Country houses for sale

A sprawling Dorset cottage for sale where Thomas Hardy met his inspirational mentor

Old Came Rectory is a delightful thatched cottage just outside Dorchester where one of Britain's greatest writers was a regular visitor.

This beautiful cottage in the village of Came  – on the market at £1.35 million – was the home of William Barnes, a scholar, teacher and writer who was revered in his day, but who is now best known as Thomas Hardy’s friend and mentor.

The two met while Hardy worked as an apprentice architect in Dorchester at a practice next door to the school where Barnes taught. And while there was a 40-year age gap between the two, Hardy formed a deep bond with the writer, poet and philologist – so much so that he built his own home nearby, and was a regular visitor to Barnes throughout the 1860s and 1870s.

Hardy wasn’t the only illustrious guest – Tennyson and Palgrave were also welcomed at Old Came Rectory, drawn in by a man who was, by all accounts, a fascinating and charismatic individual.

As well as his writing and poetry he was a natural linguist who spoke 70 languages and kept diaries in Italian, Spanish and Welsh; he was also a gifted mathematician and inventor; it’s hard to imagine a better example of a generalist Victorian gentleman.

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Old Came Rectory’s fascinating history doesn’t end there, however: Siegfried Sassoon rented the place out in the early 1920s with fellow poet Edmund Blunden, and while there  TE Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) came to stay. The three of them went to see Hardy, by then a much-respected old man; the image of these four great men of letters taking tea together is one that we can’t think of without a great smile.

No wonder the agent selling the house – Tom Pether of Jackson-Stops & Staff – calls it a “wonderful, historic home” and a “privilege” to be selling. The reluctant vendor, Warren Davis, knew of the colourful history when he first bought it, and adds that he has been “proud to live in such a home.”

The house itself is as interesting and sprawling as Barnes’s interests. Originally built in the early 19th century for the Rev. Doctor William England, it is arranged in two distinct halves, with the coach house having been joined to the main house a few years ago.

The design follows John Nash’s cottage orné template, with six bedrooms, immaculate gardens and a wealth of interesting features to discover.  

The drawing room is particularly noteworthy, with an open fireplace and decorative windows in the Chinese style, while the dining room has ornate coving, a fireplace and lovely French windows which open on to the gardens.

There is also a music room and study, with the linking of the main and coach houses having created a long space to the kitchen.  That former coach house space now provides a large kitchen-breakfast room with a pantry, utility room and cellar underneath. Above, there is self-contained guest accommodation.

There are six bedrooms in total, five of them upstairs and one downstairs, with one in particular boasting what is without doubt the most extraordinary headboards we’ve seen in many years. No doubt its future will prompt some negotiations between the seller and the next owner of this lovely property.

The outside space, meanwhile, is an absolute joy to behold. There are superb, professionally landscaped walled gardens with delightful shrubs and flowers throughout – you can almost imagine Barnes and Hardy wandering through the space as they discuss the world.

In addition there are extensive lawned areas, an ornamental pond, summerhouse, orchard and a kitchen garden with greenhouse.

The village itself is just a couple of miles outside Dorchester, with all its amenities and fast train service to Waterloo.

Old Came Rectory is on the market with the Dorchester branch of Jackson-Stops & Staff via for £1.35 million – see more details and pictures.