The author Margaret Bird writes from Kingston upon Thames in January 2019:
I should like to record my gratitude to three people who have guided me along my way. Two were there from the start in 1988; the third joined in 2002. Their participation has been vital, and I have enjoyed sharing my work with them in the years up to publication.
Their comments serve as previews of Mary Hardy and her World.
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Two historians, Professor Richard G. Wilson and Professor Penelope J. Corfield, undertook the marathon task of reading my work in draft and sent very many helpful observations and suggestions. I am immensely grateful to them. Snippets from their responses are given here.
I am also very grateful to the Cozens-Hardy family for the access they have given me to their private collection of papers and for their spirited comradeship over the years. The Hon. Beryl Cozens-Hardy, both great-great-great-granddaughter and great-great-great-great-granddaughter of the diarist, received regular bulletins from me as I progressed. Her words preface each of the four volumes.
“A major historical undertaking”
Richard Wilson, an internationally renowned business and brewing historian, is the former Director of the Centre for East Anglian Studies at the University of East Anglia (UEA). A great admirer of diarists, he is also President of the Parson Woodforde Society.
He has sent a regular flow of encouraging and congratulatory e-mails over the past five years. As well as appreciating the “phenomenally hard work” such a project demands he is struck by the readability of Mary Hardy and her World:
“Incredibly impressive and most readable . . .; a major historical undertaking and a gold mine for historians.”
As Richard has kindly agreed to make a speech at the book launch in April 2020 I shall not stray deeper into his territory at this point.
A thirty-year sentence
It was Richard Wilson who directed the course of the project at our first meeting in November 1988, at UEA. I outlined to him what I thought would make a good study: the Coltishall diary of Mary Hardy, written 1773–81 while her husband was manager of the maltings and brewery beside their rented home, before the move to Letheringsett.
“Not a bit of it,” was Richard’s decided reaction. “You can’t just pick here and there. You’ll have to do the whole thing.” So the idea of concentrating on a seven-year manuscript was dropped. I was sentenced to more than 30 years’ hard labour covering the full 36 years of the diary.
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My second great debt is to my former tutor, who inspired and enthused me during my master’s in Modern History at Royal Holloway 2003–05. Penelope J. Corfield is Emeritus Professor at Royal Holloway, University of London, and Visiting Professor at Newcastle University, UK. A prolific writer, she is also President of the International Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.
When we first met, by chance, in November 2002 I set out my project as best I could; we were at a crowded party. She responded as instantly and incisively as the other two supporters featured on this page. I heard her words above the hubbub: “I’ll write your Foreword.” And so she did—in August 2018, from her London home.
“The magnificent enterprise”: Penelope J. Corfield’s praise
The Foreword appears in each volume. It opens:
“The magnificent enterprise that appears here in the form of Mary Hardy and her World is the stuff of a historian’s (happy) dream. For some time now, there has been an awakening interest in discovering personal documentation relating to women in history. They are, generally speaking, less famous and publicly important than men. Their lives are less recorded.
And, as a consequence, their fortunes have, until recently, been less studied. So that makes every new discovery a matter of some moment. Hence this full analysis of the voluminous diaries of Mary Hardy is positively epic.”
“An exceptionally wide range of topics”
Penelope Corfield then describes what makes diaries invaluable sources, and identifies some of the elements held in common by good diarists. Mary Hardy ranks among them:
“Between 1773 and 1809 Mary Hardy penned half a million words on an exceptionally wide range of topics. Indefatigably, she recorded details of her daily housework and family dynamics, her practices of childcare, her business as the working wife of a Norfolk farmer and brewer, her relationships with workers and servants, her active social life, her questing religious life, her observations on significant local and national events, and so forth, not excluding the weather.
In short, a veritable cornucopia. This resource stands comparison with already treasured big diaries from the eighteenth century, such as those of (in Britain) Parson James Woodforde (1740–1803), another Norfolk resident, or (in North America) the Philadelphian Quaker Elizabeth Drinker (1735–1807).”
“Voluminous diaries cry out for expert guides”
Penelope Corfield ends her Foreword by moving to my work as editor and interpreter of Mary Hardy’s extraordinary record:
“Voluminous diaries cry out for expert guides. That is where Mary Hardy has had the posthumous good fortune of finding her ideal editor and interpreter. It takes a lot of energy, pertinacity, and powers of self-organisation to maintain a daily diary over many years. Margaret Bird has proved equally pertinacious in studying these materials in depth.
Not only has she already presented the diaries immaculately in a stylish layout, but here she elucidates the material in a series of sustained essays. These convey Margaret Bird’s big-picture analysis of the world of Mary Hardy, accompanied by well-chosen illustrations, tables, graphs, maps, family trees and extensive side-notes.
There is much to savour, to learn, to debate.
Mary Hardy and her World constitutes a publication de luxe.”
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“So clear and skilled”: praise from beyond the grave“I think that’s very silly of you.”
With that put-down the ever emphatic Beryl Cozens-Hardy, aged 97, chided me in summer 2009 on being told that I wished to dedicate Mary Hardy and her World to her. Even nonagenarians shoot from the hip.
Beryl was sitting in her room at Letheringsett Hall overlooking the fast-flowing River Glaven—the same view her ancestor Mary Hardy would have known and loved. From the moment that I approached her in November 1988 to request permission to work on the manuscript diary, then still held at the Hall where it was written, Beryl had given lively and enthusiastic support to the stranger setting off on this arduous quest.
Stickability (her term) was one of the attributes she admired most in people. So I made sure I stuck at it.
Twenty-one years later, in November 2009 I invited Beryl to write a few words as a Preface to the volumes. The reply came by return of post. This snippet gives a flavour:
“Margaret’s writing is so clear and skilled, so well illustrated, so comprehensive, and so interesting, that I feel sure it will be much read and studied by generations of people wishing to learn more about life in Mary Hardy’s time.
The whole exercise is very serious and yet this mine of information remains ‘a good read’.
Our thanks go to Margaret, and to all her family for giving her the support she needed. They have all played a valuable part.”
Beryl Cozens-Hardy died in Mary Hardy’s old home less than two years later, just short of her hundredth birthday. They lie together in Letheringsett churchyard.
The banner for this page shows the church and Hall in late-afternoon sun during the joyous gathering held across the road at a packed King’s Head following her funeral on 14 October 2011. It had been standing room only at the service for the much loved, universally celebrated Beryl.
I just hope she knows, from her heavenly rest, that I did stick at it.