Family and local historians
Family historians and local historians will find this work invaluable.
The Diary of Mary Hardy contains more than 460 pages of index, reflecting the Hardys’ extremely wide acquaintance. Readers may be lucky enough to find names they have been searching for, as has already happened with researchers across England, Canada, the United States and Australia.
Filling the gaps
So often those researching their family history have to be content with discovering little more than the dates and place of baptism, marriage and burial of their relatives. The Mary Hardy volumes open our eyes to the lives of the servant class, who left few records, as well as to those of their masters and mistresses.
When parish burial registers record the occupation of the deceased, as they increasingly do after about 1800, the entry may read, “Servant”. This often means not a personal servant such as a manservant or lady’s maid, but a farm servant. Such a man might be a maltster or brewer, as well as an experienced ploughman.
These were skilled men, hired annually, and were distinct from labourers hired by the week or the day. They had greater security, but worked very long hours. Their daily lives are presented with astonishing clarity. We can visualise what working life was like for a large section of the rural labouring poor.
Few eighteenth-century diaries log the activities of working people with the precision found here. In the early years of her diary, in the 1770s, Mary Hardy took care to record the tasks of each member of the workforce in the fields, in the maltings and brewery, and on the road as they delivered the beer.
Similarly her diarist nephew Henry Raven (1777–1825) also logged the men’s tasks. He lived with the family for eight years 1792–1800 as the Hardys’ brewery apprentice. His diary, which survives 1793–1797, is thought to be the only such record preserved by a brewing pupil in that century.
An award-winning article
It is this aspect of the diarists’ record which gained Margaret Bird a national award for her analysis in 2015. Her article, “Supplying the beer”, which first appeared in 2014 in The Glaven Historian, was reprinted in The Local Historian following the award.
Dr Alan Crosby of the British Association for Local History highlighted the value of the source:
“The article draws upon the diaries to illustrate the complexities and intricacies of managing a (by contemporary standards) large-scale enterprise in the pre-railway age, and in doing so it reveals numerous unexpected and stimulating dimensions to local historical analysis. While most local historians will not have ready access to such exceptionally rich primary sources, this article will provide many valuable insights and ideas for further research in other localities.
It is also deeply rewarding in its own right.”
The Norfolk backdrop
Mary Hardy had a strong topographical sense as well as an awareness of clock time. Her mindset was that of a time-and-motion consultant. Movement by family and workforce was logged, with its duration. Spending too long at the fair by a farm servant or maidservant was frowned upon.
We learn about a very large number of surrounding towns and villages within roughly a 15–20 mile radius of her bases at Coltishall and Letheringsett. In marked contrast with Parson Woodforde’s diary, compiled at the same time little more than 17 or 18 miles away, there is no sense of rural isolation.
Towns played a vital role as local hubs and providers of services. Mary Hardy relied on the towns for stimulus. Norwich, the provincial capital seen on the 1779 map at the banner, is a constant presence. The vitality of its chapel life gave the diarist great satisfaction in her last years, when she was able to stay at her daughter’s home just two miles from the city.