A walk on the first evening of our holiday near Boscastle in North Cornwall brought an unexpected bitter sweet waft of Thomas Hardy, who is of course normally associated with Dorset. As we ascended a steep valley, there were the four pinnacles of the square tower of St Juliot Church peeping above the windswept hedges.
On entering it struck me as a (disappointingly) Victorian interior, but clearly there among the plain windows was something special: a memorial window for Thomas Hardy, full of delicate engraving by Simon Whistler.
The window celebrates Hardy's association with the area of Cornwall he came to in 1870 as a young architect sent to oversee the restoration of the ruined church of St Juliots. Architecturally, it is a ‘heavy’ resporation as so little of the ancient building could be reused that only birds and bats were enjoying it.
For Hardy it was a deeply significant period of his life as the Rector’s daughter in law (and keen champion of the project) was Emma Gifford. Emma was to become his wife, and it was she who encouraged him to turn away from his architectural career and devote himself to his true vocation as a writer.
Whistler's sensitive imagery is full of the local landscape and references to the story of their courtship, including Emma on horseback on Beeny Cliff, with her hair flying in the wind.
Hardy drew on his experiences of the restoration of the church and meeting Emma in his novel, ‘A Pair of Blue Eyes’, and after her death, he published his poems of 1912-13, looking back at that time with love and regret.
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I am a glass artist based in Charlbury, Oxfordshire. I work in stained and fused glass. I work to commission and teach stained glass in my studio. I open my studio to visitors during Oxfordshire Artweeks.
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