The Diarists

A joint endeavour

The Hardys were most united: they worked together and supported one another throughout the diary years. The correspondence of succeeding generations in the nineteenth century suggests the family was also an openly affectionate one.

Each individual had a strongly independent streak. Nevertheless they kept closely in touch and prized their family unity.

The manuscript diaries of Mary Hardy and Henry Raven are not written in their hand alone. Family co-operation over diary-keeping, so evident on the page, was testament to a closer bond.


Mary Ann Hardy (1773-1864), aged eleven, in a portrait by Huquier which forms a set with those of her parents seen also on this website. She is dressed for the playhouse at Holt, where her picture hat would have hampered the view of the ‘stage’; the venue was an outbuilding behind the White Lion. Mary Ann loyally maintained her mother’s diary when Mary Hardy was ill and during Raven’s fatal illness, and contributed more than 5000 words  [Cozens-Hardy Collection]

Diary entries: contributions by the family

Some bald statistics, tabulated in full in Volume 1 of Mary Hardy and her World, convey the way the family pulled together.

Mary Hardy’s husband and children wrote in her diary, echoing her style and making sure no day was missed when she was too ill to write or was distracted by other tasks. Henry Raven’s mentor, his cousin William seven years older than himself, wrote in his.

William Hardy set the recording style for his wife in the opening pages, making the entries for the first few months 1773–74. In just the same way William Hardy junior began the diary for Henry in 1793, when Henry was just past his sixteenth birthday.

This is a summary of their contributions:

The diary of Mary Hardy contains 499,727 words in total.

Of this, Mary Hardy wrote 94·3 % and William Hardy 2 %.

Their children also wrote entries: Raven 2·5 %, William 0·1 % and Mary Ann nearly 1·5 %, with a negligible contribution by other family members.

The diary of Henry Raven contains 73,159 words. Of this, Henry wrote 96 % and his cousin William Hardy junior 4 %.

Henry’s younger brother Nathaniel wrote 80 words in the diary.

Problems with the rector

This co-operative spirit does not mean however that they never fell out with others. On the contrary, the diary is riddled with tensions, temporary hostilities and occasionally lasting breaches. These add to the interest in what might otherwise be an anodyne record when it comes to personal relations.

Mary Hardy was capable of taking against others fairly readily. She embraced her husband’s side, for instance, in his difficulties with the Letheringsett rector John Burrell, and injected some extra combativeness of her own into their disputes.

Some of the incidents were petty, as in quarrels over ducks and blocking up a doorway to the churchyard from the Hardys’ home. Others were more serious.

The Hardys found his sermons very hard to take. Mr Burrell had a vehement speaking style, as we know from a published sermon on “The vortex of Gallic fury” (quoted in Volume 3 of the commentary). His highly political views strayed into his injunctions from the pulpit—one of which Mary Hardy called a harangue.

He was a Tory who supported the wars of the time. The Hardys, while loyal subjects and supportive of the monarchy, were pro-peace Whigs.

Mr Burrell wanted the leading farmers to let their men off work for public fasts in support of British troops and sailors in the French wars. The Hardys kept their men at their tasks and away from church.

He was a Sabbatarian who opposed Sunday working. The Hardys, and perforce their men, treated Sundays and even Easter Day as working days.

The village children lose out

The rector’s new approach to funding the village Sunday school alienated the diarist permanently from teaching her little “Sunday scholars”. John Burrell and Mary Hardy had for years striven side by side in this mission from 1786.

The school soon fell into abeyance. The children of the poor lost out, and were no longer taught to read and sing.

Yet overall there was mutual respect between the two families, and Mary Hardy managed to work successfully with the rector’s first wife in parish matters.

Lasting breaches—and pulling together

A vengeful tinge to Mary Hardy’s nature led to lasting breaches, as happened with the surgeon Charles Bendy of Horstead and the Coltishall schoolmaster John Smith (in Diary 1). For three years there was a total breach with her brother, the Whissonsett grocer Nathaniel Raven, and his immediate family (Diary 2).

The falling-out with her sister-in-law Ann Raven, widow of Robert, of Whissonsett Hall lasted from 1805 to the diarist’s death (Diary 4). This sorrow is referred to under Henry Raven.

There were however no such divisions within Mary Hardy’s immediate family. They pulled as one. Nothing could show this more clearly than their reactions to the crisis in 1776 at their tied house, the Recruiting Sergeant at Horstead.

When one of the Hardys’ public houses found itself without a tenant her husband installed their farm servant Zeb Rouse as temporary innkeeper. Mary Hardy helped out during the interregnum, often working there without her husband and taking her children with her. This stressful time is narrated day by day in the first Diary volume.

Stress-filled lives

Such stresses became part of the hardworking family’s life, and of the lives of those around them.

The Recruiting Sergeant had four innkeepers in five years 1773–78. The King’s Head at Hoveton, another Hardy house, had five over the same period.

Innkeeping was a stressful business which drained the finances and the stamina of many who attempted it. Life then was far from restful, and some of the toll was borne by the brewer who had to keep the show on the road.

The Hardys kept their small workforce on a tight rein, and tried to impose a similar discipline on any innkeepers prone to drinking too much. Ben Ginby, their tenant at the Tunstead house then known as the Wilkes’s Head (later the Horse and Groom), was inclined to linger too long at the Sergeant when paying his dues.

Unwisely Ben Ginby lured away the Hardys’ skilled and much valued maltster, William Frary. The tale is told in the first of the Diary volumes and in Volume 2 of the commentary.

You can read more on the commentary pages about the diarists Mary Hardy and Henry Raven, and the Hardy family generally.