A campaign is under way to unlock an archive described as 'a true jewel in Dorset’s heritage crown'

Some £60,000 needs to be raised to create a free online collection of more than 150 boxes of material related to literary icon Thomas Hardy's life.

It's being led by the Dorset Archives Trust, which has set up an online crowdfunder to transform the Unesco-listed Hardy archive into an internet catalogue.

The collection consists of diaries, photographs, letters, books, architectural plans and poetry and is almost invisible to the wider world.

The archive contains such items as the manuscript of the Mayor of Casterbridge, correspondence to Hardy from such luminaries as T. E. Lawrence and Siegfried Sassoon and the plans for Max Gate.

The Dorset History Centre in Dorchester is keen to undertake a project, led by an archivist working with volunteers to unlock this 'fantastic resource'.

It estimates that it will take around 18 months to complete but once done, Hardy’s archives will be permanently discoverable online – and anyone can then come to the History Centre to view the physical collection.

The fundraising campaign is being supported by the Thomas Hardy Society

The society’s chairman Richard Franklin said: "The Hardy Archive on deposit at the Dorset History is the biggest and most important collection of material about Thomas Hardy in the world.

"Having access to it is vital to any research into the life and work of the great Dorset author.

"We need the financial support of all those who are interested in and love the writings of Hardy to make the archive available to all.”

Carola (CORR) Campbell, chairman of Dorset Archives Trust said: “The Dorset Archive Trust is thrilled and proud to support the Dorset History Centre’s project Unlocking Thomas Hardy.

"The Hardy archives are a treasure trove of Dorset’s most famous author’s work, thoughts and images.

"The importance of cataloguing these precious 150 boxes containing thousands of items, cannot be over-emphasised.

"It provides the most complete picture of Thomas Hardy, a uniquely talented and complex man, whose writings are revered around the globe.

"Most importantly the project will make these archives fully accessible to everyone, for the very first time.”

To contribute, go to www.dorsetarchivestrust.org and follow the links.