“Social, religious and economic challenges”

The Revd Harvey Richardson is a supernumerary Wesleyan Methodist minister in the Canterbury and East Kent circuit and a former Chair of District. His admiring review of Volume 3 of Mary Hardy and her World appeared in the Methodist Recorder for 29 May 2020, p. 19.

“This magnificent treasure-trove”

The review of the “breath-taking” work opens with this assessment:

There are simply no words adequate to describe this magnificent and wonderful treasure-trove, this gold mine of Norfolk 18th-century social history . . .

This beautifully produced volume is the third in a four-volume set exploring and uncovering the great richness and agitation within the social, religious and economic challenges of the time . . .

When we consider the scale of this remarkable achievement, we can only stand in awe and admiration.

“The spiritual foundations of society were being challenged”

With his Methodist readership in mind, the reviewer focuses on the religious aspects of Margaret Bird’s coverage in this “detailed and meticulously-researched account of religious life in Norfolk during a significant period . . . of the Evangelical Revival, a time when the very spiritual foundations of British society were being profoundly challenged”.

Harvey Richardson draws attention to the variety of significant developments analysed in the book:

  • “the strong contribution of evangelical Anglicanism” and the work of the young clergymen trained at Cambridge by the Revd Charles Simeon; these were “more significant than is often recognised”
  • the forces of Old Dissent and of Lady Huntingdon’s Connexion “all to be found sharing in the heady revivalist mix”; the study reveals that “Arminian Wesleyanism didn’t always get its way, by any means”
  • the sermon-tasting habits of Mary Hardy, her daughter and many others in their circle, for it was not only the preachers who were itinerants: “Margaret Bird’s careful and detailed assessment of the ‘wandering flocks’ and the ‘roving preachers’ is not only breath-taking, but also highly informative”

These features expand “our perception of regular local church life which was active way beyond the influence of the parish church”.

The study also describes cottage meetings and “the intricacies associated with the licensing of meeting houses”. The banner image shows the Methodist chapel built at Walsingham in 1794. This formed the mother church of the circuit to which Mary Hardy belonged.

“This magisterial volume”

Towards the end of his review of “this magisterial volume” Harvey Richardson ranges over the “varied social backdrop to daily life” also covered in Volume 3, including law and order and the market-town economy. He ends:

This comprehensively researched, beautifully designed, lavishly illustrated, fully indexed treasure-trove cannot be praised enough!

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Pre-publication article

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