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The Red Lady

Pluckley Uncovered
 


In order to explore the legend of the ghost of the Red Lady we must first break down the varying versions of the accounts and legends attached to it before then exploring the factual history linked to the legend much as we did with the White Lady. The reason we can do this is because again the ghost is alleged to be a member of the Dering family who for 500 years were the owners of the manor of Surrenden in the parish.

The Story
She is said to be a dark haired woman in a bright red gown who is seen searching the graveyard of St Nicholas Church for an unmarked grave of her child. Depending upon which version you read there are some other facts that are suggested in expanding the historical account for this tormented soul. These have been known to include that she died in childbirth, the child was stillborn, the child died soon after birth. Also spuriously linked to some of these accounts is that the child was illegitimate and also that it was not allowed a burial in the Dering family vault within the church but buried in an unmarked grave in the churchyard. Again of course there is a link with the Derings and it is suggested this Red Lady is a Dering. It has also been published that she was a 17th Century Dering.
The Sightings

Before we study the facts that are purported here let us look at the actual recorded sightings of such a ghost in the churchyard. There appear to be none. Many people and paranormal groups have gone to Pluckley searching for these ghosts and even stayed for some hours in the churchyard. This would be reasonable seeing as it is open 24/7 for anyone to wander around. It appears that not a single soul has sighted the Red Lady even in documented history or recently.

Exploring the Possibilties
It is worth considering what naturally occurring features may be responsible for sightings of this figure. A white or grey lady is more easily explainable naturally however which ever way you try to consider naturally occurring scarlet light sources or illusions caused by other things you cannot. Whilst the earliest sighting of the Red Lady probably pre dates her appearance in the 1955 article by Frederick Sanders this again cannot be proved. If so then she pre-dates street lights, bright car lights, high level brake lights and any other reddish type light that could have been sighted nearby. Or is it that she has actually never been seen and is a figment of the imagination and purely made up to add to the number of reported ghosts in Pluckley.

Historically lets look at what has been said. She is 17th Century, a Dering, died in or near childbirth. These are researchable facts and could even have been formulated around a legend to give it some historical credence.

If we look at the Derings of Surrenden Dering who are buried in the family vault we can see those who died young, those who died within days of being born and those who died around the same time that they gave birth. None of these circumstances were particularly unknown in the 17th and 18th century although maybe less common than in the 19th. To have a child die within its first few months or years was more likely than a fit mother dying in the act of giving birth or soon after but it was not unheard of.

Sir Cholmeley Dering, 4th Baronet (23 June 1679 – 9 May 1711) married Mary Fisher in 1704. Mary died in 1707 possibly as a result of the birth of their younger son Cholmeley.

A consultation of various church records then shows that -

28 May 1707 Cholmley son of Sir Cholmley Deering ft Mary born 2d baptised at St Anne's Church Soho London

13 November 1707 The Lady Mary Dering wife of Sr. Cholmley Dering Bart. Was buried at St Nicholas Church, Pluckley.

Chomley Dering Esq was buried in woollen only. March 28th 1768 at Pluckley.

 

 

 

As a complete aside a search of portraits revealed a portrait by Godfrey Kneller of Mary Fisher who married Hineage Finch of Eastwell in Kent in 1712 to become Countess of Aylesford. Eastwell is only a stones throw from Pluckley and is now in the same benefice of seven parishes.

Spookily Mary is seen wearing a red dress.

Conclusions

In conclusion then we can be fairly sure that no natural phenomena would result in a mistaken identification of a Red Lady ghost although we cannot be sure that one ever existed. What we can say is that the historical facts around a Dering family member being distraught looking for her child having passed as a result of bearing that child could be correct according to the registers of the time as Mary Dering nee Fisher died only 4 months after giving birth to a surviving son.

The circumstances are right and so if there are undocumented sightings then this could be Mary Derings ghost not to be confused with Mary Finch who had the same maiden name, was around at the same time and was painted only 5 years after Mary Derings death wearing a red dress.

Source
Mary Fisher image - http://thepeerage.com/p2729.htm
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