An introduction to Mary Hardy and her World

This well-illustrated study describes and analyses rural society in the late 18th century. Drawing on the diary of Mary Hardy, the four volumes Mary Hardy and her World portray working life in vivid detail.

They are attracting very enthusiastic reviews, and equally appreciative feedback. Two volumes were shortlisted in separate categories for the East Anglian Book Awards 2020.

All four volumes, with the Diary volumes, were Highly Commended for the Thirsk Rural History Prize 2021. They were judged “an amazing source”.

The work was published in April 2020 and contains more than 3330 pages, including detailed indexes. The volumes can be bought individually or as a set. Their wide-ranging coverage is described on the pages listed in the sidebar.

“A veritable cornucopia. This resource stands comparison with already treasured big diaries from the eighteenth century”  Professor Penelope J. Corfield

Buying the books

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

Hardship and working life in rural society

Mary Hardy and her World is built around the life and times of Mary Hardy (1733–1809), pictured (top) aged 51.

The wife of Yorkshire-born William Hardy, a farmer, maltster and brewer in Norfolk, she recorded their home life and, notably, their working lives every day and in precise detail in her 36-year diary.

You can read Mary Hardy’s story in her own words in the Diary volumes. The commentary Mary Hardy and her World explores the context of her diary-writing. It was a world of gritty endeavour and often hardship on the land, on the road and at sea.

Mary Hardy and her nephew and fellow diarist Henry Raven, writing in the same household, were not cushioned from hardship. At times they experienced it themselves.

The strength of their work is that they wrote of the labouring class as well as the farming and commercial class from which they sprang.

Unusually for diarists, they were not preoccupied with self in their daily entries. They were cogs in the larger mechanism—supporting the family business.

The 39 subject areas

You can enjoy this new work without reading the diary text. You will find its 39 subject areas listed in these pages in the sidebar links under World Volumes.

Like the Diary, each volume has a wealth of illustrations, full annotations (on the page to which they refer) and an extensive index.

The publishers Burnham Press describe just some of the readers who will find the books absorbing. These volumes will appeal to the general reader, to family and local historians, to the specialist, and to teachers and researchers.

The printers, Gomer Press Ltd of West Wales, have produced a set of books which are a delight to hold.

Wide-ranging explorations giving unique coverage

Mary Hardy’s diary opens on 28 November 1773 at Coltishall, on the waterways of the Norfolk Broads in eastern England.

In April 1781 she, her husband and three children moved to Letheringsett Hall, four miles from the north Norfolk coast. Raven, William and Mary Ann were then aged thirteen, eleven and seven.

Her journal ends on 21 March 1809. She died two days later and was buried in Letheringsett churchyard on 29 March.

King's Head, Holt

One of the 101 public houses supplied by the Hardys. They lived in the Glaven valley at Letheringsett Hall, down the hill from the market town of Holt seen here. The river powered their brewery

In her diary she ranges far more widely than the two villages in which she wrote.

These volumes of commentary and analysis draw on her extraordinary manuscript. It is exceedingly unusual to find a woman of little formal education creating a sustained record of this magnitude. It is remarkable for both its breath and its depth.

In his book review of the Diary volumes in 2013 the brewery historian Ken Smith highlighted one of the unique areas of Mary Hardy’s recording:

“From the perspective of a brewery historian, the volumes cover the expansion of the brewery from a tiny enterprise through the acquisition of property and brewing premises. A story repeated across the country but never documented in first-hand detail.”

Letheringsett brewery pre-1879

Probably the earliest depiction of the Hardys’ brewery at Letheringsett, by Mary Hardy’s great-granddaughter Cecilia Willans (1840–79), née Cozens-Hardy. The Hardys’ home lay across this main road. The striking emphasis on mobility in the outward-looking diary derives from the brewing trade. Their draymen covered more than 500 miles a month, in all weathers  [Cozens-Hardy Collection]

A living text

The Diary of Mary Hardy 1773–1809 was published on 30 April 2013. It received critical acclaim, with extremely favourable reviews.

The diary is a living text, and much that was familiar to the Hardys remains with us today. The banner images on this website make the point. Here the black-sailed trader Albion passes St Benet’s Abbey on the Norfolk Broads. The Hardys built their own small wherry which regularly plied the River Bure bringing coal from Great Yarmouth.

Mary Hardy gives us an eighteenth-century wherry log—just one of a series of unique resources. Some of the others will be described on this website.

A debt of gratitude

This major historical project has involved 32 years of continuous research and writing by Margaret Bird. You can discover more here about the Mary Hardy Project.

The long task also involved a very large number of people, notably the diarist’s descendants and members of specialist societies such as the Brewery History Society, Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society and Norfolk Wherry Trust. You can read more about the Cozens-Hardy family under Archive Sources and see the list of societies under Links.

The Acknowledgments pages in each volume of Mary Hardy and her World contain hundreds of names. Margaret Bird is extremely grateful to them all. Many of the illustrations on this website, including the one above, are from the private archive the Cozens-Hardy Collection.

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Pre-publication article

Rowan Mantell highlights some intriguing features of Mary Hardy’s record:  250-year-old diary