11 Apr. 2013, Holt Library: pre-publication talk on the research task

On Thursday 11 April 2013 at 10 am Margaret Bird will be giving a talk at Holt Library in north Norfolk about the 25 years of research which accompanied her editing of Mary Hardy’s diary.

Entrance is free and all are welcome; but please book first with the library at 9 Church Street, Holt, NR25 6BB, telephone 01263 712202. The talk, with questions, will last about an hour.

Statistics and themes

The statistics surrounding the diary and the publication of the complete text reveal the extraordinary contribution Mary Hardy has to make to our understanding of her world. The diary:

  • was written daily for 36 years
  • extends to half a million words
  • can be cross-checked against her nephew’s, written in the same household over a four-year period in the 1790s
  • ranges more widely than most single sources in the 18th century, Mary Hardy covering 39 distinct subject areas
  • contains recurrent themes which enrich the study of social, business, economic and religious history
  • changes over time, showing the development of the diarist herself and the world in which she moved
  • requires 2500 pages, including 460 pages of editorial indexing, to set the annotated text in print
The second of the Diary volumes, cover

Beer supply, water power and a death: Mary Hardy’s Letheringsett diary for 1781 to 1793

The theme of water

Water may not seem a contentious issue, but of all the subjects with which Margaret Bird had to grapple this proved one of the hardest. It was also one of the most interesting.

The cover of this Diary volume and the banner image on this page show the River Glaven running past the Hardys’ house (out of sight) just downstream of the brewery. This apparently puny river has over time powered 16 watermills, and in 1783–84 William Hardy harnessed it to mechanise his maltings, malt-mill and new cornmill, and the brewery pumps.

His daughter Mary Ann, seen here aged 11, specified spring water in some of her recipes; her household book has survived in the family. It was Letheringsett’s pure springs which caused the brewery to be built in this tiny village in the early 18th century.

The contentious aspect concerned the water used in brewing and known in the trade as liquor. How did the Hardys channel their liquor to the brewery, and where was it taken from? How did they soften the local hard water for the types of beer, such as porter, which required soft water?

Water as a highway

Lastly, water was of immense significance as a highway for trade. This was a feature the Hardys used to the full at Coltishall, where their house and brewery backed onto the River Bure (navigable to Great Yarmouth), and at Letheringsett where they lived only four miles from the twin harbours of Blakeney and Cley. Coal and cinders to fuel their brewery and maltings efficiently were thus to hand. They could also send out their produce by sea.

Tackling a long research project such as this entailed lateral thinking: seeing the world through the mindset of the period rather than in the tight subject boxes into which history is increasingly being squeezed.

Read more articles

Margaret Bird

Margaret Bird in 2016

The editor and author of the Mary Hardy volumes

You can read about the historian Margaret Bird on the link above

See inside…