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.

Letheringsett malt-kiln cowls

The Letheringsett maltings: the kilns built by Mary Hardy’s son William. He also built this bridge in 1818, still today carrying the King’s Lynn to Cromer road. Henry Raven the apprentice tells us of long hours in this vertically integrated enterprise

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.

Labourers’ lives

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.

It is transcribed in its entirety alongside his aunt’s in Diary 3. It forms a prime source for much of the material in Volume 2 of Mary Hardy and her World.

Henry Raven's diary December 1795 riots

The apprentice Henry Raven’s diary for 16-22 December 1795. This 73,000-word document paints a detailed picture of working life: he was grinding malt on Tuesday the 22nd at the water-powered malt-mill next to the kilns. Here the 18-year-old also records soldiers passing through Letheringsett on Sunday the 20th to quell a bread riot nearby  [Cozens-Hardy Collection]

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.”

You can read more about the award-winning article, its initial publication and Alan Crosby’s observations on the News pages. The article can be downloaded free of charge.

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.

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…