New room tells stories of hot baths and angry terriers at Max Gate

Thomas Hardy and his second wife Florence with their beloved Fox Terrier Wessex outside Max Gate

The dressing room at Max Gate is on show for visitors for the first time and it sheds new light on the domestic life of Thomas Hardy.

The small room connected the bedrooms of Thomas Hardy and his second wife, Florence. Like many wealthier married couples of their era, they had separate bedrooms.

Former maid of Max Gate, Nellie Titterington, has described how she used the dressing room to escape from Wessex, the Hardy’s grumpy Fox Terrier, who slept in Hardy’s bedroom.

She described how, when taking up early morning tea to the couple, she would knock first on Florence’s door to encourage Wessex to rush through the connecting dressing room and allow her to slip safely into Hardy’s room with the tea. She would then knock on Hardy’s door to encourage Wessex to run back, while she went into Florence with her tea. Nellie said: “That was the early morning ritual. Wessex was a terror.”

Wessex is buried in the pet cemetery in the garden at Max Gate. Hardy was devoted to the dog and designed the gravestone himself. It reads: “The Famous Dog Wessex. Faithful, Unflinching.”

Visitors can see where Hardy took his morning bath in front of the fire, which required maids to carry up from the kitchen half a gallon of hot and half a gallon of cold water each time.

Max Gate was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1940 but was let out for many years, with only some rooms on display to the public. The dressing room has been used as an office by staff, but the Trust is dedicated to opening as much of the house as practical to visitors and the room is gradually being restored.