Mary Hardy Project

Mary Hardy's diary, Sept. 1776

Mary Hardy’s long narrow columns. Here in 1776 innkeepers pay for beer, the head man is drunk all day, and her husband returns from his London trip for hops and rum

This undertaking has so far taken 28 years of continuous research and writing by Margaret Bird. In 1988 she asked Mary Hardy’s descendants, none of whom she knew, if she might work on their ancestor’s diary with a view to publication of the whole manuscript. She was convinced there was material in the yellowing pages worth bringing to a wide audience.

Those expectations have been fully realised. No one knew at the time how long the diary was, and how strenuous the work would prove. Adding to the load, in 1992 Jeremy Cozens-Hardy showed her the diary of the apprentice Henry Raven, which until then had lain undiscovered.

Some of the research process is described in the pages under Sources.

Well over 12,000 photographs were taken for the project, mostly on black-and-white print film. Computer systems and packages could not always be updated, and major transfers had to be accomplished.

Only when the transcription and editing had been finished did it become evident that at 573,000 words the manuscripts of Mary Hardy and Henry Raven total, in number of words, something approaching the length of the Old Testament of the Bible (which, in the King James version known to the diarists, has 609,000 words).

Extending the coverage to other areas

The transcription was straightforward. The work of editing—producing the marginal notes to guide the reader, and the 450 pages of index—required extensive research and sustained effort.

This was pursued partly using the resources listed under Links. It also covered other parts of England in local record offices and archives in North and West Yorkshire, Wigan in Lancashire, and Hull: Mary Hardy travelled hundreds of miles on her visits to those areas to see family members.

Special collections were consulted at King’s College and Westminster College, Cambridge, and elsewhere. A trip to Leiden and Middelburg in Holland helped to identify the links between East Anglia and the Low Countries in Mary Hardy’s time. The physicians she knew generally trained at Leiden, not Edinburgh, in an age when no English university granted a medical degree.

A productive, industrialised area

The results of Margaret Bird’s researches will be of great interest to a wide range of people, some of whom are described on the publishers’ website under Our readers. Her findings reach beyond local boundaries.

A Diary endpaper map: Coltishall in 1780

Coltishall: the village where Mary Hardy began her diary and her children went to school

Nevertheless, for local historians the Diary volumes provide a wealth of data. The villages in which Mary Hardy lived are described and mapped in great detail, together with the surrounding area to a radius of up to 20 miles from her bases at Coltishall, on the Norfolk Broads, and Letheringsett, in north Norfolk near the sea.

The diaries make an important contribution to regional history, East Anglia then being at the forefront not only of farming but of many developments in malting and brewing. In an age when malt and beer taxes kept the Army in the field and the Navy at sea the county of Norfolk produced the greatest returns nationally from malt.

Norfolk was also industrialised. The Hardys’ village depicted here, with a population of under 600, had 11 maltings and three commercial breweries in 1780. One of William Hardy‘s rival village brewers had converted his plant to steam by 1795. On moving to Letheringsett William Hardy mechanised his, using water power, as early as 1783–84, as described in Diary 2.