“Their terms of reference are very wide”

The full set of four volumes of Mary Hardy and her World receives detailed treatment by historian Professor G.M. Ditchfield in a long, very positive review for the journal English Historical Review (EHR) for October 2021: volume 136, issue 582, pages 1337–40. The opening part is freely accessible online.

“Four thematically-arranged volumes”

Professor Ditchfield opens with the four Diary volumes edited by Margaret Bird, which he reviewed for the EHR in 2015.

Now she has supplemented this handsome edition with four thematically-arranged companion volumes. Their terms of reference are very wide and demonstrate that the world of Mary Hardy (1733–1809) and her husband William (1732–1811) was local, regional, national and in some respects international.

“A thorough and revealing discussion”

The reviewer draws attention to the increasing hazards of commercial life: “delayed settlements, the strain placed upon credit networks, and financial failure”; also imprisonment for debt. He appreciates the in-depth coverage of this subject with all its pitfalls:

Margaret Bird offers a thorough and revealing discussion (Volume 2, pp. 609–704) on the question of debt, drawing upon Norfolk and other primary sources and displaying an enviable command of the most up-to-date historiography.

“The growth of itinerant Methodist preaching”

Volume 3 covers religion, the Sunday schools and social tensions. Professor Ditchfield reflects on all these aspects:

The most interesting feature of this volume is the growth of itinerant Methodist preaching, both Calvinist and Wesleyan, and its impact upon the established Church . . .

These and other types of internal tension, including the food riots of 1795, are examined with considerable detail in the latter section of this volume, and there is sympathetic treatment of George, Marquis Townshend,  . . . and himself a cautious sympathiser with the parliamentary opposition.

Mary Hardy and her World vol 4 back cover

Mary Hardy and her World: the back cover of Volume 4, showing Lord Townshend (centre) with the Norfolk Militia

“Excellent analysis”

Grayson Ditchfield, who writes on eighteenth-century politics, finds much to admire in the coverage of politics and the mobilisation of civilians for the war effort contained in the final volume:

This volume concludes with an excellent analysis of popular and parliamentary politics in Norfolk . . . The Norfolk constituencies had a higher than average rate of election contests which were pursued to the extent (and cost) of a poll. This allows Margaret Bird to offer a convincing depiction of a vibrant participatory, rather than a deferential, model of electoral behaviour . . .

There is a careful statistical examination of the pollbooks generated by elections in the county of Norfolk with its 7,000-plus electors.

“The quality of presentation is very high”

The reviewer ends by paying tribute to “the range and depth of the historical content of these volumes” in which “historians of many specialities will find material of interest”. They are handsome books:

The quality of presentation is very high and the volumes score well in terms of appearance and style as well as substance.

Each volume is self-contained and equipped with a bibliography, a splendidly comprehensive index, and endpapers with helpful maps.

And, priced as they are, they represent very good value for money.

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Pre-publication article

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