30 Apr. 2014: Country life in the 18th century

What was it like for women in the countryside in the 18th century? Were they confined to the home, and unable to get about? Did they travel alone or always with their menfolk?

Stone's Acle Bridge

Mary Hardy and her 15-year-old daughter went by carrier’s cart to Gt Yarmouth, crossing the Bure at this point. Women got about a great deal on their own

The Norfolk diarist Mary Hardy tells us the answers to these and many other questions about life in country areas. She wrote her diary at Coltishall, south of Aylsham, in the 1770s and then at Letheringsett, near Holt, until her death in 1809 aged 75.

Constant socialising

Her world was one of constant visits from people on business, for her household had to field callers from 6 am to 10 pm. As a farmer and brewer’s wife people around her were constantly on the move. Innkeepers or their wives and children came with orders for beer; butchers called over supplies of beef for the harvestmen.

Once her three children were no longer very young Mary Hardy could get out and about, and often did so on her own, with her children or with other women. It was common in her circle for wives to go to the playhouse, for instance, without their menfolk.

Improved roads

The road improvements of the time made getting about easier. When the turnpike from Norwich opened to Aylsham in 1797 this brought trade to the local inns like the Black Boys in the town centre and the Blickling Arms nearby. Mary Hardy and her family often preferred to stop over at Blickling. The new developments brought fresh opportunities for women over keeping in touch.

A talk at Aylsham Library

Margaret Bird, who brought out a new edition of Mary Hardy’s diary in 2013, will be giving an illustrated talk on these themes at Aylsham Branch Library on Wednesday 30 April 2014 at 10.30 am. The talk is entitled ‘Mary Hardy and her diary: Life in the Norfolk countryside in the 18th century’. There will be time for questions, and as usual refreshments will be served. Everyone is welcome, a small charge of £2 covering expenses.

The library is at 7 Hungate Street, Aylsham NR11 6AA. There is parking in the nearby town centre car parks, including the Market Place and Burgh Road.

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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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