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The White Lady

Pluckley Uncovered

In order to explore the legend of the ghost of the White 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.

Various versions of the story exist including two primary locations for the haunting by the white lady of which one is rooted around spurious facts and the other is linked to a location by virtue of family location so this gives us two venues to research.

The Story
The White Lady is said to be a beautiful female of the Dering family who died young. In order to preserve her best from the ravishes of the grave she was interned in, between, two and seven lead coffins before finally being sealed in an oak coffin and laid to rest in the family vault in the south chapel of St Nicholas church. She was buried in a fine white gown with a single red rose. She is said to be seen floating in the churchyard on misty nights and also been seen manifesting within the chapel itself as a mist and kneeling within the chapel. There is also suggestion that she had been seen repeatedly haunting the library at the Dering family home of Surrenden Dering within the village. She is also stated to hail from the year 1100 in at least one report. Her dark hair contrasts with her bright white gown.
The Sightings

St Nicholas Church

It is suggested that she has been seen on misty evenings in the churchyard. The churchyard itself is on high ground well above the sprawl of the parish. The location in itself may render it liable to low cloud and temperature fluctuations not experience in the rest of the parish and as such mists may develop as small patches and dissipate as quickly as they form. It may also be possible that more widespread mists develop on the hill and the smallest air movement cause them to swirl with the appearance of a similarity to the human form. Locations susceptible to natural mist are commonly linked to sightings of white or grey lady's.

It is further suggested that she has been seen materialising as a mist within the Dering Chapel above the burial vault and again the suggestion above applies. She alleged to have been seen kneeling as in prayer within the chapel. This is as much as is recorded and the detail in which she was seen would lend itself to exploration of the means of which she was seen. If, again, as a mist the previous explanation may apply although if seen as a solid form the this would prompt further study. Unfortunately, in the source found for this stated sighting, no witness details or date for the sighting are given. Dependant on the age of the sighting then this could have been a trick of the light, sunlight through windows or indeed a real person previously unsighted by the witness.

Surrenden Dering

Surrenden Dering was the family home of the Derings from their first time in Pluckley through to the 1928. Rebuilt in the early 17th century and between the wars it became an American Embassy property and then a school and it burnt down in 1952. Only the service wing remains. In 1920 it is suggested that a Mr Walter Winans supposedly held a lonesome vigil one Christmas Eve in the library with his hunting rifle. When the White Lady appeared before him, he reputedly shot her. The shot passed through the apparition. She vanished through a panelled wall which might have led to a tunnel which was supposed to link the house with the Church. This is the only credible account with witness details available. Unfortunately with the house now demolished and Mr Winans deceased the same year it cannot be explored further.

Surrenden Dering

Exploring the Possibilties

From here we can explore the possibilities of historical characters and places actually being part of this story.

Firstly the Dering Chapel at St Nicholas Church was not constructed until 1475 when it was converted out of the east end of the south aisle. Previous Dering burials took place in the nave and brasses mark their resting places. This precludes any burial in the family vault prior to it being built and therefore the suggestion of the ghost being dated to a Dering from 1100 is incorrect.

Surrenden, meanwhile, existed as a manor since Doomsday and came into the hands of the Derings in the 15th century. It was rebuilt by Sir Edward Dering (1598-1644) into the house that became Surrenden Dering from this point forward. If we are to accept the haunting of the library then it is reasonable to assume that the library did not exist prior to the rebuild. Therefore any ghost associated with this room must be later which prompts us to look at the Dering family themselves to see if any of the women died young,

The Dering family

The Dering family are documented from Sir Edward Dering forward, being part of the peerage and most male members being members of parliament during their initial history.

Sir Edward Dering, 1st Baronet (1598-1644) married Elizabeth Tufton in 1619 however she died in 1622 aged 20. He subsequently married Anne Ashburnham in 1625 who died in 1628 aged 23. The following year he married Unton Gibbs who he often referred to as his 'dear Numps'. Unton outlived Sir Edward.

