Although primarily associated with her home county of Northamptonshire, Mary Lucy Pendered, who is remembered as the author of ‘coy pastoral tales’ spent several years in Herne Bay, where she was the President of the local branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.1

The daughter of a Northamptonshire auctioneer, Mary was an energetic and politically active campaigner for women’s rights. Described as tall, with blue eyes, brown hair and the sort who could “handle a racquet and a pair of reins better than most women”2, she moved from her home town of Wellingborough to London in 1892 to become a journalist.3 She had already been dabbling with journalism, writing amusing poetry and stories in The Magazine of music: For the student and the million. This reflected her fun-loving nature as she loved performing and writing comic sketches and songs. She played both the piano and the banjo.

According to Mary, her parents opposed her decision to become a journalist and her father refused to support her. For a year she “battled for a place in the literary scheme of things in London, undaunted by the starvation wage of £1 a week”4 working for Life magazine, where she “did everything except sweep out the office’.5 After this, she secured a position with the London edition of the Detroit Free Press where she met Hall Caine and George Bernard Shaw and became “well-known to the denizens of Bohemia”.6 She also joined the Fabian socialists.

Her first novel Dust and Laurels: a study in nineteenth century womenhood was published in 1893 whilst she was working in London and is dedicated to “that hybrid complication, the woman of to-day, whose food is fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and whose drink is the intoxicating ether of freedom and independence.”7 It must have been exhausting writing her first novel, often in the late hours, whilst simultaneously being on the staff of “more than one London paper and acting editress of a popular weekly.”8 The newspapers described it as “one of the most adventurous books of the season."9
Her writing at this time could be described as part of the ‘New Woman’ movement and was seen as slightly shocking by some of the critics, which is surprising giving the later appraisal of her work.10 In her 1895 novel, A Pastoral Played out, touted as a “London literary sensation”, readers were shocked when her heroine Gylda agreed to live with her lover Etheredge who declared that he didn’t believe in marriage.11

From at least 1895 she was writing stories for Jerome K. Jerome's Idler and featured in the Idler’s Club column along with authors such as Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Sarah Grand and Ella Hepworth-Dixon. She also published stories in periodicals such as Belgravia, Temple Bar, Quiver, Argosy, The Girl’s Own Paper, the Women’s Penny Paper and Hearth and Home.

In 1899, her love of socialism was portrayed in her novel An Englishman, however, her middle-class tradesman hero was viewed by some with scepticism. The Evening Standard wrote: “There is so much careful and intelligent work in Miss Mary Pendered’s novel, …But the book is dull, and in a novel dullness is an unforgivable sin.”12
Her 1905 publication, The Truth about Man published anonymously ‘by a spinster’ was a little spicier, and was one of those books which simultaneously shocked but also appealed to those who denounced it; and its notoriety may have encouraged sales. In it, Mary claimed to draw from her personal experience, writing “I have been loved by three Americans, two Frenchmen, one German, one Irishman, one Swiss, three Scotsmen, and two or three Colonials, who do not count as they are so nearly English.”13 The premise of the book was that women who have “a safe income, good friends, enough amusement and variety” do not need husbands. A reviewer from Yorkshire declared her a minx.14

It is not certain when she moved to Herne Bay, but on 3 November 1908, Mary wrote a letter from The Fold, Beltinge to the Daily Mirror about women’s suffrage. She was the President of the Herne Bay Society for Women’s Suffrage. Five years later, and still, at this address, Mary hotly debated women’s suffrage in the Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald in the summer of 1913, with Jane Pemberton, a 55-year old woman of independent means living at Hunter’s Forstal. According to Mary “every organised body of industrial women … [was] crying out for the vote” and she accused Miss Pemberton of failing to understand the working woman because she was a “delicately nurtured and sheltered well to do woman.”15 She continued by arguing that anti-suffragists were people who had everything they needed and therefore didn’t care about the vote. Jane E. Pemberton replied: “As to the relative positions in the State of myself on the one hand and my lawn-mower and chimney sweep on the other, my vanity is not in the least wounded by the consideration that they have a vote, and I have not.”16

