Mary Hardy (1733–1809), the diarist

Mary Hardy lived all her life in Norfolk, on the eastern seaboard of England. She wrote her diary daily first at Coltishall, north-east of Norwich, from 1773 to 1781, and then at Letheringsett, near the coast at Cley, from 1781 until her death in 1809.

Mary Hardy in 1785

Mary Hardy aged 51, by Huquier. She is dressed for the ‘playhouse’ – a public house outbuilding in the nearby market town

A self-effacing diarist

Mary Hardy’s preoccupation is with chronicling the activities of those around her: her immediate family, and the workforce of the family’s small farm, maltings and brewery. In many ways her writing is masculine. She models her style on her husband’s, who as an excise officer had been required to keep precise records.

For the first few months William Hardy makes the entries, writing in his wife’s person. The opening entry, in his hand, includes a reference to her recovery after the birth of Mary Ann when she was 40: ‘Went to Church after Lying In 3 Weeks & 4 days ‘.

On taking over command of the diary in 1774 she enlarges and humanises the brusque entries of her husband. There is more about the children, and friendship, and visits from the extended family. She looks outward at what is happening around her and in the wider world. Bankruptcy, taxes, politics, elections, and war on land and at sea are some of the elements depicted on her canvas.

The great strength of her text lies in its suppression of self. She immerses herself in the world of beer deliveries, orders and payments, ploughing, sowing, malting, the search for new retail outlets and for a maltings and brewery of their own. Her husband was at first a manager, not an owner. As a result we are given an incomparable business record.

Briningham Church, Communion rails c.1700

Briningham Church, where in her last years Mary Hardy took family and friends to hear Evangelical preachers

Mary Hardy’s spiritual pilgrimage

Her religious odyssey can be charted from her log. In the 36 years of her diary she progresses from an Anglican ‘twicer’ (attending two Church of England services on a Sunday) to being double-minded (attending both Anglican and Nonconformist services) and then to being exclusively a Nonconformist.

She no longer danced, went to the playhouse, or played cards. Her two portraits, above and on the Home page, chart this progression.

By 1798, aged 64, she had become a paid-up member of the Wesleyan Methodists nearby at Cley. She was happy to go as well to Baptist meetings, her son-in-law Jeremiah Cozens being a Calvinistic Baptist.

Mary Hardy ceased attending any parish church three years before her death. Her last church service was at Briningham, three miles from her home, to hear an Anglican gospel-preacher whom she admired.

There is more about her life on the commentary website Mary Hardy and her World. The story of her descendants is touched on under Private archives and on the commentary website.

To read more about what Mary Hardy has to tell us, try browsing the pages under Our readers on the publishers’ website.