THERE will be an international flavour as the 21st Thomas Hardy Conference and Festival comes to Dorchester.

Former Home Secretary Alan Johnson is set to headline a packed festival programme as dozens of delegates from around the world are drawn to the county town by their interest in the Dorset writer.

The conference starts on Saturday, July 26 with events including a talk by Christopher Nicholson on his Coast Prize nominated book Winter, which charts the tense relationship between Florence Hardy and Gertrude Bugler during the winter of 1924.

The following day there will be the first of several coach trips running throughout the week as well as a church service at Stinsford Church, a Jurassic Coast boat trip and the first of a number of Hardy walks.

Conference secretary Mike Nixon, from the Thomas Hardy Society, said he was also looking forward to a performance of the New Hardy Players that evening.

He said: “We have got quite a bit of interest for that – the New Hardy Players are going from strength to strength.”

On Monday, July 28 there will be a special commemoration of the First World War at the Dorset County Museum with the ringing of the church bells from neighbouring St Peter’s Church.

Throughout the week a series of younger delegates will be presenting papers to the conference, including students from India, Russia, France, Bangladesh, America, Colombia, Japan, Italy and Australia.

Mr Nixon said many of them had been subsidised to come over as the Hardy Society recognised the importance of getting younger people involved.

He said: “We have got more than 30 younger people from all over the world giving papers about Hardy and that’s really important.”

On Tuesday, July 29 there will be a screening of the short film The Maiden, a modern take on Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and on the Wednesday there will be a performance by Tim Laycock and the Mellstock Band at the Corn Exchange before the Beaminster Gallery Choir perform the following night.

Labour MP Mr Johnson will be giving his talk on his love of the work of Thomas Hardy and Philip Larkin on the morning of Saturday, August 2.

There are many more events going on throughout the week with all evening events as well as the walks, trips and tours open to everyone. For more information or a full festival programme visit