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  • Steve Matthews

Under the Greenwood Tree

I've always liked the novels of Thomas Hardy, simple tales of simple country folk. Dig deeper however and you'll see that Hardy's writing is highly critical of Victorian society, especially the declining status of the people who made up Britain's rural communities, such as those of his native Dorset. I find that there is a practicality in the way he sets out the storyline, the characters and the underlying moral conclusion. Yes, I think Hardy was a very practical man.


Hardy trained as as an architect in the town of Dorchester before moving to London in 1862. Once settled he enrolled as a student at King's College London and while there won prizes from the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Architectural Association for his designs. It has been noted from his journals, that Hardy hated London. He was acutely conscious of class divisions that he found in the metropolis and his own sense of social inferiority became a barrier in progressing in his chosen career. Consequently there are no architectural works by Hardy at all in London, in fact the only one that I have come across was an altarpiece known as a reredos in All Saints church in Windsor, and that wasn't discovered until 2016.


So why write a piece in a blog about London, on a man who didn't like the city and who's contribution is non existent to it's architecture?


The answer is Hardy's practicality that I mentioned earlier and possibly his empathy, shown not only for the rural population but also those who suffered the degradation of life in the giant sausage machine that was Georgian and Victorian London.


In the mid 1860s, Hardy was working for the architect Arthur Bloomfield and was put in charge of excavating part of the graveyard of St Pancras Old Church which was due for destruction to make way for the line into the terminus of St Pancras railway station. While all due care, for the time, was taken in the exhumation and reburial of the graveyards residence, the headstones were not relocated. Overseeing the project, Hardy could have quite easily scrapped them, who would have cared?


Hardy's solution was so beautifully simple and practical, that anyone who sees it surely must find it perfect and quite touching.



NB. The tree is actually an Ash. The greenwood tree is part of the title of Hardy's second published novel in 1872.


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