“An essential source book . . .; superbly produced”
The full set of four volumes of Mary Hardy and her World receives very favourable treatment by the social historian Dr Paul Jennings in an online review for the journal Cultural and Social History, The Journal of the Social History Society.
The opening part of the long review, published 16 February 2021, is freely accessible online.
“An immense range”
One of the great strengths of the record compiled by the diarist Mary Hardy, and to a lesser extent that of her nephew Henry Raven, is their range. Their extensive coverage is reflected in the volumes of analysis: “The topics cover an immense range.”
Having summarised the content of each volume Dr Jennings continues:
The text throughout is supported by detailed sidenotes, tables, maps, diagrams, appendices . . ., a full bibliography, and an incomparable index.
“A detailed examination of domestic service”
Mary Hardy’s diary includes “an invaluable reconstruction of the careers of the numerous young women whom the family employed”.
Volume 1 draws on her daily record to support recent academic research on the subject:
The commentary uses these [the diary entries] to confirm some recent work which has viewed domestic service, traditionally a saga of drudgery, loneliness, and abuse, in the more favourable guise of a conscious career choice, empowerment, assertiveness and opportunities for leisure.
Fresh insight into the drink industry
Paul Jennings has published numerous books and articles on the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century drink industry. He finds that Volume 2, as well as making “an important contribution” to the literature on malting and brewing, “has much to say on aspects of the drink industry which have received less attention”.
Referring to Margaret Bird’s description of the tying process, whereby public houses came under the control of the brewer, he observes:
Reconstructing this process is complex, requiring careful archival work, and the results are here painstakingly presented. In so doing the commentary complements and challenges existing conclusions about the timing and extent of the tie . . .
Reflecting the fresh insight proffered on the industry the banner at the head of this page depicts amber malt, ready for brewing. The Hardys grew their barley, malted it, brewed it and supplied their various brews to their portfolio of public houses across the countryside.
The review also pays tribute to the author’s ability to give a human face to the rather dry subject of licencing, including studies of the hazardous careers of the innkeepers.
“Several key themes”
Paul Jennings singles out some key themes explored across the four volumes of Mary Hardy and her World. These include the position of women in society:
Mary Hardy is shown to be ‘an active participant in a man’s world’, an essential partner in the family enterprise and one who also enjoyed a considerable amount of personal freedom.
He also singles out the dynamism of society, with its striking levels of mobility and its outward-looking nature. “This was not some static, unchanging, and insular world.”
Control is a third recurrent theme, “explored in sections on licencing . . ., the upbringing of children, including the important role of the new Sunday Schools, in which Mary worked, the treatment of the poor, or the suppression of brutal sports and pastimes”.
He ends his summary of the volumes: “This was a society in which work rather than pleasure dominated lives.”
“A pleasure to read”
While Paul Jennings has reservations at times about the large amount of detail included in the commentary his overall impressions are wholly positive: “the volumes form an essential source book for the economic, social, cultural, and political history” of the period which every student should consult.
Importantly, “They are superbly produced and beautifully illustrated, a pleasure to hold as well as to read.”