Hard times and hungry months

Making cheese with a spoon in a wooden bowl

The Hardys were not a poor family, but they still struggled at times, especially in winter when food was sparse and cold, long nights drew in. Hardy’s mother, Jemima, grew up as a pauper with her family relying on support from the parish poor relief fund when available. Jemima’s father died when she was nine, leaving her mother to provide for seven children. She knew what it was like to be truly hungry and struggled to keep warm and dry in the winter with old clothes and often no shoes.

Jemima raised Thomas to be careful with money and frugal around the house. Even when he was a grown man Thomas was known to be unwilling to part with money even though he had plenty to spare once he had made his fortune as a writer. His servants despaired when he refused to allow fires in the house unless it was bitterly cold and his guests joked that the sandwiches he offered were the size of postage stamps!

Our vision of Victorian country life as idyllic is a myth. It was hard work and many people were desperate for food and money, especially in colder months. The seasons ruled country life and winter was the harshest time of the year. Short, cold, dark days meant fewer daylight hours for working and difficult conditions to grow food. It was also expensive to keep warm by burning fuel all day so fires were often rationed.

Visit Hardy’s Cottage during the winter and discover how hard cottage life was in the darkest of months. Join us for several activities exploring how families dealt with the harsh winter season. See our events listings for details of individual activities.

"When winter frost
Makes earth as steel
I search and search
But find no meal"

(The Robin by Thomas Hardy)