Mary Hardy Project

This undertaking took 32 years of continuous research and writing by Margaret Bird. In 1988 she asked Mary Hardy’s descendants, none of whom she knew, if she might work on their ancestor’s diary with a view to publication of the whole manuscript.

She was convinced there was material in the yellowing pages worth bringing to a wide audience. Basil Cozens-Hardy had published brief extracts in 1957 (The History of Letheringsett) and 1968 (Mary Hardy’s Diary). However at less than 10 per cent of her text they could not convey the full power of what she has to tell us.

Those hopes of 1988 have been realised. No one knew at the time how long the diary was, and how strenuous the work would prove.

Adding to the load, in 1992 Jeremy Cozens-Hardy, Basil’s son, showed Margaret the diary of the apprentice Henry Raven. Until then almost nothing was known of it. None of the teenager’s entries had ever been published or even quoted.

Only when the transcription and editing of the diary texts had been finished did it become evident that at 573,000 words the manuscripts of Mary Hardy and Henry Raven total, in number of words, something approaching the length of the Old Testament of the Bible—which, in the King James version, has 609,000 words.

The diarist’s descendants

Some of Mary Hardy's descendants at the launch

The book launch of the Diary in 2013: some of the 15 descendants of Mary Hardy are grouped with Margaret Bird beside the diarist’s portrait. Standing, from the left: John Phelps, Sam Phelps, [Margaret Bird], John Hirst, Raven Cozens-Hardy, Graham Solberg, William Cozens-Hardy, Mina Holland, Jane Anderson. Below them: Sue Rosser, John Cozens-Hardy and the speaker Caroline Holland

Particular acknowledgment is made to Mary Hardy’s descendants, the members of the extended Cozens-Hardy family. They have long been the custodians of the family papers, as described under Archive Sources.

Before the Diary volumes were published in 2013 they had to endure 25 years of wondering when some evident results would be produced after all the consultations and borrowings.

Many who helped did not live to see publication. They especially are remembered.

Fifteen of Mary Hardy’s descendants were present at the launch of the Diary volumes on 26 April 2013 in the refectory of Norwich Cathedral. They included the former Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk, Sir Timothy Colman, and 91-year-old John Cozens-Hardy. Son of Basil Cozens-Hardy, Mary Hardy’s first editor, John had travelled from Spain to take part.

John’s niece Caroline Holland, daughter of Jeremy Cozens-Hardy, made the opening speech at the event, followed by Michael Sparkes of the Norfolk Wherry Trust. It was a very happy occasion, with more than a hundred people present.

Divining rods, water power and real ale

Much of the research took place in libraries and record offices. A large part however was undertaken in the field, on the water, on walking tours, expeditions and among working parties of specialist groups.

Doing as well as thinking is required when exploring the past. Taking part with others helped to forge a link with Mary Hardy’s experiences.

Some of the most exhilarating moments of the project took place in unlikely settings:

  • The morning in the Public Record Office, now named the National Archives, when realisation dawned that William Hardy had served for years in the Excise—something erased from his descendants’ memory
  • The sense of awe when the divining rods spun forcefully in both my hands while I traced underground watercourses in the Letheringsett brewery yard with the industrial archaeologists
  • The sound of the release of the rush of water from the leat onto the waterwheel at Gunton Park Sawmill
  • Watching the yeast head working strongly in the fermenting tun in real-ale craft breweries
  • The powerful pull from tiller and sheet as the wherry Albion (seen on this page’s banner) heeled in the wind

The writing owes a great deal to the musings and discoveries of others. Profound gratitude is paid here, and in the books, to countless enthusiasts eager to pass on their knowledge of their patch.

The Norfolk Record Office (NRO)

The county repository the Norfolk Record Office has been the principal public source consulted for this project. It is housed in a magnificent modern building in Norwich with highly experienced and helpful staff, some of whom have been in post from before the project’s inception in 1988.

Parish and diocesan archives form the backbone of the Diary editorial annotations.

Both the Diary and commentary sets of volumes have also relied heavily on quarter sessions minutes and orders, enclosure records, manorial court books, business archives, estate papers, chapel musters of the faithful (and the backsliders), and many more.

The Bell, Salhouse

‘Tying’ came early as brewers competed to secure outlets. The Bell at Salhouse was one of 49 public houses supplied with Wells’s Coltishall beer in 1744

Sometimes vital business intelligence is hidden in family papers. This is the case with the dynasty named Wells, who were brewing at Coltishall from the 1720s or earlier and were already starting to secure their sales outlets by ‘tying’ them to the brewery.

Archives in the NRO show that Wells’s brewery at Coltishall had 22 tied houses in 1744. A further 27 were supplied then without tie, of which Salhouse was one. William Hardy became brewery manager for John Wells in 1772.

Manorial records are of exceptional interest in demonstrating the early scramble for property pursued by thrusting brewers. Copyhold tenure was widespread in Mary Hardy’s day, and the manor court books minute the proceedings.

Independent women in Mary Hardy’s time

Manorial law differed from common law in that married women had a distinct legal identity from their husbands’ in property, testamentary and other matters. They could represent themselves in the manor courts, as explained in Volume 1.

Coverture, under which wives lost their independence, was not as prevalent as is often asserted. Even modest families like the Hardys set up trusts and marriage contracts to ensure that husbands could not plunder their wives’ assets.

Mary Hardy lived among forceful women who were used to making wills and organising their affairs themselves. She gives every impression from her entries of being pretty forceful herself.

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Pre-publication article

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