The Diocese of Ely has owned land in Hardwick since 991 A.D. and the history of the village has always been closely linked with the Church. It is not surprising, therefore, that the village boasts a splendid old church which merits a page in itself.
The Parish Church of St. Mary is first mentioned in 1217. Since the thirteenth century, the benefice has been a rectory which has belonged to the Bishop of Ely throughout recorded history. This means that the Rector received financial support from the taxes, or tithes he received from the land, the 40 acres given to him some time before 1279 by the Bishop. The users of the land had to pay 10% of its value or of the value of its annual produce to support the Rector. In 1254, the twelve monks who worked on the land paid 10 marks to the Rector in taxes. This system of ‘payment by results’, however, meant that during the agricultural depression rents fell and the Rector suffered financial losses.
By 1279 there was also a Glebe House given to the Rector, built on the site of ‘Old Rectory Farm’. The house was intended to be the Rector’s home but owing to a series in absentee Rectors, it suffered periods of dilapidation and was eventually pulled down in 1881. In 1787 it was used as a hospital for poor families and in 1790 it was let in three tenements to paupers.
The new rectory was built near the village street in 1881. From the fourteenth to the mid nineteenth century, the Rectors were often absentees. John of Thriplow, for example, was absent for two years from 1348. Ralph Baynes was Rector until 1544 and he went on to be Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield despite his staunch support of the Catholic Monarch, Queen Mary. Nicholas Stennett was removed as Rector during her reign but was reinstated when Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne. William Middleton was an interesting character, and he was Rector from 1585 to 1613; he reportedly did not wear his surplice as Queen Elizabeth ordered, and killed himself. He is buried in the churchyard. The non-resident rector, Edmund Mapletoft, was removed in 1644 being accused of negligence and popish practices. A dozen superstitious pictures were ordered to be taken from the church. His successor, John Fido, was also dismissed, probably because he wrote a book praising parliament during the civil war.
Non-residence was common until the late nineteenth century. At that time a Sunday school was set up and a regular Sunday service was held for an average congregation of seven. By 1896 there was a resident rector and two services held each Sunday. Records show that about twenty-two villagers received communion each week and that four teachers helped at Sunday school. There was a choir and a parish magazine.
In 1966, the rector of Hardwick also served Toft and Caldecote. Leap forward to 2010 and Hardwick, at that point sharing a vicar with Caldecote, became part of the ‘team ministry’ of Lordsbridge.