HUNDREDS of delegates from across the world flocked to Dorchester for the 21st Thomas Hardy Conference and Festival.

Former Home Secretary Alan Johnson headlined the packed festival programme as people were drawn to the county by their interest in the Dorset writer.

The week-long conference included 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.

There were 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 co-ordinator Mike Nixon, from the Thomas Hardy Society, said: “One third of the delegates came from all over the world from places like Bangladesh, India, Canada and the US.

“It’s a boost for the county town economy as all of these people are staying in the hotels, eating in the restaurants and putting money into the town.

“It also reinvigorates people’s interest in Hardy and also gets it out into Dorchester and the rest of the county that Hardy has a world following.”

Throughout the week a series of younger delegates presented 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 had got more than 30 younger people from all over the world giving papers about Hardy and that’s really important.

“There’s been events all week including lectures from academics, coach tours to Hardy country and many students working on their papers.”

The end of the conference was marked with a farewell dinner and barn dance and a performance from the New Hardy Players was also enjoyed.

On Monday, there was 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.

On Tuesday, there was a screening of the short film The Maiden, a modern take on Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and the following day there was a performance by Tim Laycock and the Mellstock Band at the Corn Exchange.

Labour MP Mr Johnson gave his talk on his love of the work of Thomas Hardy and Philip Larkin.