‘Two remarkable publishing ventures’: two diarists

In his talk on two recently published Norfolk diarists Emeritus Professor Richard G. Wilson, formerly Director of the Centre of East Anglian Studies at the University of East Anglia (UEA), praised ‘two remarkable publishing ventures’.

Giving his presidential address to a well-attended meeting of the Norfolk Archaeological and Historical Research Group (NAHRG) on 26 April 2014, Prof. Wilson praised the work of two editors: Christopher Armstrong, who had brought out another volume from the diary of the Revd Benjamin Armstrong, the 19th-century Vicar of East Dereham, and Margaret Bird, who had published the full text of Mary Hardy’s diary.

The works are published by the Larks Press and Burnham Press.

Describing himself as a great enthusiast for diaries as a source, Prof. Wilson concluded that ‘Literary merit is unimportant in assessing the historical significance of a diary.’ What is vital is how far the writers advance our understanding of the time in which they lived.

In this, he observed, both diarists are supremely successful.

The Parson Woodforde Society frolic

In October 2014 Margaret Bird will be giving her own reflections on Mary Hardy, and what she has to tell us, to more diary enthusiasts.

These are the members of the Parson Woodforde Society on their annual frolic. Based at the Hotel Mercure in Norwich, the members will be exploring north Norfolk:  the haunt of the Revd James Woodforde, the famous writer of The Diary of a Country Parson, and also of his exact contemporary Mary Hardy.

Margaret Bird, a long-standing life member of the society, will be the speaker after the Saturday night dinner at the frolic. She has chosen the subject of outdoor recreations enjoyed across the classes in 18th-century society:

Fairs, frolics and the forces of change in the Norfolk of James Woodforde and Mary Hardy‘.

She will cover harvest frolics in public houses (harvest thanksgivings in church did not take hold until the mid-19th century), tithe frolics, water frolics (which later developed into regattas), boxing and wrestling. Tensions developed between the workforce, who clung to the old customary ways, and the time-conscious employers who wished to restrict the amount of drinking and celebrating.

The importance of fairs

Fairs were prized by the workforces of the two diarists—their farm servants and maidservants. These centuries-old gatherings were still hugely important features of the local calendar, enjoyed across the classes as opportunities to see family and friends. As servants often could not write, just managing to see their families once or twice a year was greatly valued.

Crouse and Stevenson's list of Norfolk fairs 1790

This published list is not complete, as we learn from Mary Hardy and Henry Raven

The clock-watching Hardys were rather stricter than the kindly Parson Woodforde over allowing time off for the home fair (near to the servant’s old home base) and the local fair (close to the workplace), and at times much bitterness ensued in the Hardy establishment.

Custom versus capitalism and custom versus Calvinism

Attendance at fairs had long been regarded as a customary right, and the day or two days off formed the only annual holiday. Retaining that right into the capitalist ways of the late 18th century was fought for, hard. The Anglican Evangelical preachers who toured north Norfolk’s churches, and whom Mary Hardy heard, entered the fray on the side of restricting the long-established pleasures of what has been characterised as ‘the prior culture’.

The twin themes of the talk are the forces of custom versus capitalism and of custom versus Calvinism.

The talk was subsequently worked into an article and published in the Parson Woodforde Society Quarterly Journal, vol. 47, no. 4 (winter 2014), pp. 4–16.

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Margaret Bird

Margaret Bird in 2016

The editor and author of the Mary Hardy volumes

You can read about the historian Margaret Bird on the link above

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