Hardy and The Trumpet Major
Dennis Smale and David Bailey take us on a tour of the countryside in which Hardy set his only historical novel
Published in December ’10
Hardy’s The Trumpet Major has the reputation of being one of his happier novels – even though John Loveday, the eponymous Trumpet Major and the most likeable character in the book, is despatched to a military death in Spain in the last sentence. The events take place in and around Weymouth at the start of the 19th century, a time when an invasion by Napoleon’s army seemed not so much probable as inevitable. John loves Anne Garland, but she prefers his sailor brother Bob, who is a two-timing womaniser. It is the Dorset setting rather than the complex plot though, that is the strength of this book.
Sutton Poyntz with its mill pond was Hardy’s inspiration for Overcombe, the village around which the story centres. John Loveday’s father owns the mill and lets part of the building to Widow Garland and her daughter Anne.
After the British victory at Trafalgar in 1805, the country was alight with patriotic fervour. A gigantic figure of King George III on horseback was cut on what is now called White Horse Hill near Osmington, and John Loveday takes Anne to see ‘forty navvies at work’ removing the turf to make the figure.
Sutton Poyntz (‘Overcombe’) is the village in the centre left of this photograph, with White Horse Hill to its right. It was on this downland that John Loveday’s regiment of dragoons arrives at the start of the novel to pitch camp.
Sunrise over Ridgeway Hill. In Hardy’s novel, John and Anne and many others from Overcombe go to the top of the Ridgeway one evening to wait for King George’s carriage procession to pass on the way to Weymouth (‘Budmouth’). It is a long wait: they do not come until 3.30 am.
Although Hardy’s ‘Overcombe’ is based on Sutton Poyntz, its mill is a composite of the one at Sutton Poyntz and this one at Upwey
The Hardy of Hardy’s Monument was Thomas Masterman Hardy, the captain of HMS Victory at Trafalgar, where he attended to Nelson as he was dying. He lived at Portesham House (pictured) until he was married. In the novel, John Loveday’s sailor brother, Robert, walks to ‘Pos’ham’ to visit Captain Hardy and asks to be taken on board as a crew member of Victory.
Ringstead Bay and White Nothe. It was here that the locals confidently expected the French invaders to land. In the novel the alarm beacons are actually set alight to show that the invasion has happened; but – as in reality – Napoleon’s armies never came.
The bridge across the entrance to the Fleet lagoon at Small Mouth. The first bridge connecting Portland with mainland Dorset was not built until 1839, so when Anne Garland walks to Portland for a glimpse of HMS Victory with her beloved Robert on board, she has to be rowed across.