“Incredibly rich material”

“Everything about the presentation of this incredibly rich material has been considered with the reader in mind.”

So writes Maggie Vaughan-Lewis, the former County Archivist for Surrey and now a Norfolk-based historian, in the Journal of the Aylsham Local History Society published in August 2013 (vol. 9, no. 8, pp. 294–6).

“A work of an outstanding scale”

After referring to the very abridged extracts published by Basil Cozens-Hardy in 1968 Maggie Vaughan-Lewis continues:

“If Margaret Bird had ‘just’ transcribed the whole of Mary Hardy’s output, half a million words covering nearly 36 years from 1773 to 1809, published together in five volumes, it would have been a work of an outstanding scale.

However, over the last 25 years she has undertaken in-depth research on every topic and person that the entries encompass, knowledge that has opened up two further areas to the work.”

“The detailed footnotes”

“Firstly the detailed footnotes, which are rather unusually but very conveniently placed down the side of the page, illuminate what could be otherwise fairly obscure entries . . .

Secondly, her research, and her own training as an 18th-century historian, has allowed Margaret to write an analysis of the diaries—yet to be published in another four volumes (Mary Hardy and her World) to accompany the first five. I know of no other author who has single-handedly attempted, let alone achieved, such a task.”

“The 460-page index is especially user-friendly”

In her analysis Maggie Vaughan-Lewis devotes a lot of attention to the diary editor’s style of presentation and to her typesetting technique. After applauding the choice of a font which minimises the impact of the eighteenth-century fondness for lavish use of capitals the reviewer turns to the glossary, individual maps, family trees and indexes in each of the four Diary volumes:

“Not only is the reader provided with a very useful glossary, family trees and a map of the north Norfolk landscape that was Mary’s world, but the 460-page index is also especially user-friendly.

Rather than indexed to a page number in the normal way, references are given to the date of the relevant entry. That means the reader can eliminate or choose a reference without having to check every one. A novel idea which at first I found odd but on using the volumes now appreciate the more.”

The usefulness of The Remaining Diary

The review continues with reflections on the fifth volume, a paperback entitled The Remaining Diary of Mary Hardy. This contains the entries not included in the hardback four-volume Diary set.

“The format of the first four volumes is standard hardback book size complete with indexes. The fifth volume is an A4 paperback format and has no index or sidenotes.

It has been thought odd by some to have omitted entries of less interest from the first four volumes only to publish them in the fifth. Margaret Bird’s explanation is that she felt the duller, repetitive entries would have drowned out the liveliness of the rest. On seeing that these extra entries comprise 44% of the original section from 1781 to 1809, I suspect she was right.

But I also agree that it would have been wrong to lose such a quantity of the text . . . These entries in this extra volume are also a boon to weather historians as Mary never fails to tell us what each day brings.”

“Expert analysis” to come

The review contains a note of regret:

“If there is a downside (though it seems churlish to find one), it is that it would have been wonderful if the commentary volumes were available with the text. Of course this was not possible given the workload, but it is difficult to see the overview of the themes in the diary when presented with the mass of detail.

We await Margaret’s expert analysis with great interest.”