In 1840, the year that the poet and novelist Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) was born, the Uniform Penny Post set in train a communications revolution. Letters, a vital form of communication for the Victorians, could now be sent for one penny between any two places in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland irrespective of distance.

‘Hardy and Heritage’ was a collaborative PhD project between the University of Exeter and Dorset Museum led by Professor Angelique Richardson.

It forms part of the Hardy’s Correpondents Project which aims to make available the c5000 from Dorset Museum’s Thomas Hardy Memorial Collection, the largest Hardy collection in the world, recently selected for the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Programme register.

Phase One of Hardy’s Correspondents project, launched in 2019, brings to the public for the first time images and searchable, fully annotated transcriptions of 100 letters from friends, family, fans, readers and publishers, on subjects ranging from writing, wife sales, Wessex, and the welfare of animals.

Hardy received thousands of letters, not only from the United Kingdom but from all round the world, including Australia, Canada, Chile, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tasmania and the USA, from writers (including Grant Allen, J.M. Barrie, Browning, Havelock Ellis, George Egerton, Florence Henniker, Gissing, Kipling, T.E. Lawrence, Amy Levy, Meredith, Charlotte Mew, Ezra Pound, Siegfried Sassoon, Swinburne, Wells, Woolf), artists and illustrators (including Augustus John, George Du Maurier, Helen Paterson), musicians (including Elgar and Holst) and actors, as well as charitable and political organisations, friends and fans.

The letters reveal Hardy’s place in national and international conversations and networks, engaged in intellectual and political debate, and discussion of subjects ranging from science and war to education, feminism and suffrage. They also tell us more about ways in which writers were seen in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and shed new light on the practice of letter writing across class, gender, and geographical boundaries.