the frontispiece depicting the tranquil village of "Weatherbury" for the 1912 Macmillan Wessex Edition volume. In his February 1895 Preface for the Osgood, McIlvaine edition of the novel Hardy notes that "The church remains, by great good fortune, unrestored and intact, and a few of the old houses" (vii), but not the old malt house, Gabriel Oak's first stop when he enters the village. The image of the church looks well ahead, both to the tragedy of Fanny Robbin's premature death and to the low-key wedding of Gabriel and Bathsheba after Boldwood's shooting Troy. 8.5 x 12.4 cm, framed, in Hardy's 1874 novel Far from the Madding Crowd, volume two of the Osgood, McIlvaine Complete Uniform Edition of the Wessex Novels, in seventeen volumes (1895-1897).

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

Text on facing page

The "Weatherbury"
of the Story
Drawn on the spot

"The Village of Weatherbury, or
Lower Longpuddle, as it was
sometimes called" — Page 58.

  • Title-page
  • Passage Anticipated

    "A license — O yes, it must be a license," he said to himself at last. "Very well, then; first, a license."

    On a dark night, a few days later, Oak came with mysterious steps from the surrogate's door, in Casterbridge. On the way home he heard a heavy tread in front of him, and, overtaking the man, found him to be Coggan. They walked together into the village until they came to a little lane behind the church, leading down to the cottage of Laban Tall, who had lately been installed as clerk of the parish, and was yet in mortal terror at church on Sundays when he heard his lone voice among certain hard words of the Psalms, whither no man ventured to follow him. — "A Foggy Night and a Conclusion," Ch. 57, p. 470.


    Although the railroad crossed through Dorset on its way to Cornwall, the first actual railroad stop in Dorset came relatively late, in 1847, when Hardy was a young boy. For this reason, not only did the outside world not know much of Dorset; Dorset knew very little of the outside world. That sense of insularity is seen most clearly in Far from the Madding Crowd and also in Hardy's second novel, Under the Greenwood Tree. — Susanne Johnson Flynn.

    Rail service to Wessex was slow in coming; although the first train entered Dorset in the summer of 1847, only ten years later did the completion of the Great Western Railway connect a number of places in the region with each other and London. Thus, since the railway did not arrive in the vicinity of "Weatherbury" until well after the period in which the novel is set (the 1840s of Hardy's boyhood), Macbeth-Raeburn's frontispiece is consistent with agrarian life in Dorset villages prior to the 1846 repeal of the Corn Laws. Indeed, the allusion in The Mayor of Casterbridge to Farmer James Everdene, Bathsheba's uncle who has just died as the story opens, reinforces the impression that this is a "pre-railway" and "pre-industrial" Dorset​in which the common people walk or travel by wagon, while the gentry ride on horseback or in broughams. Nothing in Macbeth-Raeburn's illustration clashes with this generally-agreed-upon temporal setting of the novel. He does not depict the other social centre of the village, Warren's Malthouse (torn down about 1875), simply because, when he visited the village in the 1890s, it was no longer available to him as a resource.

    Moreover, making the church the focal point of the frontispiece underscores its importance at several points in the narrative, the obscure burial of Fanny Robbin and the quiet, private marriage of Gabriel Oak and Bathsheba Troy, events to which the story's serial artist, Helen Paterson Allingham, alerted the reader in two initial letter vignettes in the Cornhill Magazine. The final initial letter vignette in the magazine serial (Part 12, December 1874) foreshadows Gabriel Oak and Bathsheba Everdene's making their way under umbrellas "through the mist along the road to the church" (474). The Osgood, McIlvaine frontispiece, in contrast to the novel's rather generalised treatment of the village and its church, offers both a clear sense of the nave, tower, and churchyard to the left and the thatched-roofed houses to the right, with a period wagon and a smock-frocked agricultural labourer carrying a scythe to imply the nature of the town's economy. Looking carefully above the porch, just left of centre, one may see one of the church's "gurgoyles" that figure prominently in the pathetic tale of Frank Troy's trying to provide after her death the tender attention that he should have given Fanny Robbin in life.

    Puddletown church — scene of the poem 'The Christening' — is the best example in Wessex of a mediaeval church that, eluding for once the hand of Victorian restorers, has retained its high box-pews, musicians' gallery, seventeenth-century wooden altar and altar rails, pulpit, prayer-desk, and ine old timbered roof. — Denys Kay-Robinson, 51-52.

    Puddletown was extensively rebuilt from 1864 onward, but since the novel supplies no details of any building except the church and 'Warren's Malthouse' little light is shed on dates. — Denys Kay-Robinson, 51-52.

    The tower of Weatherbury church is prominent in one of the original serial illustrations in the Cornhill Magazine, December, 1874: Initial-Letter "C"​— Gabriel and Bathsheba in the rain, going through the churchyard to their wedding, and in the initial letter vignette "D"​for the October 1874​ instalment in the darkness Frank Troy is tending to Fanny Robin's grave in the churchyard, inside the recently cleared section of consecrated ground, and unfortunately directly underneath a "gurgoyle." The tower of the church is then described at the beginning of chapter 46:

    The tower of Weatherbury Church was a square erection of fourteenth-century date, having two stone gurgoyles on each of the four faces of its parapet. Of these eight carved protuberances only two at this time continued to serve the purpose of their erection​— that of spouting the water from the lead roof within. One mouth in each front had been closed by bygone church-wardens as superfluous, and two others were broken away and choked​— a matter not of much consequence to the wellbeing of the tower, for the two mouths which still remained open and active were gaping enough to do all the work. — Chapter 46, "The Gargoyle: Its Doings," p. 369.

    Given that Bathsheba is the object of Troy's, Boldwood's, and Oak's marital proposals, the church as the social centre of the village is an appropriate keynote for the novel, as yet an almost empty stage on which the principal actors will shortly appear. The realistic setting, one which an interested reader of the 1890s for the price of a return railway ticket could visit, enforces willing suspension of disbelief as the plot develops along the lines of the species of Sensation Novel known as the "Bigamy Novel," the leading example of which for young Thomas Hardy was likely Ellen Wood's East Lynne (1863).


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    Last modified 27 January 2017