What appears at first sight to be a local project is placed in a wider context in the commentary volumes. Readers can gauge whether Mary Hardy’s experience is typical, or whether she is telling us something new and significant. Two institutions hold some key documents for making such assessments.
The National Archives: Public Record Office
The Public Record Office, now part of the National Archives at Kew, has been invaluable over the excise service, local officials’ handling of wheat famine riots, the civilian response to invasion, and customs and shipping records. At times Mary Hardy’s diary ties in closely with the official record. The catalogue is at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk.
The Norfolk Record Office
The county repository the Norfolk Record Office has been the principal public source consulted for this project. It is housed in a magnificent modern building in Norwich with highly experienced and helpful staff, some of whom have been in post from before the project’s inception in 1988.
As well as parish and diocesan archives, forming the backbone of the Diary volume editorial notes, the commentary volumes have relied on quarter sessions minutes and orders, enclosure records, manorial court books, business archives, estate papers, chapel musters of the faithful (and the backsliders), and many others.
Sometimes vital business intelligence is hidden in family papers. This is the case with the dynasty named Wells, who were brewing at Coltishall from the 1720s or earlier and already starting to secure their sales outlets by ‘tying’ them to the brewery. Manorial records are of exceptional interest in demonstrating the early scramble for property pursued by thrusting brewers. Copyhold tenure was widespread in Mary Hardy’s day, and the manor court books minute the proceedings.
Manorial law differed from common law in that married women had a distinct legal identity from their husbands’ in property, testamentary and other matters. They could represent themselves in the manor courts, as explained in Volume 1. Coverture was not as prevalent as is often asserted.
The record office’s online catalogue NROCAT can be reached via http://www.archives.norfolk.gov.uk/
You can see a related page on the Diary website.