Edith May Dempster was born in Yorkshire in 1883 the second daughter of a gas industrialist Robert Dempster.
At a very young age Edith’s father, Robert moved his factory to Manchester and settled with his family in Cuddington. While in Cuddington the family went on a world tour travelling to Egypt, Greece, Austria-Hungary, British India and the USA. During the years 1907 – 1925 her father had acquired the lease on the Vale Royal Abbey (once the home of Mary Cholmondeley) near Whitegate and Edith lived most of her life here and took on public and charitable works.
During WW1 Edith served as a quartermaster for the Red Cross Auxillary hospital in Winsford and also helped to rehome Belgian refugees as well as helping the Red Cross in France. In 1919, her mother died and she spent a number of years caring for her ailing father at Vale Royal until he died in Cape Town, South Africa in 1925. He had left his two daughters an equal share of his estate to the value of £500,000 the equivalent in 2006 of £16 million.
In 1926 Edith married Frank Petty whom she had met during her work with the Red Cross and while he was serving in the Suffolk Regiment. After her marriage she chose to give up the lease on Vale Royal Abbey and moved with Frank to the Sutton Hoo Estate in Suffolk where she became a local magistrate. Then in 1930 aged 47, Edith gave birth to her only child, a son called Robert Dempster Pretty but sadly only 4 years later her husband Frank died in 1934 of stomach cancer.
She continued to live at Sutton Hoo with her son and while there kept discovering several small archaeological artefacts and then in 1939 she chose a self taught archaeologist Basil Brown to excavate her land and she financially backed him to excavate it. This was to prove very fruitful as Basil Brown went on to find a Saxon long boat and a Saxon helmet. A spokesperson for the British Museum stated that, “this was the most extensive archaeological discovery of all time.”
Edith died in 1942 from a stroke aged 59 and her son Robert, aged 12 was cared for by her elder sister, Elizabeth. Edith left her estate in trust to Robert worth £400,000 until his death in 1987 aged 57 from stomach cancer and the portrait of Edith painted by Corvoisser was donated to the National Trust by her grandson David Pretty.
A truly remarkable woman who did so much and achieved national fame through her initiation of one of the most significant archaeological finds in the world.