THE mystery of Winsford’s oldest community award - The Dempster Challenge Cup – has been solved, unveiling some hidden treasures in the town’s history.
The silver cup has been awarded since 1926 by Winsford Town Council to the best kept allotment at the Over Allotments site, Moss Bank.
Over the years the identity of the cup’s namesake has been forgotton but after an appeal in the Guardian two weeks ago it’s been revealed that the woman who discovered the world famous Sutton Hoo treasures – ornate items of gold and silver that shed new light on the so-called Dark Ages – was directly linked to the cup.
John Malam, the current holder of the cup, was contacted by a number of readers and made the discovery after trawling through past issues of the paper.
He said: “I kept coming across references to a Miss Dempster. She was a JP, and was involved with several Winsford groups, including the Amateur Theatrical Society, the Nursing association and the Albert Infirmary. I wondered if she might have something to do with the cup.”
After a bit more research John found a report from April 9, 1926 describing how the 55 plots at Over Allotments were inspected “after a painstaking examination” and the challenge cup “which was given by Miss Frank Pretty” was awarded to Joseph Bratt whose plot “would fare well with any other in the whole district.”
John said: “That was the final piece of the puzzle. Edith Dempster, who had become Edith Pretty through marriage, had given the cup.”
Edith was born in 1983 and was the younger daughter of Robert Dempster, a wealthy industrialist who died a year before the cup was first awarded.
The family lived at Vale Royal House and on the onset of World War One Edith turned her attention to chartible work, becoming quatermaster of the Red Cross military hospital in Winsford, and in 1917 served with the Red Cross in France.
In the Guardian’s words, Edith “filled the role of ‘bountiful fairy’ and her interest in all works of a charitable nature has won for her highest regard.”
When her father died she and her sister inherited the family estate, valued at more than £500,000 (£16 million today).
The following year Edith marrried Lt Col Frank Pretty in their Cheshire home before giving up the lease and moving to the 526-acre Sutton Hoo Estate in Suffolk where she discovered the Sutton Hoo Anglo Saxon treasures after encouraging an archeaologist to investigate mysterious mounds on her land.
“I could never have imagined where my search would take me,” said John, a former archeaologist himself.
“Linking the allotment cup with the woman who found the Sutton Hoo hoard feels like finding treasure of it’s own.
“It’s good to finally reveal the cup’s hidden history.”
Since the Guardian’s appeal we have since discovered the following past winners of the cup: John Done, six times winner, 1930s to 1950s; Harold Ikin, 2 times winner, 1950s; Horace Burgess, three-times winner, 1960s; William Lever, six times winner, 1960s.
The all time record belongs to the late William ‘Bill’ Swift, who won it eight times between 1980 and 1993.