THE LAST living link to Thomas Hardy has joined a celebration that she thought would never happen.

A collection of Hardy’s manuscripts are about to return to the county town after a unique £58,750 fundraising effort to save them from being sold off to a private buyer.

The ‘Bring Hardy Home’ campaign was inspired by 104-year-old Norrie Woodhall, who knew the author and was written into his stage production of Tess Of The D’Urbervilles.

Once the manuscripts arrive at Dorset County Museum, the centenarian will be able to view notes and directions written by the original Hardy Players, which she was a member of.

Norrie, who lives in Owermoigne, said: “I’m looking forward to seeing the manuscripts very much.

“It might trigger off a memory about the past – memories are a strange thing because they come and go.”

Determined to help out with the cause, Norrie took to the stage and performed a poem during an evening of fundraising at Dorset County Museum.

She said: “Everyone has done so well to raise a lot of money. I didn’t think we would do it.

“Some people made some big contributions and I was so pleased about that.”

Museum director Jon Murden said he has to pick up the manuscripts from London by April 17. They were in danger of being sold to the US until the government intervened because of their cultural significance.

Mr Murden added: “The whole community has been very supportive – it’s great to be able to do this for Norrie.

“People have helped us to secure a piece of their heritage.

“These things belong in Dorset and should be in Dorset, everyone has a real instinctive feeling about that.

“We couldn’t have done this on our own, we needed the help of the New Hardy Players, Exeter University and the Dorset History Centre.”

Dr Angelique Richardson, an Exeter University English lecturer, said: “My students can learn so much from these manuscripts. The manuscripts tell us about Hardy’s relationship with Wessex.”

Phil Gordon, of the Dorchester Business Improvement District, said he was delighted the rescue attempt was so successful because of his own link to Hardy.

His great-great-grandfather exchanged letters with the author as a justice of the peace for Dorset.