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Was Lydia Hardy, nee Priest (1755-1794) Chesham's first Fairtrade campaigner?

Lydia was born in Chesham in April 1755 and christened at St. Mary's on the 11th July 1755. She was the daughter of Chesham carpenter, Nathaniel Priest.

In February 1771, when Lydia was 15, her father took out a short lease on a premises on Pillory Green (now The Broadway) which included a property with a woodshed and garden leading down to 'the brook'. Given the description of this property, this is most likely near where Oxfam is today, and is so far the only known address for Lydia Priest's time in Chesham.

In 1781, Lydia married Thomas Hardy who was a Scottish shoe-maker living in London. They moved to Picadilly in 1791 to develop his shoe-making business. Not long after, Thomas was one of those who founded the London Corresponding Society, a radical group which supported 'universal suffrage' - or at least giving votes to all men.

Lydia also supported her husband in the anti-slavery campaign. The former slave and author, Olaudah Equiano stayed with them in London for a time, while he was re-writing his autobiography. She was involved in this campaign in other ways too, being actively involved in the boycott of sugar from the West Indies. In a letter she wrote to her husband from Chesham in April 1792 while she was unwell, she asked about what was going on in Parliament over the slave trade. She also mentioned that other people in the town were, like her, also boycotting sugar from the West Indies. That same year, Chesham was one of many towns and cities which sent a petition to Parliament protesting against the slave trade (thanks to Alison Foster for this information).

Thomas Hardy was later arrested, charged with treason and imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was held in a small room with a window over the Western Gate (where the gift shop now stands outside the Tower of London main entrance!).

Lydia, heavily pregnant with their 6th child, often visited Thomas in prison. But on one occasion when she was at home, a mob gathered outside the Hardy's home in Picadilly. They were celebrating an English naval victory over the French and were targeting anyone they saw as sympathetic with the French Revolution. When they started to attack the property, Lydia feared for her life. With the help of some neighbours, she managed to squeeze through a rear window to escape the mob. However, her unborn child died as a result.

Shortly afterwards, on the 17th August 1794, while visiting Thomas in the Tower, she was seized with labour pains. The child was delivered still-born and Lydia died very soon afterwards. None of the Hardy children survived infancy.

Thomas and his colleagues were cleared of treason and released to great public jubilation. His carriage was pulled through the streets by those who came to celebrate his release. They stopped for a moment of silence outside Hardy's home. Soon after, Thomas went to visit his wife's grave. Lydia had been buried in the grounds of St. Martin-in-the-Fields (her remains were probably among those disinterred to make way for a new road constructed beside the church, Duncannon Street).

The memory of Lydia has been obscured by time and city development. But as an early campaigner for democracy and against the slave trade, she remains a Chesham heroine and one of Chesham's first Fairtrade campaigners. So, Chesham's Fairtrade status is not 10 years old, but perhaps over 200 years old!

Sources:

Chesham Museum, CBS, PRO, DNB, Tower of London and David Vincent, Testaments of Radicalism: Memories of Working Class Politicians, 1790-1885, and Claire Midgley, Women Against Slavery: The British Campaigns, 1780-1870 and JR Oldfield, Popular Politics and British Anti-Slavery.

2015 - Celebrating 10 years of Chesham as a Fairtrade Town, 260 years since the birth of one of Chesham's earliest Fairtrade campaigners.