They drove by the level road along the valley to a distance of a few miles, and, reaching Wellbridge, turned away from the village to the left, and over the great Elizabethan bridge which gives the place half its name. Immediately behind it stood the house wherein they had engaged lodgings, whose exterior features are so well known to all travellers through the Froom Valley; once portion of a fine manorial residence, and the property and seat of a d’Urberville, but since its partial demolition a farmhouse.
‘Welcome to one of your ancestral mansions!” said Clare as he handed her down. But he regretted the pleasantry; it was too near a satire.

–Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891; Ch XXXIV)


Woolbridge Manor, on which Wellbridge House, in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, is based, can be found just outside the village of Wool in Dorset. In Hardy’s lyrical novel, Tess and Angel spend their ill-fated honeymoon at the house (see above passage).

Situated on the north side of the historic Elizabethan bridge, which straddles the River Frome, the manor, which was built in the twelfth century, once belonged to the Turberville family. It sits opposite the ruins of the once great Bindon Abbey and was part of the abbey grounds before Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1536. According to local lore, a tunnel runs underneath the river, connecting the two buildings. It is believed to have been used as a means of escape by victims of religious persecution.

Another story tells of a phantom coach that can only be seen by people of Turberville blood. The vehicle reportedly crosses the bridge by the manor at night. The coach is, in some versions, linked to the Turbervilles and the elopement of John Turberville and Anne, the daughter of Thomas Howard, 1st Viscount Howard of Bindon. Angel refers to the link when Tess is disturbed by the sight of a carriage (Chapter XXXIII):


[Tess] ‘… I seem to have seen this carriage before, to very well acquainted with it. It is very odd – I must have seen it in a dream.’

[Angel] ‘Oh – you have heard the legend of the d’Urberville Coach – that well-known superstition of this county about your family when they were very popular here; and this lumbering old thing reminds you of it.’

‘I have never heard of it to my knowledge,’ said she. ‘What is the legend – may I know it?’

‘Well – I would rather not tell it in detail just now. A certain d’Urberville of the sixteenth or seventeenth century committed a dreadful crime in his family coach; and since that time members of the family see or hear the old coach whenever – But I’ll tell you another day – it is rather gloomy. Evidently some dim knowledge of it has been brought back to your mind by the sight of this venerable caravan.’

‘I don’t remember hearing it before,’ she murmured. ‘Is it when we are going to die, Angel, that members of my family see it, or is it when we have committed a crime?’

‘Now, Tess!’

He silenced her by a kiss.”


The manor was restored in the seventeenth century and a new wing was added in around 1660. Today it is a Grade II-listed building.

It later came to the attention of Pevsner himself, who marvelled on, ‘the survival in a mellow unspoilt condition, in spite of being a hotel is a triumph‘.

I visited Woolbridge Manor on a trip to Dorset in December. It is a very handsome building, framed by extraordinarily beautiful countryside. It’s easy to see why this area of England so inspired Hardy and features so prominently in his novels.

I may have been feeling a bit fanciful, but as we were leaving and the sun shone directly into my eyes, making me squint, I thought I glimpsed the figures of a young woman and man walking hand in hand in the gardens behind the house.

It was a lovely sight.


If you don’t have a copy of Tess and feel inspired to read it, and it so worth reading/rereading, it’s free at The Literature Network. This link will take you directly there.


Also of interest: Vita Sackville-West’s gardens at Sissinghurst – writers on location; Claire Kittridge on what it is about London – writers on location


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