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Norrie Woodhall, last surviving Hardy Player dies aged 105

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Summary of obituary from The Telegraph, October 31, 2011

The last surviving member of a theatre group set up by Thomas Hardy, whose mother inspired the character of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, has died aged 105.

Norrie Woodhall, born Augusta Noreen Bugler on December 18 1905, was thought to be the last person alive to have known Hardy.

She was also Gertrude Bugler’s sister, who it is claimed the novelist and poet was infatuated with, much to the despair of his wife, Florence.

Sixty years his junior, Gertrude played the title role in a stage version of  Tess of the D’Urbervilles at the Corn Exchange in Dorchester.

Woodhall was still a teenager in the early 1920s when she joined the original Hardy Players, the group of local amateur actors established by the author in 1908 and who performed dramatisations of his works, often at his home.

Woodhall, who went on to marry the award-winning amateur photographer, Frank Woodhall and ran a successful poultry farm business, always maintained that her older sister’s friendship with the ageing author was entirely platonic.

Hardy told her he used to walk past her mother each day when she was milking and was inspired to write about her. He cast her sister as Tess and Woodhall as her sister because they looked like their mother.

The group disbanded after Hardy’s death in 1928, but Woodhall formed the New Hardy Players and served as its president in 2005, when she was 100.

Woodhall wrote about how her sister Gertude was treated by Florence Hardy in her autobiography, Norrie’s Tale. Her account of the relationship was dramatised in a play, A Life of Three Strands, co-written with a local playwright, Davina Symes.

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