Lady Mary’s Restoration tunes and her ghostly legacies

SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT: The registers at Croydon Minster contain 17th Century records of the Harvey family who worked for Archbishop Laud and, as DAVID MORGAN explains, had a musician daughter who made a notable piece of history

Dering-do: Lady Mary was part of the landed gentry during the Restoration era

It is another claim of Croydon’s musical heritage that Lady Mary Dering was the first woman in England whose compositions were published under her own name.

In a 1655 volume called Second Book of Select Ayres and Dialogues, collected by Henry Lawes, there are three of Lady Mary’s songs.

“When I saw fair Doris’ eyes”, “And is this all? What one poor kiss?” and “In vain fair Chloris, you design”, might not be the kind of title you’d expect from the likes of Beyonce or Taylor Swift, but they are hugely significant in extending the timeline for named female composers.

According to the Croydon Parish Church registers, she was baptised here on September 3 1629 – which was a Monday, so she was probably born a day or so before then. Her name was recorded as Mary Harvey, the daughter of Daniel and Elizabeth Harvey. Daniel Harvey was a well-to-do merchant, conducting much of his trade with Turkey. He was a respected figure and acted, for a time, as an advisor to Archbishop Laud on business affairs.

This arrangement came into being because of reputation and convenience. The Harveys lived close to the Archbishop’s Palace and Laud usually went there once a week.

Several of Mary’s relatives were well-known historical figures. Her uncle, William Harvey, was the physician who was the first to explain correctly the flow of blood around the body. Her brother, Daniel, served as Britain’s ambassador to Constantinople from 1668 to 1672.

Mary’s family were liberal and forward-looking in their attitude towards their daughter’s education. They sent Mary to Mrs Elizabeth Salmon’s boarding school in Lower Clapton Road, Hackney, a place sometimes referred to as “the Ladies’ University”. One source tells us that Mary began there in 1640.

Described as a Presbyterian, Mrs Hackney taught a curriculum which consisted of “French, religion, housewifery and polite accomplishments”.

Among Mary’s friends at the school was Katherine Philips, who became a poet and writer known as “The Matchless Orinda”. She was another groundbreaker, being one of the first women to be recognised as a poet in their own lifetime.

And is this all?: the songs by Mary Dering from the mid-1600s are thought to be the first to be published as being written by a woman

It may have been the school which gave Mary a real sense of adventure because in 1645, aged 16, she married William Hauke. She knew that the match would court controversy. Not only was William her father’s former apprentice, he was also her cousin.

She had married William without her father’s consent and when Daniel Harvey discovered what had taken place, he took steps to have the marriage annulled.

Three years later, on April 5, 1648, Mary married for a second time, but on this occasion, it was to a man for whom her family had huge admiration. He was also very well-off, although Mary’s £3,000 dowry – worth more than £400,000 in today’s money – certainly helped to swell her in-laws’ coffers. Mary married Sir Edward Dering at St Bartholomew-the-Less in Smithfield. They set up home in the Dering family house on their estate at Surrenden in Kent.

A year after her marriage to Sir Edward, the now Lady Mary began her musical studies.

Deer park: Surrenden in Kent, the family home of Sir Edward and Lady Mary Dering

She was tutored by the renowned court musician and composer Henry Lawes. As well as having lessons in playing the lute, Lady Mary learned about composition. She flourished under Lawes’s tutelage, with him dedicating his Second Book of Select Ayres and Dialogues to her, saying that her pieces were the best of the collection.

The Dering household was certainly a creative one, with Sir Edward was writing poetry. In all three of Lady Mary’s published pieces, the verses were written by her husband.

In later life, Sir Edward entered the world of politics, being elected as a Member of Parliament for Kent in the Convention Parliament in 1660. These were, of course, tumultuous times in England, following the Civil War and at the beginning of the Restoration of the monarchy.

In 1670, Sir Edward was again elected, this time as MP for East Retford in a by-election to the Cavalier Parliament.

Restoration figure: Sir Edward Dering, twice elected as an MP

Lady Mary gave birth to 17 children, of which 10 reached adulthood. She survived her husband by 20 years, and even outlived her eldest son.

She died, aged 74 in 1704, and was buried in the parish church at Pluckley, a village not far from Ashford in Kent, and close their country house.

Her story doesn’t end there, however. The village linked her with two ghost stories. The first was “The Red Lady”, who haunts the grounds of the church.

Lady Mary was said to have been interred in a coffin with several lead linings, with a red rose placed next to her body. It is the rose which gave rise to the Red Lady who, it is claimed, haunts the churchyard looking for the unmarked grave of her stillborn child.

The second ghost story is “The White Lady”. Before Surrenden Manor was largely destroyed by fire in the 1952, a ghost haunted the library there. Between the First and Second World Wars, the manor was used by the Americans as an extension to their embassy and “The White Lady” was seen by many people.

One story is told of a wealthy American, Walter W Winans, who held a solo vigil one Christmas Eve around 1920, armed with his hunting rifle. The ghost of the White Lady appeared before him and he took a shot at it. The bullet passed through the apparition, which vanished into a paneled wall. Some story tellers relate that the ghost disappeared into a tunnel connecting the house and the church, although no tunnel has ever been found.

For years, Lady Mary Dering’s her music was forgotten, but as the interest in female musicians and composers has increased, so her songs have been resurrected. Performances of them can be found on YouTube.

They reflect the period and style of music of the day and are just songs for a solo voice in a lyric style. Only one of them, “In vain fair Chloris, you design”, appeared in any subsequent publication, in 1659 and again in 1669, when it was published in a book of songs that could be sung with a bass viol accompaniment.

There are several members of Mary’s extended family who can be found in the registers of Croydon Parish Church.

The Harvey name was well-established in the area, as Mary’s father Daniel bought Coombe House. A cousin of Mary’s, Thomas Harvey, was baptised on September 9 1636. He was the son of Eliab Harvey who, like his brother Daniel, was a merchant who traded with Turkey. Matthew Harvey, another of Daniel’s brothers, was buried in Croydon in 1642, aged 49.

There is a Dering Place in Croydon today. It is the road where Howard Primary School is situated. It isn’t clear why the road is so named. It would be wonderful to think that the town planners had Lady Mary Dering in mind.

  • David Morgan, pictured right, is a former Croydon headteacher, now the volunteer education officer at Croydon Minster, who offers tours or illustrated talks on the history around the Minster for local community groups

If you would like a group tour of Croydon Minster or want to book a school visit, then ring the Minster Office on 020 8688 8104 or go to the website on and use the contact page

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