Edith Pretty

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Edith May Pretty (1883–1942) was an English landowner on whose land the Sutton Hoo ship burial was discovered. She paid for the help of a local archaeologist to find out what, if anything, lay underneath the mounds on her property.

Early life[edit]

Pretty was born at Elland, Yorkshire on 1 August 1883, the younger of two daughters of Robert and Elizabeth Dempster. The Dempsters were very wealthy industrialists who amassed their fortune from the manufacture of equipment related to the gas industry. Robert Dempster's father, Robert Dempster, had founded the company at Elland in Yorkshire in 1855,[1] and this became R & J Dempster and Sons in 1883, which Robert founded with his brother, John. On their deaths the Dempster brothers between them left over a million pounds, an enormous sum in the first quarter of the 20th century. Edith's family embarked on many foreign tours, including one 'round the world', and Robert Dempster took a lease on the huge country house of Vale Royal Abbey, near Whitegate, Cheshire, the family seat of Lord Delamere, from 1907-1925.[2] Here Edith grew up in palatial style with an indoor staff of twenty-five and eighteen gardeners.

Edith was educated at Roedean School, finishing her education with a six-month spell in Paris. After school, she became involved in good works, including the Red Cross, with whom she served during the First World War in the United Kingdom and France.

In 1926, Edith married her long-term suitor, Frank Pretty, an Ipswich man who had been a Major in the Territorial Army's Suffolk Regiment during the First World War and who continued to serve the Suffolk Regiment after the war, also working in the family business of clothing manufacture. After their marriage, the Prettys looked for a home near Ipswich. Edith gave up the lease on Vale Royal and bought Sutton Hoo House near Woodbridge, Suffolk. Also in 1926 she donated the Dempster Challenge Cup to Winsford UDC, Cheshire, which has been awarded annually to a plot-holder on the town's allotments.[3][4][5]

In 1930, at the age of forty-seven, Edith gave birth to a son, Robert Dempster Pretty. The marriage was happy, ending in 1934 with the death of Frank Pretty.


In 1938, Pretty enlisted the help of a Suffolk archaeologist, Basil Brown, to dig into ancient mounds on her land. Some promising finds were made, and Brown returned in the summer of 1939 to make further excavations. He soon unearthed the remains of an enormous burial, later identified as a 7th-century Saxon ship and probably the last resting-place of King Rædwald of East Anglia.

In September 1939, a treasure trove inquest determined that the fabulous grave goods unearthed from the ship were Pretty's property to do with as she chose. Within days, she had made the greatest donation to the nation made in a donor's lifetime, giving the treasure to the British Museum. In recognition of this, prime minister Winston Churchill later offered Pretty the honour of a CBE, but she declined.[2]

Edith was one of the first female Magistrates.[citation needed]

Edith Pretty died in 1942. Sutton Hoo House and the burial site are now in the care of The National Trust.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Dempster Elland: 100 Years The record of a Century of Progress. 1855 to 1955. Dempster & Sons. 
  2. ^ a b "The woman who gave us Sutton Hoo". East Anglian Daily Times. 21 December 2006. Retrieved 26 March 2014. 
  3. ^ Katie Durose (5 May 2012). "Mystery of community award". Winsford Guardian. Retrieved 16 November 2012. 
  4. ^ Katie Durose (19 May 2010). "Cup mystery solved". Winsford Guardian. Retrieved 16 November 2012. 
  5. ^ Pitts, Mike (16 June 2010). "A tale of silver bowls". Mike Pitts - Digging deeper. wordpress.com. Retrieved 16 November 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Durrant, Chris (2004). Basil Brown: Astronomer, Archaeologist, Enigma. The National Trust. 
  • Skelcher, Mary; Durrant, Chris (2006). Edith Pretty: From Socialite to Sutton Hoo. Leiston Press. ISBN 978-0955472503.