Details on the construction of a new visitor centre for Thorncombe Wood and Thomas Hardy's birthplace cottage including progress photographs.

Thomas Hardy is one of the nation's great authors and poets. He was born in 1840 in a small cob and thatch cottage at Higher Bockhampton near Dorchester in Dorset, where he lived until he was 34 years old. The property was built by his great-grandfather, and with an adjoining cottage garden is now owned by the National Trust. 

Hardy's Cottage is adjacent to Thorncombe Wood, a 26-hectare site with a wide range of habitats including heathland, ancient woodland and a pond. The wood is owned and managed by Dorset Council.  Thorncombe Wood is one of the few woods of broadleaved semi-natural character that is open to the public in Dorset.

The project created a centre to provide informed interpretation and welfare facilities for visitors to both Hardy's Cottage and Thorncombe Wood. This included:

  • the demolition of the existing countryside rangers' workshop/barn
  • the construction of a new visitor centre incorporating rangers' office and workshop, interpretation display space, learning space, toilets and catering outlet
  • the improvement of the existing car park together with associated landscape works.

The project is a partnership between the former Dorset County Council and the National Trust.  A successful bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund provided approximately 50% of the funding required, with the balance being provided by the partners and additional grant-awarding bodies including the Garfield Weston Foundation and Fine Family Foundation.

Work started on site in December of 2013 with completion in the summer of 2014.  The Hardy's Birthplace Visitor Centre is open and hosts displays, cafe, shop and toilet facilities. 

View photographs of the construction in progress on the flickr photostream.

The design

The new visitor centre is a one-storey building clad in natural materials. The building has minimal impact on the adjoining bridleway through maintaining the existing hedge line and the use of a timber shingle-covered monopitch roof.

There is a distinctive glazed gable elevation partially visible behind an existing oak tree and a line of newly planted small trees. The entrance into the building is through an outdoor arrival point facing the approach from the car park, with an indoor visitor reception area.

The building is compact, secure and multi-functional. It is situated to direct visitors in vehicles to the car park and not up the bridleway to the cottage; and once at the centre, to direct people into the wood, to follow paths to the cottage that Hardy himself would have used.

Sustainable design solutions included a biomass boiler using logs produced from the management of Thorncombe Wood, high levels of insulation, opening windows at various heights to allow good natural ventilation and daylight, he use of locally harvested, reclaimed and recycled natural materials for gateways and other site features and an A rating Energy Performance Certificate (EPC).

The new building is accessible to all users and has been designed to comply with the Building Regulations Approved Document Part M. Accessible design solutions included:

  • the building being clearly signposted from both the main access route from the car park and the accessible parking bay
  • all entrance doors to the building having appropriate widths, level approaches and thresholds
  • designing the building to minimise and simplify circulation - all corridor spaces within the building are at least 1.8 metres wide
  • accessible circulation routes with surfaces and furniture of a visually contrasting colour where necessary

External works and landscape

Work to improve vehicular access included:

  • improvements to the existing car park, with markings introduced to increase capacity by at least 25%, up to 45 places
  • road surfacing upgrades to create traffic calming and to ensure car visitors are clearly directed to the car park, and not up the bridleway to the cottage
  • the provision of a fully marked accessible parking bay close to the visitor centre
  • the provision of cycle storage visible from the visitor centre

Work to improve signage to the new centre, into and through the woodland to the cottage, and along the car park access road is continuing in association with the National Trust.  Coach parking is not possible in the site car park.  Separate arrangements have been put in place for coach parking.

The design team and main constructor

The Hardy's Birthplace project was procured and project managed by Dorset Property.

  • Client:  The Asset Management Group for Cabinet, represented by the Director of Environment and the National Trust.
  • Project manager: Dorset Property
  • Architect: White Design of Bristol
  • Cost consultant: Greenwood Projects
  • Mechanical engineer: Method Consulting LLP
  • Electrical engineer: Method Consulting LLP
  • Landscape architect: White Design
  • Structural engineer: Dorset Property
  • CDM co-ordinator: Dorset Property
  • Clerk of Works:  Dorset Property
  • Interpretation consultants:  Martello Media
  • Main constructor: Morgan Sindall

Dorset Property

Name: Dorset Property
Tel: 01305 225200
Full contact details

Share this page