7 Oct. 2015, Wells: ‘Mary Hardy: farmer, brewer, diarist’

Margaret Bird will give a talk on Mary Hardy, farming and brewing to the Wells Local History Group on Wednesday 7 October 2015 at 7.30 pm. All are welcome. The details of the meeting at Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, are below.

Vertical integration in the brewing industry

Like almost all wholesale brewers in East Anglia in the diarist’s period the Hardys were farmers and maltsters as well; they also had a string of public houses across a wide radius. The talk will examine the benefits and problems of what later became characterised as ‘vertical integration’.

Wells East Quay, the former Jolly Sailor

One of the Hardys’ outlets at Wells in Norfolk, tied to the brewery in the mid-1790s by innkeeper debt. Like so many who came into contact with William Hardy, John Everitt ended up in the debtors’ prison at Norwich Castle

It was more than diversification, which is generally adopted to spread risk. Vertical integration offers control, in terms of quality of the product, supply and liquidity.

By growing their own barley and wheat, at the ‘upstream’ end, the Hardys as maltsters and millers could produce the type of raw material they needed. By using their own malt, kilned to the temperatures required for different brews, the family were sure of what went into their beer. And by renting, owning or otherwise ‘tying’ their outlets they had some control over the retail end ‘downstream’.

Competition in the trade

They were not alone. Competition was fierce in their region, famed for its good brewing water (liquor), top-quality malting barley and relatively easy means of distribution on level ground and by navigable waterway and the sea.

NE Norfolk breweries in the 1780s

The 26 ‘common’ (wholesale) breweries trading in north-east Norfolk in the 1780s, from a slide used in the talk

In north-east Norfolk alone, 26 commercial breweries were trading towards the end of the 18th century; some of these were very large indeed in provincial terms. Wells-next-the-Sea had one such, owned by the Dennis family.

The village of Coltishall, where Mary Hardy wrote her diary for seven years, had three. And when they moved to Letheringsett, south of Blakeney and Cley, there were breweries nearby at Cawston, Guist, Binham and Reepham. The first three of these did not survive the harsh trading conditions of the time. They closed during the years Mary Hardy wrote her diary at Letheringsett 1781–1809.

The meeting at Wells

The illustrated talk will be given at 7.30 pm at the Gordon Barrett Memorial Hall beside the Congregational Church (formerly the church school room), in the centre of Wells: Clubbs Lane (east side), Wells, NR23 1DP. Parking is available very close to the venue. The charge is £1.00 for members of Wells Local History Group and £3.50 for guests and visitors.

The other talks this season are listed on the Group’s website: Wells Local History Group, diary of events.

You can read more about the talk, and the importance of coal in the story, on the Burnham Press website, publishers of the full text of Mary Hardy’s diary.