Hardy’s Monument is both a landmark and a viewpoint. This 22-metre-high stone tower sits atop “Blackdown” to the South West of Dorchester in between the villages of Winterbourne Abbas to the North and Portesham – or Possum as it is known locally – to the South.
In good weather, the monument is visible for miles around, providing a handy aid to orientation. Perhaps Thomas Hardy, to whom the monument is dedicated, would have approved of this, as being a Naval Officer, good navigation would have been key to his success, because this Thomas Hardy is probably not the Thomas Hardy you might be thinking of.
Dorset has had more than its share of famous Thomas Hardys. Many will have heard of Thomas Hardy the famous author (1840-1928), “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”, “Far from the Madding Crowd” and all that, but this Thomas Hardy is not that Thomas Hardy. No. This Thomas Hardy is another Thomas Hardy who, when you think about it, may be even more famous than Thomas Hardy the writer of novels and poems.
Prepare to slap your hand to your forehead and see whether adding two words and removing one helps. Take away “Thomas” and add “Kiss me”…Got it?
Yes. This Thomas Hardy is Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, in whose arms Admiral Lord Nelson very famously (and quite finally) died at the Battle of Trafalgar. His last words, request, order or entreaty, who knows which for sure, were “Kiss me Hardy”.
OK, so having cleared that up, what the heck is a stone tower dedicated to Thomas Masterman Hardy doing 239 metres above sea level on Blackdown? Simple, people wanted it there and donated money to a public fund to put it there. Because in his time (1769-1839), Thomas Masterman Hardy was something of a “local boy done good” and a national hero. He was born just over the hill in Kingston Russell and lived much of his life, when not as sea, in Portesham. He went on to become an Admiral in his own right, but even at the Battle of Trafalgar he was Captain of HMS Victory…And if you thought that was Nelson, you were wrong.
Nelson was Admiral of the Fleet and he chose the Victory as his flagship, but the Captain of HMS Victory, and therefore Nelson’s “Flag Captain” at the Battle of Trafalgar, was Thomas Masterman Hardy of Portesham, Dorset. As such Hardy was quite famous after Trafalgar and went on to become the top man in the Navy or First Naval Lord. But whilst Nelson got his posthumous column in “Trafalgar Square”, Hardy got his monument on top of a hill near his home in West Dorset.
It is, possibly, a little ironic that the “kiss me Hardy” tale is known to many and most will know of the famous Admiral Nelson, but few will know of Hardy himself, other than as the guy who did the kissing as Nelson lay mortally wounded.
This may be sad, but at least his fame at the time was sufficient to leave us all with a lasting legacy in this fine, if slightly plain monument. Some say it was supposed to be in the shape of a spyglass, others suggest it looks like a vertical canon. Truth is, it doesn’t much look like either and certainly does not have the ornate grandeur of Nelson’s Column in London.
However, Hardy’s Monument scores very highly in comparison to Nelson’s in one important fact – and it isn’t just a lack of pigeon poop! You can go up inside Hardy’s Monument, but you’ll probably be arrested if you try to climb Nelson’s Column!
This wasn’t always the case. The monument was closed for many years because it was unsafe but has now been patched up (to a suitably high standard) by the National Trust. It also scores because, whereas all you’d get if you did manage to climb Nelson’s Column would be a view of London roofs, climbing the 120 spiral steps to the top of Hardy’s Monument opens up magnificent, panoramic views of South and West Dorset, Portland and out across both Weymouth and Lyme Bays. On clear days these views are truly outstanding and will have cost you as little as £2 per head plus parking to see. If you happen to be in the National Trust, you can do both for free.
The monument is open during the spring and summer on Wednesdays through to Sunday, but is possibly not one for those who suffer from vertigo or have a dodgy ticker. The monument is a bit like the inside of a chimney. The steps, all 120 of them, are quite small and can leave you feeling a bit giddy and out of breath. Space is quite limited at the top, as far as standing room is concerned, but in terms of what you see, limited only by the weather conditions.
Once you’ve done the monument, it is surrounded by Countryside Access Land, so there’s plenty of walking to be had or, you could simply sit and enjoy the views and have a picnic or some cake or refreshment from the onsite caravan.
For more on Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, why not visit the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester.
No. This Thomas Hardy is another Thomas Hardy who, when you think about it, may be even more famous than Thomas Hardy the writer of novels and poems....."