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 aged 51

Mary Hardy in 1785 aged 51, by Huquier

Who was Mary Hardy?

She was the wife of a farmer, maltster, brewer and miller.

From a family of shopkeepers and small farmers, she was born Mary Raven in 1733 at Whissonsett in central Norfolk. In 1765 she married a Yorkshireman, William Hardy (1732–1811), who had been posted to Norfolk as an excise officer. They had three children: Raven, William and Mary Ann. Raven died of tuberculosis aged 19.

Their son William (1770–1842) greatly expanded the family business after his father’s retirement in 1797.

Her significance

She was far from being a bystander, a member of the scribbling classes who commented during their tours on the pursuits of those they observed. She provides us with firm evidence, for she writes as a practitioner—an active member of a working family. We learn what they all did.

Mary Hardy presents us with a panorama of work in the countryside and, to a lesser extent, the market town. She logs the activities not just of the family circle but of the workforce. The toll on the men—and the horses—was immense, requiring versatility and long hours.

The diarist's daughter Mary Ann Cozens

Mary Ann Cozens (1773-1864). The diary opens with the end of Mary Hardy’s lying-in after her birth

A unique source

Some of Mary Hardy’s wide-ranging coverage is unique. Through her wherry log she is our sole source in the eighteenth century on the sailings and cargoes of a local barge, the Norfolk wherry.

Only through her can we track the effect on the laity of early Church of England Evangelicals in her rural area.

Mary Hardy is one of few women to record the early spread of Methodism among women in cottage meeting houses. As a keen sermon taster she introduced others to Methodism and Church of England Evangelicalism.

Her lasting physical legacy, apart from the massive ledgers forming her manuscript diary, was to enthuse her children to adopt Methodism. Both William Hardy junior and Mary Ann Cozens went on to establish purpose-built chapels.

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