Georgian Holt at Work and Play to be published 3 Apr. 2023

The Holt Society’s booklet Georgian Holt at Work and Play is being published on 3 April 2023. Written by Margaret Bird, this introduction to the men, women and children of the north Norfolk market town of Holt 1780–1810 is based largely on the writings of the local diarist Mary Hardy (pictured at the top).

A lively read

This portrait of Holt’s commercial and social life provides answers to some intriguing questions. What was it like to live and work in Holt at that time? What were the five factors that made the town special? Which were its key buildings, and where was the theatre?


The front cover of the booklet shows a late-18th-century clock made by the Holt craftsman Francis Dusgate (d.1801 aged 77). It belongs to the Holt Society’s chairman Keith Gosden and his wife Kate

In the booklet’s 32 pages we meet the town’s hard-pressed innkeepers facing a harsh economic climate. We learn about Holt’s capable women, many holding down vital jobs. And we discover why its schoolchildren were particularly fortunate in the 18th century under inspired masters.

The backdrop of divisive politics, near-continuous war and damaging enclosure is always present. It was a challenging time for the townsfolk, with debt and bankruptcy awaiting those who could not surmount the pressures.

The wide-ranging contents

The chapters cover a wide range, and explore subjects often overlooked in such studies:

Foreword by the Chairman of the Holt Society

Map of Holt in 1810

  1. Holt’s claims to prominence
  2. The town at work
  3. The town at prayer
  4. Women to the fore
  5. Children’s schooldays
  6. The town in wartime
  7. The town at play

Postscript: a tale of two obelisks

Designed for a popular readership

With its high-quality production by Barnwell Print Ltd of Aylsham and its 46 illustrations, mostly in full colour, Georgian Holt at Work and Play is designed to give pleasure and be an easy read. However, like all Margaret Bird’s writings, it is founded on thorough research and scholarship. Each picture carries an interesting caption and all sources are fully cited on the page, not in endnotes.

The price of £5.00 also makes it an attractive gift. From 3 April 2023 it will be available in local and regional bookshops and direct from the Holt Society.

A Holt Society publication

The short study marks a departure for the Holt Society, which has generally featured the local buildings and townscape in its publications. This booklet, by contrast, is about people: their work, their religious leanings, the status of women and the ways the townsfolk spent the very few leisure hours available to them.

Keith Gosden, the society’s chairman, outlined the genesis of the booklet in his Newsletter to the members in February 2023:

Some of you may recall that the Society sponsored a walking tour of Mary Hardy’s Georgian Holt which formed part of the 2022 Holt Festival. The two walks were very successful and thoroughly enjoyed by those who were able to attend. Unfortunately, for safety reasons, the numbers for the walks had to be limited, leaving some people disappointed. To compensate for this, after the walk I spoke to Margaret Bird, who both devised and led the walks, to see if, together, we could compile a booklet outlining the walk and her excellent commentary that could then be sold to a much wider audience.

The walking tours of July 2022 are described in the Burnham Press news pages, where you can read much more about the scope of the subsequent booklet Georgian Holt at Work and Play.

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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

See inside…