The Hardy family

William Hardy in 1785

The diarist’s husband William Hardy aged 53, by Huquier. He wears the Whig colours of blue and buff

The story of the Hardys from the opening of the diary in 1773 to the death of Mary Hardy’s son William in 1842 is one of almost uninterrupted expansion and increasing wealth. They were anxious to establish themselves on a secure financial footing and develop roots. In the 1770s William Hardy was a small tenant farmer and brewery manager. Thirty years later his son was lord of the manor, estate owner, and thriving porter brewer.

William Hardy’s years of hardship and itinerancy as an excise officer—the life which the diarist had to embrace on their marriage in 1765—were behind him. The memory lingered. Mary Hardy eased the lives of itinerants, offering hospitality to excise officers’ wives, and meals and a bed for the Methodist preachers and touring Evangelicals as they journeyed on their circuits.

Land acquisition and experiments

Throughout the diary years the manufacturing side prospered and production rose. There are pages of accounts in Volume 2 and in Diary 4 showing detailed stock figures 1797–1804.

A Norfolk Horn ewe

For the first time the Hardys took up sheep farming when William Hardy junior greatly expanded his landholdings

In 1800 William Hardy junior bought Letheringsett’s 350-acre manorial estate, adjoining the family property, and created a beautiful wooded setting. The family had never before been landowners of any size, a dispersed 50 acres forming the original Letheringsett purchase of 1780.

William also diversified into sheep, choosing the unfashionable but hardy Norfolk Horn breed. For the first time, in her last years, his mother would record sheep washing and shearing. From 1802 mutton rather than beef came to be served at the huge workforce dinners for 60 or 70, including the men’s wives and children.

Meadow management as well as afforestation became a new venture. William formed an osier carr near the River Glaven and attempted meadow ‘drowning’, where pastures are flooded in the winter with moving water so that in February and March the livestock have lush grass. The last years of the diary are characterised by experiment and expansion, with no sense of decline other than through Mary Hardy’s failing health.

In 1840 William greatly enlarged his holdings by buying the Cley estate and some marshes. By the end of his life he could walk on his own land all the way to the sea four miles away.

There is more about the Hardy family, including a family tree, on the Diary website.