Skip to Content

Stranger than Fiction

In Thomas Hardy’s trail, we visited Bere Regis – ‘the decayed old town of Kingsbere’ of Far From the Madding Crowd – and to the small unimposing church, overlooked by an otherwise devastating fire in 1788, now cloistered behind a new-build block of flats. It is not Hardy’s Bathsheba, but his Tess who brings us here: her father’s excitement at being informed of his possible link with the famous D’Urberville family which he takes as fact, undeterred by a descriptions of the fine ‘city’ they hail from as ‘a little one-eyed, blinking sort o’ place,’ ‘a half-dead townlet’.

The fictional D’Urbervilles are based on the Turberville family, powerful landowners for over 500 years, until their failure to produce a male heir resulted in virtual extinction. The journey Tess’s family took to Kingsbere in the hope of claiming their inheritance has basis in fact. In the middle of the 19th Century, the head of a poor family by the name of Toreville living in Bere Regis, inisted on being called ‘Sir John,’ believing himself to be rightful heir.  Without lodgings, Tess and her family are forced to make camp at the end of the south wall of the south aisle, under ‘a beautiful traceried window of many lights, its date being the 15th Century.’ This is the Turberville window, tracing the history of ownership of Bere Regis is glass from royal ownership, to the Abbas of Tarrant in the 13th Century, passing into the Turberville family and finally, on their demise, to the Drax Family in the 18th Century.

Jane stayed at Honeycombe Cottage, the oldest surviving building in the village, dating back to 1500 when the Turbervilles were in their prime