Far from the Madding Crowd: Bathsheba’s Bower

Thomas Hardy created a fictional land called Wessex based on much of his observations of south-western England, particularly from around his home town. Far from the Madding Crowd mostly takes place in the fictional town, Weatherbury, which is based on Puddletown, Dorset. Hardy drew on much of the real-world for his setting, and Bathsheba’s house is no exception. He styled it after the Waterston Manor in Dorchester. The house is first described in the passage below, and the editor notes that due to Hardy’s architectural knowledge, the description is “professionally correct.”

For our viewing pleasure, I include pictures of the current Waterston Manor as well as the houses used as Bathsheba’s manor for the 1967 movie and the 2015 movie. All three are located in Dorset.
By daylight, the bower of Oak’s new-found mistress, Bathsheba Everdene, presented itself as a hoary building, of the early stage of Classic Renaissance as regards its architecture, and of a proportion which told at a glance that, as is so frequently the case, it had once been the manorial hall upon a small estate around it, now altogether effaced as a distinct property, and merged in the vast tract of a non-resident landlord, which comprised several such modest demesnes.
Fluted pilasters, worked from the solid stone, decorated its front, and above the roof the chimneys were panelled or columnar, some coped gables with finials and like features still retaining traces of their Gothic extraction. Soft brown mosses, like faded velveteen, formed cushions upon the stone tiling, and tufts of the houseleek or sengreen sprouted from the eaves of the low surrounding buildings. A gravel walk leading from the door to the road in front was encrusted at the sides with more moss – here it was a silver-green variety, the nut-brown of the gravel being visible to the width of only a foot or two in the centre. This circumstance, and the generally sleepy air of the whole prospect here, together with the animated and contrasting state of the reverse facade, suggested to the imagination that on the adaptation of the building for farming purposes the vital principles of the house had turned round inside its body to face the other way.
  • Classic Renaissance architecture: the Renaissance architectural period (14th to 17th century roughly) followed the Greek architecture movement in Europe (hence the “Gothic extraction” still noted in the house). It draws from classical architecture, think ancient Greeks and Romans, and generally emphasizes symmetry, regularity, order, and well-proportioned, geometric parts. Also common are
    semi-circular arches, half-domes, and the like.
  • Fluted pilasters: pilasters are decorative details meant to look like a supporting column but do not actually offer bear weight. (A little confusingly, they can be extrusions from columns which actually are bearing weight.) Fluted refers to the ridges along the length of the pilaster.
  • Coped gables: Gable roofs (shaped like an inverted letter V) appear in both Gothic and Greek architecture. Coped means covered.
  • Finials: Finials are decorative elements placed at the top or end (many curtain rods can have finials) of something.

    coped gable with finial and fluted Corinthian pilasters

  • Gothic architecture: Elements of Gothic architecture include flying buttresses, a strong emphasis on verticality (pointed arches, spires, and towers all draw the eye upward), abundance of interior light, and symbology embedded within the ornamental details. Gothic architecture was typically applied to important, formal buildings, such as cathedrals, and thus implies a sort of grandeur and gravity must have existed in Bathsheba’s estate.

The Waterston Manor: original inspiration

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The Bloxworth House: 1967 film

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The Mapperton House: 2015 film

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Which do you like best? How do the film locations compare to the original description?

  • More on the Waterston house here. Images are sourced from this blog.
  • Bloxworth real estate info (and picture source) is here, though will likely be taken down sooner rather than later. The house sold in 2014 for four million euros.
  • The Mapperton House website is here. They have house tours and garden access, a shop and cafe, and can host your wedding.
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One thought on “Far from the Madding Crowd: Bathsheba’s Bower

  1. I think the Bloxworth House for the 1967 film fits Hardy’s description better than the Mapperton House – what do you think? The Bloxworth House seems a little more mossy and nut-brown to me, although I think the Mapperton House is probably prettier on an HD TV screen.

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