Kingston Maurward House

Kingston Maurward House (II). 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.]

Kingston Maurward House, circa 1790, home of the Pitt family, was used as "Knapwater" house in Hardy's short stories and as "Enckworth House" in The Hand of Ethelberta. Martin Seymour-Smith in Hardy (1994) mentions that the author modelled Miss Aldclyffe's palatial home on Kingston Maurward House (p. 129), which lies not far from Hardy's boyhood home at Bockhampton and the Stinsford churchyard where he lies buried. According to Denys Kay-Robinson in The Landscape of Thomas Hardy (1984), "the tall trees inside Kingston Maurward grounds catch the winds blowing across the Frome valley" (33). After occupation by the military during World War Two, the last private owners, the Hanburys, in 1948 sold the lands and mansion to the Dorset County Council, who transformed the property into the Dorset Farm Institute; presently it serves as the Dorset College of Agriculture, but is externally little changed since Hardy's descriptions of it in Chapter Four his second novel, Desperate Remedies (25 March 1871), and the March 1876 instalment of The Hand of Ethelberta in the Cornhill Magazine:

Still a little higher than where they stood was situated the mansion, called Knapwater House, the offices gradually losing themselves among the trees behind.

2. Evening

The house was regularly and substantially built of clean grey freestone throughout, in that plainer fashion of classicism which prevailed at the latter end of the eighteenth century, when the copyists called designers had grown weary of fantastic variations in the Roman orders. The main block approximated to a square on the ground plan, having a projection in the centre of each side, surmounted by a pediment. From each angle of the inferior side ran a line of buildings lower than the rest, turning inwards again at their further end, and forming within them a spacious open court, within which resounded an echo of astonishing clearness. [Desperate Remedies (London: Macmillan, 1975), p. 96]

Hardy reinforced the connection between the Pitt mansion and Miss Aldclyffe's residence by using an illustration of Kingston Maurward House as the frontispiece in both the 1896 and 1912 edition of the Wessex Novels.

We can now perhaps better appreciate Hermann Lea's apparently tentative approach to the problem generally [of readers' desiring to identify specific buildings mentioned in Hardy's works]. He writes of Knapwater House that this 'was probably suggested by Kingston Maurward House' [Thomas Hardy's Wessex (1913), p. 234]. It is significant that the name Carriford [the village nearby in the novel] was not changed later to conform to Wessex nomenclature and that it occurs nowhere else in Hardy's work. (C. J. P. Beatty, "Introduction," Thomas Hardy's Desperate Remedies: A Novel, p. 31)

Beatty notes that the "Great House," the Old House" [i. e., the Old Manor House, residence of the estate manager, Aeneas Manston], the Three Tranters' Inn, and the church (introduced in that order) are the novel's four principal buildings, all to be found in Hardy's boyhood haunts a few miles outside Dorchester.

Hardy's description of Enckworth Court, ancestral home of the aging roué Lord Mountclere in his satirical novel The Hand of Ethelberta, A Comedy in Chapters (July 1875 through May 1876 in the Cornhill Magazine betrays the mansion's Dorset origins in Chapter 38:

Without attempting to trace an analogy between a man and his mansion, it may be stated that everything here, though so dignified and magnificent, was not conceived in quite the true and eternal spirit of art. It was a house in which Pugin would have torn his hair. Those massive blocks of red-veined marble lining the hall — emulating in their surface-glitter the Escalier de Marbre at Versailles — were cunning imitations in paint and plaster by workmen brought from afar for the purpose, at a prodigious expense, by the present viscount's father, and recently repaired and re-varnished. The dark green columns and pilasters corresponding were brick at the core. Nay, the external walls, apparently of massive and solid freestone, were only veneered with that material, being, like the pillars, of brick within.

To a stone mask worn by a brick face a story naturally appertained—one which has since done service in other quarters. When the vast addition had just been completed King George [III, 1738-1820] visited Enckworth. Its owner pointed out the features of its grand architectural attempt, and waited for commendation.

'Brick, brick, brick,' said the king.

The Georgian Lord Mountclere blushed faintly, albeit to his very poll, and said nothing more about his house that day. When the king was gone he sent frantically for the craftsmen recently dismissed, and soon the green lawns became again the colour of a Nine-Elms cement wharf. Thin freestone [i. e., Portland Stone] slabs were affixed to the whole series of fronts by copper cramps and dowels, each one of substance sufficient to have furnished a poor boy's pocket with pennies for a month, till not a speck of the original surface remained, and the edifice shone in all the grandeur of massive masonry that was not massive at all. But who remembered this save the builder and his crew? and as long as nobody knew the truth, pretence looked just as well.

What was honest in Enckworth Court was that portion of the original edifice which still remained, now degraded to subservient uses. Where the untitled Mountclere of the White Rose faction had spread his knees over the brands, when the place was a castle and not a court, the still-room maid now simmered her preserves; and where Elizabethan mothers and daughters of that sturdy line had tapestried the love-scenes of Isaac and Jacob, boots and shoes were now cleaned and coals stowed away. (pp. 304-5)

Thus, Hardy describes the house as a sort of "whited sepulcher," a reflection of the hypocritical owner whose polished surface is belied by his sometimes crude and always sensual character.


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Last modified 4 January 2005