The Hardy family

The story of the Hardys from the opening of the diary in 1773 to the death of Mary Hardy’s second son William in 1842 is one of almost uninterrupted expansion and increasing wealth.

From tenant farmer to lord of the manor

Their mission in the early years to establish themselves somewhere on a secure financial footing and develop roots had been fully accomplished.

William Hardy in 1785 by Huquier

The diarist’s husband William Hardy (1732–1811) aged 53, by James Gabriel Huquier. He may be signalling to us. He wears the Whig colours of blue and buff. The brewer, like the younger Samuel Whitbread, was a fervent anti-war Whig and supporter of Charles James Fox  [Cozens-Hardy Collection]

In 1773 William Hardy, aged 41, was a small tenant farmer and brewery manager at Coltishall. Thirty years later his son was lord of the manor of Letheringsett Laviles, estate owner, and thriving porter brewer.

In 1773 the elder brewer was bringing up a family in a small, low-ceilinged rented house. In 1809 the younger brewer started to transform Letheringsett Hall, still owned by his father, into a substantial country house with a striking architect-designed Greek Doric portico.

The years of hardship

William Hardy’s years of hardship and itinerancy as an excise officer—the life which the diarist had to embrace on their marriage in 1765—were behind him. Their son William had been born in 1770 at Litcham in mid-Norfolk, where William Hardy had been stationed in the Excise until resigning the previous year.

The Bull, seen at the banner, was his local excise office. Here manufacturers under survey, such as tanners, vinegar-makers and maltsters, would give notice that the overworked officer was needed to take the gauge.

The Excise has a dominant presence in Volumes 1 and 2.

The memory lingered. Mary Hardy eased the lives of itinerants, offering hospitality to excise officers’ wives, and meals and a bed for Methodist preachers and touring Evangelicals as they journeyed on their circuits.

Land acquisition

Throughout the diary years the manufacturing side prospered and production rose. There are pages of accounts in Volume 2 of the commentary and in Diary 4 showing detailed stock figures 1797–1804.

In 1800 William Hardy junior bought Letheringsett’s 350-acre manorial estate, adjoining the family property, and created beautiful wooded plantations on the slopes of this mixed farm. The family had never before been landowners of any size, a dispersed 56 acres forming the original Letheringsett purchase of 1780.

For the first time they had pasture on which to graze animals. At Coltishall Mary Hardy’s small dairy herd had only the one meadow next to their house by the river.

A Norfolk Horn shearling ewe

For the first time the Hardys took up sheep farming when William Hardy junior greatly expanded his landholdings in 1800. He chose the native breed, the Norfolk Horn: hardy, athletic, and engagingly friendly and inquisitive

Huge workforce dinners

William also diversified into sheep, choosing the unfashionable but sturdy Norfolk Horn breed. For the first time, towards the end of her life, his mother would record sheep washing and shearing.

From 1802 mutton rather than beef came to be served at the huge workforce dinners for sixty or seventy, including the men’s wives and children.

New ventures

Meadow management as well as afforestation became a new venture. William formed an osier carr near the River Glaven and attempted meadow ‘drowning’, where pastures are flooded in the winter with moving water so that in February and March the livestock have lush grass.

The last years of the diary are characterised by experiment and expansion, with no sense of decline other than through Mary Hardy’s failing health.

In 1840 William greatly enlarged his holdings by buying the Cley Hall estate. By the end of his life he could walk on his own land all the way to the sea four miles from his home, the house in which he had lived since 1781.

There is more about the Hardy family on the Diary pages.

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Pre-publication article

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