1. A working family
Volume 1 will appeal to everyone interested in the home lives of the farming and commercial middle class in the eighteenth century. The way the Hardys and their circle entered into marriage, nurtured children, ran the home and created pleasure grounds emerges with great clarity.
Here Mary Hardy’s son William Hardy junior, who brought the family business to its apogee in the first half of the nineteenth century, is holding a paper inscribed “on Forest Trees”.
Mary Hardy did not marry until she was 32, which was far from unusual in her circle. Delayed marriage enabled daughters to perfect their housekeeping skills before having to run a home of their own. Such skills formed part of the infrastructure of a business, at a time when almost all concerns were run from home.
Late marriage also reduced the number of children in a family. It is clear that some in Mary Hardy’s circle, herself included, took measures to limit their offspring. Her three children Raven, William and Mary Ann were born when she was aged almost 34, 36½ and almost 40.
Mary Ann, who married the widowed Jeremiah Cozens at 32, had one son. The diarist’s son William, who at 49 married his first cousin Mary Raven aged 39, also had one son.
Postponement of marriage, while helping to preserve the life of the wife as she was spared repeated confinements, could endanger the succession. William’s little boy died at five weeks. No further children arrived.
Integration of home and work
As was near universal, the Hardys embraced a counting-house culture in which home and work were thoroughly integrated. Innkeepers, hop-factors, surveyors, lawyers and others on business came at all hours, and sometimes stayed the night.
Meals and beds had to be provided at no notice since callers rarely sent word in advance. A well-stocked pantry and keeping on top of the arduous heavy-washing cycle were essential.
Being a frugal, proficient housekeeper proved a boon for the whole family. It not only saw them fed through the winter but, if good nursing skills had been acquired, could also mean the difference between life and death.
A very young bride would have struggled to cope in an extremely busy household such as the Hardys’, with two maidservants still in their teens who were themselves under training. By contrast, the more mature wives in Mary Hardy’s circle were sturdily independent, being secure in the knowledge that their role was valued.
Manorial (copyhold) conventions, the norm in rural Norfolk with its strong manorial past, overrode the common-law suppression of married women’s rights known as coverture. There is more on this at the end of the page for the Mary Hardy Project.
Husbands and wives emerge as standing on equal terms in Mary Hardy’s record. From the start she was ready to deputise for her husband in his frequent absences on business. She was abreast of their financial affairs and was prepared to carry huge sums in cash to Norwich when paying excise duty.
In the manner of Margaret Paston she held the fort—while not having to withstand armed attack.
The family support mechanism
Central to Mary Hardy’s make-up was her yearning to be with her extended family. She was shaped by her village upbringing and by her shopkeeping background. Her grandmother, father, uncle, brother and nephew were all village grocers; another uncle was a butcher.
Whenever she could she returned for brief visits to Whissonsett, the village in central Norfolk where she lived until her marriage in its church in 1765. The stone tablet in the centre of the parapet of the tower (at the banner) proclaims its rebuilding by her father Robert Raven and the other churchwarden.
The Ravens operated an extensive support mechanism. In time of trouble, such as illness, bereavement, shortage of cash or the need for sureties, there would be a close family member on hand.
During her extremely rare holidays Mary Hardy would find a sister-in-law or niece prepared to take over at Letheringsett Hall. Keeping house could not be neglected.
High maidservant turnover
An independent spirit was very marked in the maids as well. Women as young as fifteen or sixteen negotiated on their own behalf with their future employers.
Given the calls on the Hardys’ hospitality much was required of these annually-hired maids. They rarely stayed more than a year, and some did not even last that long. If no replacement could be found Mary Hardy and her daughter would soldier on until the year was out.
The picture is generally one of harmony, with Mary Hardy and Mary Ann working alongside the maids in the kitchen or doing the ironing. There are few traces of an “Upstairs Downstairs” gulf.
The 10 chapters, under three main headings
Prologue – The diaries
I. Family bonds
- The setting
- The diarists
- The shaping time
- Marriage ventures
II. Moulding the young
- Nurturing children
III. At home
- The comfortable house
- Maidservant turnover
- The garden
- Pleasure grounds
There are also appendices on Norfolk speech, cookery recipes, the 90 maidservants, and a chronology of the Hardys’ personal and working lives.