An introduction to The Diary of Mary Hardy

This wide-ranging diary throws new light on eighteenth-century English country life and work. Mary Hardy (1733–1809) was the wife of a Norfolk farmer, maltster and brewer.

The diary tracks developments in her personal life and in the family business. An observant, methodical woman, she covers the lives of the men and women who worked for them with meticulous precision.

But it is also an outward-looking record. One of its strengths lies in its charting, often in minute detail, of the many pressures and forces of change in wider society.

The Diary volumes, with the volumes of commentary Mary Hardy and her World, were Highly Commended for the Thirsk Rural History Prize 2021. They were judged “an amazing source”.

Buying the books

The complete Diary text, published by Burnham Press in April 2013, brings out the full scope of the diarist’s coverage.

The FRONT COVERS of the complete series of Mary Hardy volumes are pictured on the Home page.

You can buy the books in bookshops, from this website or from


Mary Hardy in 1798 aged 64, when she was a Wesleyan Methodist and had given up cards, dancing and the playhouse. The painting is by a talented Jewish artist whom she befriended, Manuel Immanuel (d.1834). His work included theatrical sets in Covent Garden and the provinces as well as portraits. In 1799 the diarist provided her Letheringsett home as a retreat during his holy day  [Cozens-Hardy Collection]

Mary Hardy is pictured at the banner (top) aged 51, when she was dressed for the playhouse. When she was painted again aged 64 (above) her lifestyle had changed completely.

While devout she was tolerant in religious matters, being eager to worship in a variety of churches, chapels and cottage meetings.

The full Burnham Press edition

The four-volume Diary of Mary Hardy 1773–1809 is an abridged edition and gives us the text of two-thirds of the diarist’s writing.

The third volume, Diary 3, also contains the full text 17931797 of the daily diary written by her young nephew Henry Raven (17771825). He lived with the Hardy family while serving as their brewery apprentice.

At 73,000 words—in addition to his aunt’s 500,000—it is an extraordinary testament to the toil of the men he worked alongside.

The four hardback volumes contain 1300 illustrations, and nearly 460 pages of detailed indexes. The very full editorial notes in the margins, right beside the daily entries, guide the reader and ensure that the text is accessible to a modern audience.

The other one-third of Mary Hardy’s diary was also published in April 2013, as The Remaining Diary of Mary Hardy. A paperback, it is pure transcription, with almost no editorial additions.

It serves as a supplement to the other four volumes, filling in the missing days.

Until now only brief extracts from Mary Hardy’s record had appeared, in 1957 and 1968, edited by Basil Cozens-Hardy.

The hardworking wife and the apprentice

Mary Hardy and Henry Raven wrote in the small village of Letheringsett, near Holt. She had begun her diary at Coltishall, on the reed-fringed waterways of the Norfolk Broads seen at the banner.

Henry and his aunt kept track of the men who journeyed over 100 miles a week by cart to deliver the beer while also carrying out all their other duties.

E. Bartell's Cromer map of 1806 by F. Pank

North Norfolk in 1806, bounded by Holt (left), Cromer, Happisburgh, North Walsham and Aylsham. This formed part of the territory supplied with the Hardys’ beer from Letheringsett, one mile west of Holt. Their 101 outlets stretched over to Burnham Market, off the map to the west, and to Stalham round the coast to the south-east  [map by F. Pank, from Edmund Bartell jnr’s Cromer considered as a Watering Place, 1806]

Neither Mary Hardy nor Henry Raven wrote with posterity in mind. While logging the activities of the household and workforce they also let many additional items creep in. We are made aware of illness, debt, politics and war—and occasionally riot—as the backdrop to their lives.

Praise from the reviewers

The Diary of Mary Hardy has received warm praise from reviewers.

In one review, by Professor G.M. Ditchfield, it is judged “One of the most consistent, enduring and revealing primary sources of its period”.

He highlights the significance of the diary in capturing the lives of those otherwise lost to us:

“Behind the emotional reticence there is a day-by-day description of rural life, all the more valuable for its compilation by that comparative rarity, a female diarist deeply involved in the world of work, both as toiler and as employer.

Through Mary Hardy, we encounter many individuals whose identities, apart from the registration by the parish of their rites of passage, are otherwise lost to us.”

Another reviewer sees it as “A wonderful view of an upwardly mobile ‘middling family'”. The diary of Mary Hardy provides “a revealing insight into the powerful forces at work in accelerating economic and social change”.

You can read more under Diary Reviews.

You can explore these pages to learn about the 32-year Mary Hardy project.

The Diary’s appeal—and peeking inside

The publishers’ page describes just some of the readers who will find the books absorbing. The diary will appeal to the general reader, to family and local historians, the specialist, and to teachers and researchers.

To peek inside, see the video published in May 2013 by an American reader, Kelly McDonald of Vermont. Her tribute to the Diary’s appeal, it lasts a little over a minute on YouTube.

More now published

The editor Margaret Bird has also completed four volumes of commentary, Mary Hardy and her World 1773–1809. The study was published in April 2020.

Each volume is more than 800 pages long and, like the Diary volumes, contains hundreds of illustrations, detailed annotations and an extensive index.