Sir Edward Dering, 2nd Baronet (8 or 12 November 1625 – 24 June 1684) married Mary Harvey in 1648. They had 17 children of whom 10 survived to adulthood.

Sir Edward Dering, 3rd Baronet (18 April 1650 – 15 October 1689) married Elizabeth Cholmeley and she outlived him until 1704.

Sir Cholmeley Dering, 4th Baronet (23 June 1679 – 9 May 1711) married Mary Mitcham in 1704. Mary died in 1707 possibly as a result of the birth of their younger son Cholmeley. This may be of importance in another Pluckley story.

Sir Edward Dering, 5th Baronet (1705 – 15 April 1762) was married twice. First, in 1727/8 to Elizabeth Henshaw who died in 1734/5 and second to Mary Mopesson in 1735 and she outlived him.

Sir Edward Dering, 6th Baronet (28 September 1732 – 8 December 1798). He married Selina Furnese in 1755 and who died in 1757. He latterly married Deborah Winchester in 1765.

Sir Edward Dering, 7th Baronet (16 February 1757- 30 June 1811) married Anne Hale in 1782. She outlived him until 1830.

Edward Dering (1783 – 19 September 1808) married Henrietta Nevil in 1805. She remarried in 1810.

Sir Edward Cholmeley Dering, 8th Baronet (19 November 1807 – 1 April 1896) married Hon. Jane Edwards in 1832. She survived him by a year.

Sir Henry Nevill Dering, 9th Baronet (21 September 1839 – 26 August 1906) married Rosa Ann Underwood in 1863. She died in 1922.
Sir Henry Edward Dering, 10th Baronet (9 May 1866 – 14 June 1931) married Mary Astel Rosina Jameson in 1890. She survived him.
Sir Anthony Miles Cholmley Dering , 11th Baronet (29 July 1901 – 23 April 1958) married Eileen Barbara Ewan in 1932 and divorced in 1939. He secondly married Mary Sylvia Morritt in 1946 and divorced in 1954. He had no issue and therefore becomes the last Dering to inherit the title.

What can we tell from the above? Well, importantly, there have been few female Dering's that have pre-deceased their husbands as per the story. This means we have contenders for the White Lady as Elizabeth Tufton, Ann Ashburnham, Mary Mitcham, Elizabeth Henshaw, or Selina Furnesse. With no immediately available images of paintings of these women we cannot tell who or how many may have had dark hair. We also do not know how many were so loved and so beautiful to have been buried in multiple lead coffins.

Walter Winans was born in Russia of American parents and settled at Surrenden Park, Pluckley.

He won gold and silver medals in the Olympic Games of 1908 and 1912.

He was an accomplished horseman and hunter of wild animals. He built up a deer park at Surrenden and undoubtedly had a large collection of trophies in the house.

He died in 1920 in London racing a coach when he suffered a heart attack, fell and fractured his skull.

Walter Winans


In conclusion then the published details of the White Lady apparition from St Nicholas Church appear to be full of historical inaccuracies and unsubstantiated sightings. Various different reports have differences in the detail of the story behind the alleged identity of the ghost yet do not actually name her. Research has shown that there are various candidates that this could be taking into account that it 'could' be a Dering.

The likelihood of the White Lady haunting the library of the now demolished Surrender Dering are more plausible given the identity of the one recorded witness although the apparition is believed to have been seen on a regular basis by more people than Walter Winans. Winans himself appears to be reliable in nature as a witness and was certainly an effective ans shrewed businessman and an excellent shot.
It is more likely that something so closely linked to the house had regularly been seen before being shot than the spurious accounts from the church however it is still surprising that even the Surrenden White Lady has no name if everyone saw her that clearly and the likelihood of a collection of family portraits being in the house to compare her with. It is known a number of portraits of the family detailed in this article exist and can be viewed on the internet

Surrenden Dering House Image - http://lh.matthewbeckett.com/houses/lh_kent_surrendendering_gallery.html
Walter Winans image - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_W._Winans
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