Mary Hardy (née Raven) was born on 12 November 1733 at Whissonsett, near Fakenham. In 1765, aged thirty-two, she married William Hardy (1732–1811), an excise officer stationed at East Dereham; they had two sons and a daughter. In 1772 William Hardy took over the lease of a maltings, brewery and small farm at Coltishall, near Norwich.
The 500,000-word diary begins on 28 November 1773 at Coltishall, when Mary Hardy was forty. The first week, in part, records the first time she went to church after her lying-in, and preparing for and holding a christening party.
Mrs Hardy records almost daily her husband’s activities, his travels, and his business dealings; farming, malting, brewing, and trading; and negotiations for public houses to lease or buy, with prices often noted. She records tax problems, excise payments, innkeepers’ payments, dealings with the justices over licences, and financial transactions with Gurneys, the Norwich bankers. Her entries on the daily tasks of the workforce in the 1770s chart a subject only rarely covered: the working lives of ordinary men and women in this period.
The early stages of the canalization of the ‘new River’ Bure to Aylsham are mentioned in the diary in 1774-75; also its opening to Aylsham in 1779. William Hardy rented a staithe at his property, and in 1776 the Hardys had their own wherry (a sailing barge) built, named the William and Mary. The wherry brought cargoes of hops, coal, cinders, muck, and Norfolk bricks upstream, and took grain and malt downstream; after transhipment at Great Yarmouth some of the Hardys’ produce was exported coastwise.
On 11 November 1780, after years of searching, William Hardy bought Hagon’s brewery with 50 acres of land and a substantial house in the centre of the village of Letheringsett; the family moved in on 5 April 1781. In 1797, at the age of sixty-five, he retired, signing over his leases and business to his son William.
Every day Mary Hardy described the weather and main activities of the household, births, marriages, illnesses, accidents, bankruptcies, and deaths among her Raven relatives, her servants, her friends, and neighbours. She notes workforce gatherings, boxing and wrestling matches, tithe and other frolics, election and coming-of-age dinners. The diary includes ‘news from the paper’: crimes and events, then national events, parliament, victories in the war in America and against France, and the effects of war taxation. She records several local meetings to prepare for French invasion. The family have their portraits painted by a French refugee, Mr Huguier, in 1785.
The diary regularly records sermons, with comments. As well as attending their parish church and neighbouring churches, the Hardy family occasionally attended Quaker meetings. One of the diary’s unusual features is the charting of the spiritual progression of the writer from loyal Anglican to double-minded Anglican and Nonconformist, and then, after experimenting with the new breed of Evangelicals, to committed Wesleyan Methodist and organiser of cottage meetings.
Mary Hardy died at Letheringsett Hall on 23 March 1809, and was buried on 29 March in the family vault in Letheringsett churchyard. The last entry in the diary was made two days before she died. The significance of the diary lies not only in its extraordinary length and level of detail and its illustration of the everyday working and social life of neighbourhood and family in rural Norfolk, but in its woman’s view of a male world of business, religion, politics, and local administration. It is an impersonal diary: it records events, news, and activities with little comment or explanation; the only emotional entry is on the death of Raven Hardy in 1787 at the age of nineteen. It has a wider range and is less domestic than that of Mary Hardy’s contemporary, Parson James Woodforde of Weston Longville, only 20 miles away. Highlights were edited by a descendant, Basil Cozens-Hardy, for the Norfolk Record Society in 1968.
F. Ashburner, ‘Hardy, Mary (1733–1809)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/48935, accessed 20 Feb 2013]
http://maryhardysdiary.co.uk/The complete diary text edited by Margaret Bird to be published by Burnham Press 2013.
With thanks to Margaret Bird.
Find out more: You can view several original documents relating to Mary Hardy at the Norfolk Record Office, including her baptism record – PD 633/3, burial record – PD 547/2, and an extract of her diary made in 1931 – FC 58/3/1. One of Mary Hardy’s descendants, Ethel Colman (1863–1948), became England’s first female Lord Mayor in 1923.