Aug. 2019: Mary Hardy a living text in a 67th wedding anniversary celebration

Some delighted reactions from readers of Mary Hardy

The Diary editor Margaret Bird fairly often gets to hear the reactions of her readers.

Ten days ago June and Russell Betts, both in their nineties and of Reepham in central Norfolk, bought the set of Diary volumes via Amazon for a special occasion.

On receiving the books Mrs Betts contacted Margaret with her delighted first impressions:

“Your beautiful four volumes of Mary Hardy’s diaries arrived last Friday, since when I have burnt the midnight electric bulbs. My husband and I are getting the books to celebrate our 67th wedding anniversary.”

For many readers Mary Hardy’s yellowing pages and faded sepia ink are not some remote archival source but a living, breathing text. And so it has proved for Mr and Mrs Betts.

Zeb Rouse (d.1804 aged 69): one of the heroes of the Diary

In her e-mails June Betts explains that her husband is descended from the sister of Zebulon (Zeb) Rouse and his brother Richard and from the Wright family who built the Hardys’ wherry William and Mary at Coltishall in 1776.

ISBN 978-0-9573360-0-1 Diary 1

The first of the Diary volumes. Zeb features on almost every page. All the Hardys’ farm servants worked extraordinarily hard

Zeb (the ‘ZR’ of the diary entries) is one of the heroes of Mary Hardy’s tale. An exceptionally loyal and hardworking farm servant, he was their ploughman, harvester, brewer and drayman and much more. When the nearby tied house, the Recruiting Sergeant at Horstead, was without an innkeeper Zeb stepped in and ran the pub for two months with the help of his capable wife Molly and of Mary Hardy.

Molly herself was very close to the Hardy family. She had wet-nursed Mary Ann when the diarist handed the baby over after the first few months, Mary Hardy noting the start of cash payments to Molly.

Mary Hardy methodically logs the daily tasks performed by Zeb, who occupies eight densely packed columns in the index to the first volume (pictured). June Betts comments:

“I am amazed at the amount of work the workforce accomplished. No wonder ZR didn’t make ‘old bones’.”

Zeb Rouse’s family: his brother’s dispute over water power

Russell Betts is related to Zeb, who is his three times great-grand-uncle. Zeb’s sister Lydia (d.1832 aged 76) married Stephen Wright (d.1822 aged 68), the Coltishall boatbuilder.

Zeb’s brother Richard (d.1816 aged 84) worked the watermill at Letheringsett. This still today produces stoneground flour using the power of the River Glaven.

Richard Rouse and William Hardy, the diarist’s husband, fell out spectacularly in 1786–87 over the use of the Glaven. Two years earlier the brewer had built his own cornmill in the brewery complex to power his maltings, the malt-mill and the hoists and pumps.

The pair went to law. The families, previously close friends, shunned one another for years afterwards. That story is told in Diary 2.

Family history details

None of this new information will appear in the forthcoming study Mary Hardy and her World, which is more than halfway through indexing and cannot be updated at this late stage. So readers may find it of interest here.

The Rouse brothers, so Russell and June Betts have discovered, are descended from Richard Rouse (b.1669) and his wife Mary. Their son Zebulon (ZR’s father) was christened in Haveringland, near Reepham, on 29 April 1708. He grew up in Haveringland and appears to have been the parish clerk.

This older Zebulon married 16-year-old Elizabeth Capps in St Clement’s Church, Norwich on 29 May 1733 (six months before Mary Hardy’s birth). Mrs Betts continues the tale:

“The first christening of their family, recorded in 1736, was Richard (the Letheringsett miller?), then Elizabeth in 1740, Anna Maria in 1742, Zebulon in 1744 (Mary Hardy’s ZR), Mary in 1745, Lydia in 1752, plus two Roberts. The first died aged three, the second was born in 1758.”

Lydia Rouse married Stephen Wright (c.1755–1822) and died in 1832. “They are Russell’s third great-grandparents. Stephen Wright’s father was also Stephen.”

Zeb and Molly Rouse’s son Robert dies aged three

The names are interesting, many being chosen by Zeb and Molly for their own large family. Their first-born was Richard, their first daughter Elizabeth; they later had Mary, although this was Molly’s baptismal name as well.

They too had a Robert, born in January 1775, who as a toddler of 18 months survived smallpox. But he died aged three, just like his father’s little brother.

As frequently happens with parish registers the dates at first sight do not seem to match. The registers for instance record the age of Richard, Zeb and Lydia at their deaths, which do not fit the christening dates.

It may be that the age at death is inaccurate. Sometimes the age is expressed as “in his 84th year”, which can mean 83 and may apply to the miller Richard Rouse.

However some clergy recorded only public baptism, which often followed years after birth, so the deceased may have been considerably older than the christening date seems to indicate. This appears to be the case with Zeb.

By contrast, if Lydia’s age at death is accurate she would have been born c.1756, not 1752. Sometimes the parish registers are wrong, as Mary Hardy’s diary entries make clear. Or was there an older sister Lydia who died, after whom she was named?

Wherry-builders in the family

June Betts continues with their findings, e-mailed to Margaret Bird on 7, 14 and 15 August 2019. She and Russell have traced the Wright family right back to the 16th century.

“For years we have been researching our family trees, and Russell’s mother was descended from William Petch, who built Norfolk wherries at the corner of the river near the Cow Tower in Norwich. It appears William Petch was probably apprenticed to Stephen Wright of Coltishall, the boatbuilder, and he married Stephen’s daughter Hannah.

So, we are going to greatly enjoy getting to know about the history of some of 18th-century Coltishall.”

A Colman Bequest painting of Petch’s Corner

Petch’s Corner, the former boatyard, still stands beside the Wensum. It is just upstream of mediaeval Bishop Bridge, the twin-arched bridge seen at the banner heading this news item.

The bridge also appears in James Stark’s depiction of this busy scene downstream from Petch’s Corner:


The Wensum in Norwich. The yacht station and Pull’s Ferry stand here today [James Stark 1828]

The Norwich School artist John Thirtle (1777–1839) twice painted this part of the riverside. His first canvas (View of the River near Cow’s Tower, Norwich, c.1810) shows a keel being quanted past.

Thirtle also painted the wherry-building yard in about 1812, well before William Petch’s time. The artist mischievously drew his own initials ‘IT’ on the shed door (Boat-Builder’s Yard near the Cow’s Tower, Norwich).

The first painting was formerly owned by Mary Hardy’s descendant, Russell James Colman. It is now on display in Norwich, with the later work, at the Castle Museum and Art Gallery. Both views appear as colour plates in volume 4 of Mary Hardy and her World.

Zeb’s niece too runs a public house—in Norwich

Hannah Petch (1791–1880), née Wright, Zeb Rouse’s niece and daughter of the Coltishall wherry-builder, for many years ran the Horse Barracks, the pub close to her husband’s boatyard and Bishop Bridge.

It stood in Barrack Street near today’s busy roundabout at the foot of Kett’s Hill. She was still there in 1854, according to Francis White’s Norfolk Directory 1854, page 191.

“Months of reading”

June Betts ends her third message:

“Thank you for the books. Months of reading, especially good for the cooler weather to come.”

Thank you, June. It is so exciting to hear from you and Russell. And renewed congratulations on your 67th wedding anniversary on 19 July just past.

Margaret Bird, Kingston upon Thames, 16 August 2019

Note  ·  A few other reactions to the Diary feature as news items

Dec. 2016  ·  from a United States maltster

July 2014  ·  from a wide range of readers

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

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