Tess Durbeyfield's thatched cottage at

Cottage in Marnhull village, Dorset — supposedly the model for Tess Durbeyfield's thatched cottage at Marlott. Photograph and text (2002) 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.]

Regarding precisely which Marlott cottage had in mind for that occupied by the Durbeyfields at the opening of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, there must have been several other possibilities in the 1890s, but Marnhull is a very small village, and this is the only Elizabethan-period thatched cottage there; coins from the reign of James I were found when the central back entrance was restored a few years ago. although the noted photographer Herman Lea claimed that the original of Tess's cottage was "swept away," in later life Hardy actually came to visit the thatched building known as Barton Cottage "at the head of a narrow, bent cul-de-sac ('a crooked lane or street') off the west side of the B3092, a little north of Walton Elm Cross" ( p. 84). The owner of the house in the 1920s was a Major Campbell-Johnson; according to a tradition that Robinson has recorded.

The major employed a factotum named Blake, who on a day in 1924 was tending the garden of Barton Cottage with his assistant when they saw an elderly figure scrutinizing the house. On Blake asking if he could be of service the stranger replied, 'No, thank you, I was only seeing where I put my Tess'. . . . . Shortly afterwards, the deeds of the property were altered, and the name was changed to Tess Cottage. Such is the version of the story given to me by the Blakes' nephew and virtually adopted son, Mr. Earnest Allen, who heard it several times from Blake himself. . . . . It is worth noting that, if Hardy left no record of the episode, Tess was certainly in his mind in 1924, for his notes witness that he attended several rehearsals of a new dramatic production that year at Dorchester. [Robinson 85-86]

The Thomas Hardy Society arranges tours of this cottage for its members, citing the tradition recounted by Robinson and adding that the gardeners recognized the elderly gentleman as he approached, not improbably since Hardy was Dorchester's most famous son and frequently photographed for the print media. Robinson argues convincingly that the site of the cottage is consistent with the novel's siting of the dance field and The Pure Drop [PVA].


Robinson, Denys Kay. The Landscape of Thomas Hardy, photos. by Simon McBride. Exeter: Webb & Bower, 1984.

Last modified 19 April 2024