Mary Hardy (1733–1809)

Mary Hardy, née Raven, lived all her life in Norfolk, on the eastern seaboard of England.

She wrote her diary every day: first at Coltishall, north-east of Norwich, from 1773 to 1781; and then at Letheringsett, near the coast at Cley, from 1781 until her death on 23 March 1809.

Mary Hardy is pictured on these pages aged 51 and aged 64.

The Ravens of Whissonsett

The diarist, born on 12 November 1733, was shaped by her Whissonsett upbringing in central Norfolk. The powerful tug of her childhood homeland is sensed throughout the diary. And she gave her first son her own family name rather than his father’s forename.

The ancestral home of the Ravens is seen at the banner. Now Church Farm, it had the manorial name Watts in her time. She calls it the Shop as the family grocery stood against the road slightly to the left of the picture.

Her own home at the junction of London Street and Mill Road was then named Gurneys; she refers to it as the Malthouse.

The large farm and moated manor house to which her father moved in his later years is referred in the diary as the Hall. This was the childhood home of her fellow diarist Henry Raven.

The birth of the diary

As explained under The Diarists, for the first few months William Hardy made the entries in his wife’s diary, writing in her person.

The opening entry of 28 November 1773, in his hand, includes a reference to Mary Hardy’s recovery after the birth of Mary Ann when she was forty: “Went to church after lying in 3 weeks and 4 days.”

It is entirely possible the diary sprang from Mary Hardy’s devout thankfulness for her triple preservation from the perils of childbirth and for the blessing of her (small) quiverful of children. All three children were to survive childhood.

The diary as an act of thanksgiving?

The diarist records some of her female friends celebrating the Church of England service of churching, based on the pre-Reformation rite of purification. The service, still in the Prayer Book, contains words of thanksgiving and praise for the sparing of the mother.

Sensitively, a choice of prayers was offered, according to whether the baby had survived or died.

Although this is speculation, the serious-minded Mary Hardy may have already determined in 1773 that Mary Ann would be her last child. She had been preserved. Her life thereafter was a gift often not granted to women of child-bearing age.

The days and years that were to follow had meaning. And so the incomparable diary was born.

A self-effacing diarist

Mary Hardy was preoccupied with chronicling the activities of those around her: her immediate family, and the workforce of the small farm, maltings and brewery. In many ways her writing is masculine. She modelled her style on her husband’s, who as an excise officer had been required to keep precise and detailed records.

Mary Hardy's diary, Sept. 1776

Mary Hardy’s long narrow columns. Here in 1776 innkeepers pay for beer, the head man William Frary is “drunk all day” (on 25 September), and her husband returns from his London trip for hops and rum; Frary had taken advantage of his master’s absence. But the fallible Frary was at work again the next day, with two others from the team, “in the Roads”. They were road-mending: a parochial commitment by the ratepayers  [Cozens-Hardy Collection]

The great strength of Mary Hardy’s text lies in its suppression of self. She immerses herself in the world of beer deliveries, orders and payments, ploughing, sowing, malting, the search for new retail outlets and for a maltings and brewery of their own. Her husband was at first a manager, not an owner.

As a result we are given a superb business record, many elements of which are unique for this period.

Looking outwards

But it is more than this. On taking over command of the diary in 1774 Mary Hardy expanded and humanised the brusque entries of her husband. She started to relate more about the children, and friendship, and visits from the wider family.

She also looked outwards at what was happening around her and in the world at large. Bankruptcy, taxes, politics, elections, and war on land and at sea are some of the scenes depicted on her canvas.

Norwich a part of her world

The provincial capital, Norwich, was integrated in the Hardys’ lives. For more than a year 1777–78 Mary Hardy thought she might be living there, as her husband was actively negotiating for Nockold Tompson’s brewery in St Stephen’s Street, with its maltings and tied houses.

From a shopkeeping family herself, the diarist felt very much at home in commercial circles and had firm friends among the wholesale shopkeepers of Norwich. One, John Cozens, became her daughter’s brother-in-law in 1805.

Norwich map 1779 in colour

A map of Norwich of 1779, dedicated to the mayor, Roger Kerrison. A year later William Hardy bought the Letheringsett brewery from him. While at Coltishall he had long tried to buy Tompson’s brewery in St Stephen’s; the street leads south-west from near the Castle (on the high mound) to St Stephen’s Gate and the London road. Mary Hardy’s diary came close to being an urban and not a country journal  [Cozens-Hardy Collection]

Shops, services, the theatre, the pleasure gardens, public hangings, general elections and by-elections, Guild Day for the new mayor, the ringing of the new peal of bells at St Peter Mancroft: all these drew her to the city.

Mary Hardy, her son Raven and her good friend Sarah Bartell from Holt were present for the woolcombers’ parade to celebrate peace in 1783. They could have rubbed shoulders with the Revd James Woodforde up from Weston. Her fellow diarist was also in the throng and excitedly wrote up the event.

In the early years of the diary Norwich was the place where she took the coach for London. In the diary entries illustrated on this page we read: “Mr Hardy came home from London evening 11 [at 11 pm] in two days.” The stage coach would have dropped him after the long, weary journey at the inns between the Castle and Market Place marked on the 1779 map.

Mary Hardy’s spiritual pilgrimage

Her religious odyssey can be charted from her diary. In 36 years she progressed from an Anglican “twicer” (attending two Church of England services on a Sunday) to being double-minded (attending both Anglican and Nonconformist services) and then to being exclusively a Nonconformist.

She no longer danced, went to the playhouse, or played cards. Her two portraits chart this progression.

By 1798, aged 64, she had become a paid-up member of the Wesleyan Methodists nearby at Cley. She was happy to go as well to Baptist meetings, her son-in-law Jeremiah Cozens being a Calvinistic Baptist.

Mary Hardy ceased attending any parish church two years before her death. Her last church service was at Briningham, three miles from her home, to hear an Anglican gospel preacher whom she greatly admired.

Briningham church rails

Briningham Church, with its curvaceous Communion rails of c.1700. Here in her last years Mary Hardy took family and friends to hear Evangelical “gospel preachers”. She also attended her last Anglican service here in 1807. The guttering candle, emblem of the extinguishing of life, has symbolism for her readers. She had a near-fatal seizure or heart attack a few months later, but recovered after some weeks and embraced Methodism with even greater intensity

Her son William had first heard William Upjohn at Field Dalling Church, west of Letheringsett. She and her daughter had, as usual, been driven to the Wesleyan Methodists five miles away:

“September 30, 1804  ·  A fine day . . . I, Mary Ann and William Girling [the brewery clerk] went to Briston meeting afternoon. William went to Dalling Church afternoon. A new curate preached there, his name is William Upjohn, he is a very young man and a gospel preacher.”

More about Mary Hardy

There is more about her life under the pages for Mary Hardy and her World. The story of her descendants is illustrated under Archive Sources and the Mary Hardy Project.

To read more about what Mary Hardy has to tell us, try browsing the pages under Our Readers.