The Hardy family

The diarist Mary Hardy was born Mary Raven in 1733. Her fellow diarist Henry Raven was born to her brother Robert in 1777. Their diaries were written in the house seen here: Letheringsett Hall. The east front is pictured as remodelled by William Hardy junior in 1834.

Henry may also have made his entries in the brewery counting house across the road.

The Hardy and Raven families were all working people. Not one engaged in a life of leisure, and some were straitened financially in the harsh trading conditions of the time. Debt and bankruptcy proved a constant threat, and very many in their circle succumbed.

William Hardy in 1798

Mary Hardy’s husband William in 1798, aged 66, by Immanuel (detail). He had retired in the autumn of 1797. He loyally supported his son whenever needed, attending Holt market in William’s absences on business. The Hardys worked very effectively together  [Cozens-Hardy Collection]

Keeping the diary as an unbroken record

Both diaries were written in the Norfolk countryside. But Mary Hardy’s, unlike Henry’s, is also set in the places where she took her very rare holidays.

Until her husband’s retirement in 1797 these breaks were business- or family-related. The couple ordered supplies, for instance, in London in 1777. They also made time for the sights of the capital.

Two breaks consisted of visits to the extended family: to William Hardy’s mother in Yorkshire in 1775 and in Lancashire in 1787.

Keeping the record was paramount. Illness and holidays away from home could not be allowed to interrupt the narrative. The massive counting-house ledgers in which Mary Hardy wrote her diary were too heavy to pack, so the entries would be copied from scraps of paper once she got home.

The Yorkshire background

William Hardy remained a proud Yorkshireman all his life. He was born on 26 January 1732 at Scotton, a township of the parish of Farnham, near Knaresborough in the West Riding.

Like his wife he was one of five children, one of whom died very young. He lost his younger brother James; Mary Hardy lost her younger sister Rose Ann. Both were old enough at the time to remember the deaths.

When William Hardy died at Sprowston on 18 August 1811 at his daughter Mary Ann’s farmhouse outside Norwich he was carried 22 miles home to Letheringsett.

There at his burial on 22 August the rector noted William Hardy’s Yorkshire origins in the parish register, as he had doubtless been instructed to do.


William Hardy’s Yorkshire connections are a constant presence in his wife’s diary. His feisty mother Ann, who died in 1789 aged 84, stayed with the Hardys for a year while they lived at Coltishall. She had been publicly christened here at St Lambert, Burneston, North Yorkshire in 1706. Her parents Richard Nolson and Ann Cudbert had married in this church in 1701. And here she married William Hardy of Scotton in 1731

William Hardy’s brother Joseph, twenty years his junior, followed him into the Excise and had postings in Wigan and Hull. Although separated by the demands of their jobs the brothers remained close.

William Hardy’s mother Ann, née Nolson

William Hardy’s father had died on 24 January 1766 aged 65, a month after the marriage in Norfolk of his eldest son William. His widow Ann lived nearly another 24 years, her zest for life coming across in their daughter-in-law’s record.

While staying a year with the family 1778–79 she took her equally feisty grandson William, aged nine, to watch the execution of five felons in Norwich. The Hardys, like thousands of others, believed in the educational value of such trips. William’s father had taken him to his first public hanging when William was only 4¼.

Ann Hardy kept house for Joseph when he was posted to Lancashire. In 1787 William and Mary Hardy journeyed to Wigan via London to stay with them. The diarist became acquainted with a different world from her own: one of factories, and coal pits, and the Nonconformist movement known as Lady Huntingdon’s Connexion.

An early introduction to Methodism

Ann and Joseph Hardy were Methodists of the Countess’s Calvinist persuasion, their minister at Wigan being a famous figure in the Connexion: John Johnson. Soon after the Hardys’ visit he was sent across the Atlantic in the Countess’s service.

There are hints from the diary that Mary Hardy was at first drawn to this branch of Methodism in Norfolk until the Wesleyans took over in her area.

Richard Lyne has done a great deal of research into the family’s history. In 2018 he unearthed new connections including the Nolsons of Burneston and the place of Henry Raven’s 1805 marriage—Stepney, East London.

Richard is descended from Mary Hardy via the senior branch of Clement Cozens-Hardy of Cley Hall (Mary Ann Hardy’s eldest grandson: the boy with the hoop). Grateful acknowledgment is made to him for his expansion of the Hardy and Raven family trees.

Regional voices and a dictionary of Norfolk speech

William Hardy’s Yorkshire accent emerges in the diaries of both his wife and Henry Raven. They did their best to keep up, but could not always fathom what he was saying: “Boon” for Bunn; “Rums Cat oysters” for Ramsgate oysters; “hoops” for hops.

The diarists themselves had marked Norfolk accents, as in Mary Hardy’s “tamer” for teamerman, and “Ayster” for Easter. Henry Raven wrote “planen dales” for planing deals.

Volume 1 of the commentary contains an appendix of 167 examples of Norfolk dialect and accent. They used vigorous forms of speech, as in “James Cornwell broke down the wagon” where we might today write that the drayman had a breakdown with the wagon.

“To come home” is a verb applied to inanimate objects. When the wherry sailed upriver to the Hardys’ staithe she “came home”. When eight-year-old Mary Ann’s stays (corsets) were delivered we hear that “Mary Ann’s stays came home.” Great casks too came home.

Dialect words offer precision. The frontage of a house, the elevation, is the headhome. Henry notes, “Mr Bunnett and lad all day putting in sashes in headhome”.

The “rawing” is the aftermath: the second crop of hay of the season. There is a wealth of descriptive language for the weather, as in “cack” and “dagly” for wet, messy conditions.

The different background of husband and wife is indicated by their language. In Norfolk, a county of brick houses, the usual term then for a builder was bricklayer. What we would today call a bricklayer was a trowelman. But when William Hardy noted builders’ work in his wife’s diary he used a term from his upbringing in a county of stone: masons.

There is more about the Hardy family on the commentary pages Mary Hardy and her World.