Stinsford, is a small hamlet set in a wooded valley of the River Frome. It is a place of pilgrimage for visitors from all over the world who enjoy the works of the internationally renowned novelist and poet, Thomas Hardy. His birthplace, at Higher Bockhampton, is a short distance away, but the Hardy connection in Stinsford, or ‘Mellstock’, as Hardy called it in many of his poems and novels, is the thirteenth century Church of St. Michael.
Hardy loved this church for its family connections with his parents and grandparents. He was christened here, attended and taught in Sunday School and requested that he be buried here. Hardy said, ‘I do not, in truth feel much interest in popular opinions about me, …… and shall sleep quite calmly at Stinsford whatever happens.’ However, when he died in 1928, he had become, ‘the greatest writer of his time’ (The Times 12th January 1928) and public pressure led to his ashes being buried in Westminster Abbey. Simultaneously, his heart was buried in the grave of his first wife, Emma, in St. Michael’s churchyard, amongst his parents’, grandparents’ and other family graves. Hardy’s second wife, Florence, was, in 1937, also buried in the same grave as Emma and Hardy’s heart.
Stinsford is clearly where, not only literally Hardy’s heart lies, but metaphorically as well.
Cecil Day Lewis, the Poet Laureate, requested before Hardy’s death, that he be buried as near to Hardy as possible, not knowing that this would be Stinsford. In 1972, his remains were buried close to the grave of Emma and Florence, where Hardy’s heart lies.
St. Michael’s Church has a stained glass window dedicated to the memory of Thomas Hardy, which was paid for by public subscription in 1930. It features the colours of Egdon Heath, the setting for Hardy’s novel, ‘The Return of the Native’.