A mythical being
If the Mary Hardy volumes achieve anything, it is to be hoped they will explode the myth of ‘the typical Georgian parson’. Such a being never existed.
This assertion is explained in Volume 3. The Church of England clergymen of Mary Hardy’s acquaintance—forty or more—jostle on the page in a glorious miscellany. Venn’s six-volume Alumni Cantabrigienses (published 1940–54), an invaluable companion to her diary, shows that most had been sizars at Cambridge. In return for waiting upon their wealthier fellow undergraduates they paid reduced fees, as did servitors at Oxford.
These men knew the humiliations of the sizar’s garret, and understood the uncertainties and hardships suffered by their impoverished parishioners. One such was the Revd Thomas Bowman (1728–92), whose career is examined in Volume 3. An early Evangelical, he undertook a self-imposed missionary task across a 20-mile swathe from his home parish. His engaging sermons, held in the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library, show a genius for leadership, and an empathy with the humblest of his scattered flock—born perhaps of his years as a sizar.
Mary Hardy’s age predated the ‘squarson’ (the squire–parson) in his huge rectory. The majority of parsonages, where parishes had them at all, were at the level of hovels, as they told the Bishop in the visitation returns. Venn’s work is just one illustration of the harnessing of the secondary sources to support the diary text and enhance our understanding of its significance.
The pre-1900 publications are of huge value: works by the agrarian economists William Marshall, Nathaniel Kent and Arthur Young; also Burn’s four-volume Justice of the Peace. This reference work was owned by the Hardys as it regulated much of 18th-century manufacturing activity as well as public life. Early directories and pollbooks are some other essential companions.
The British Library and the Bodleian Library, Oxford have been stimulating places in which to work. The Norfolk Studies collections in the very comfortable and welcoming Norfolk Heritage Centre in the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library contain a superb range of useful books.
As well as these excellent reference works the commentary volumes have relied on a full range of 20th- and 21st-century publications and journals, containing up-to-date research findings. All the cited primary and secondary sources are listed in the bibliography at the end of each volume.