2. Barley, beer and the working year

Volume 2  analyses the way all the aspects of a family business hinged on one another. It goes to the heart of the industry in which the Hardys were engaged: farming, malting, brewing, sales to public houses, and the neglected subject of distribution.

The diarists Mary Hardy and her nephew Henry Raven, the family’s brewery apprentice, depict the minutiae of rural working life. Their daily entries are so detailed and methodical as to enable databases to be compiled.

Horses were central to the enterprise: for ploughing, pulling carts and wagons on the farm and taking barrels of beer to the Hardys’ public houses. From the age of four the horses worked as hard as the men.

Brampton colts

The Hardys’ colts were spared all work, and lived a carefree life far from the farm. The diarist did not live in areas with much grazing, so the young horses would spend the summer on pastures in the west of the county

Vertical integration

While very small, the Hardys’ was a perfect example of a vertically integrated business. All the stages of production were carried out within the one enterprise.

As a result we learn about a very wide range of farming and manufacturing processes. These included arable and sheep farming; porter brewing (at the capital-intensive end of production, as the dark brew takes time to mature); and the management of the outlets—both tied to the brewery and supplied without tie. We also learn about other brewers in the area.

William Hardy diversified into cornmilling within his brewery in 1784. As a result for fourteen years, until his son stopped milling flour in 1798, the Hardys were also processing wheat from their fields.

Sale of Hagon's brewery

A Norwich newspaper, 12 August 1780: William Hardy’s opportunity to purchase a maltings and brewery of his own. It had no competitors close by: “no other Brewery near for several Miles”. He, his wife the diarist and their three children moved to Letheringsett on 5 April 1781. The cutting, heralding a complete turnaround in the Hardys’ fortunes, was preserved by the family  [Cozens-Hardy Collection]

Job satisfaction—but a 3700-hour year

Malting barley (seen at the banner) lay at the core of the business. The Hardys’ men sowed and harvested the barley, kilned it to turn it into malt, brewed the malt, and delivered the beer to the Hardys’ network of public houses.

The same man would see production through from start to finish. He even mowed the grass for the horses and collected the coal and cinders (coke) for the brewhouse and malthouse.

This placed an immense load on the versatile but small workforce of three or four annually-hired farm servants backed up by day labourers. The men did however have the satisfaction of seeing the job completed. And on a delivery they would have stopped for a tankard of their own beer before heading home with the empty barrels.

William Hardy and his son held their men in respect. But they worked them very hard, demanding a 3700-hour year. As a complete contrast, full-timers in the UK today work on average a 1680-hour year (OECD figures, 2016; the UK hours were 1700 p.a. in 2000).

A demanding calling

The tax-gathering service in which William Hardy spent his early years 1757–69, and into which the diarist married, was equally exacting. It plays a major role in the theme of endeavour and grim determination which runs through this volume.

In 1797 William Hardy handed over the business to his son in a very smooth transfer. The Hardys at that time supplied beer to 42 public houses. Of these, 25 were tied. And keeping 42 innkeepers on the rails, seeing to their licences and delivering beer across a 50-mile radius was demanding in the extreme.

All this is depicted in a village setting. Letheringsett, where the Hardys lived from 1781, had a population in 1801 of only 236.

You can read more under Family and local historians, where Henry Raven’s manuscript is pictured. He gives us the labour totals for the 1790s; his aunt gives them for the 1770s.

William Hardy senior (1732–1811) is pictured on the Hardy family page. William Hardy junior is seen on the page for Volume 1: A working family. Both gave steady yet inventive leadership. Despite minimal formal schooling, by his own choice, William junior was hugely talented: imaginative, artistic, creative, and with sound business acumen.

No portrait has been found for Henry Raven. His later years were spent in poverty in London, where he died aged 45.


The 11 chapters, under three main headings

I.  Improving the land

  • A versatile workforce
  • Small farms
  • Enclosure
  • Climate and crops

II.  Rural manufacturers

  • Industry structure
  • Malting
  • Brewing and milling
  • Rival brewers

III.  Beer and the Excise

  • The public houses
  • Supplying the beer
  • Debt and taxes

There is also a directory of 35 breweries, a gazetteer of the Hardys’ 101 outlets, with Ordnance Survey grid references and lists of innkeepers, and an appendix on the Excise.

Thomas Baldwin to Burnham, wagon wheel went over his leg and broke it coming home  (Henry Raven, 1796)