Although Mary was living in Kent at this time, her pastoral novels such as At Lavender Cottage (1912), Phyllida Flouts me (1913) and Lily Magic (1913) portrayed scenes of rural Northamptonshire life. Her reputation for ‘safe’ stories in which “the power of goodness allied with youth and beauty” overcame “moral miasma” were embraced by her home town, less so by her adopted county in which it was more likely they were written.17

At the outbreak of the First World War, Mary became involved in running a Soldier’s Club at Beltinge, converting a garage into a space for the soldiers. It was here that she indulged her other love, entertaining. Singing around the piano became a nightly event, with coffee and biscuits served to the men. Later, with a generous donation of a bungalow, the club was able to offer a place for the soldiers to unwind from 10 am to 10 pm, providing a writing and cards room, bagatelle, billiard table and a piano.18 In the following year, she supported the formation of the Herne Bay District Voluntary Association which made 6,119 articles of clothing for sick and wounded troops.

Throughout her time in Beltinge, Mary was writing and publishing as well as supporting the war effort. Her novel Plain Jill (1915) published when she was 56 was considered old fashioned and “notably unconcerned with actualities.”19 The Illustrated London News wrote: “A noble Earl, a simple maiden, a ghost or two, and a haughty Countess are ingredients strange to find in a novel of 1915.”20 In the following year, Mary injected some realism into her next novel The Secret Sympathy (1916) mentioning the war in the closing chapters. It was not, however, set in Kent, but in Sussex where the heroine Katherine Knollys fell in love with a chauffeur, who is the long-lost heir of a peer and also a German spy. Published in the same year, The Book of Common Joys: written in autumn sunshine for those who have left summer behind (1916) was a series of reflections on reading, gardening, hobbies and other common joys. It was a departure from her novel writing but gives an insight into the life that she enjoyed in Kent.

At some time in late 1916 or early 1917, Mary left Herne Bay for Wellingborough and in 1920 she advertised her bungalow in Beltinge to let. Six years later she was to influence the young H. E. Bates, who became a noted Kent author, whilst he was working as a journalist on the Kettering Reminder. Mary Pendered was to remain in Northamptonshire where she continued writing until her death in 1940. She made no mention of her life in Kent in later interviews, nor her suffrage work. Her novels, of which there were around 20, like her time in Kent, are now largely forgotten, as is the cigarette-smoking, fun-loving woman who brought so much cheer to those who knew her.


  1. The Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction 

  2. Aberdeen Evening Express, Saturday 15 July 1893. 

  3. Dean Baldwin H.E. Bates: a literary life (Associated University Presses, 1987) 

  4. Northampton Mercury, Friday 24 March 1933. 

  5. Northampton Mercury, Friday 24 August 1934. 

  6. Aberdeen Evening Express, Saturday 15 July 1893. 

  7. Dust and Laurels 

  8. Aberdeen Evening Express, Saturday 15 July 1893. 

  9. Aberdeen Evening Express, Saturday 15 July 1893. 

  10. New Ulm review. (New Ulm, Brown County, Minn.), February 12, 1896. 

  11. The Herald. (Los Angeles, Calif.), April 21, 1895, p. 16. 

  12. London Evening Standard, Thursday 22 February 1900. 

  13. 'Books for holiday reading'. The Review of reviews; London, vol. 32, iss. 188, August 1905, pp. 204-207. 

  14. 'Books for holiday reading'. The Review of reviews; London, vol. 32, iss. 188, August 1905), pp. 204-207. 

  15. The Whitstable Times and Tankerton Press, June 7, 1913, 8. 

  16. The Whitstable and Herne Bay Herald, July 5, 1913, 7. 

  17. Northampton Mercury, 17 October 1913. 

  18. Copy Of The National Scheme Of Co-Ordination Of Voluntary Effort Resulting From The Formation Of The Director General Voluntary Organisations Dept. Appendices III And IV. Being A Detailed Record Of The Work Of The Recognized Associations. Charity Commission. War Charities Act. 1916. Benevolent Organisations Date: n.d. Manuscript Number: B.O.1 1/15 Source Library: Imperial War Museum 

  19. Illustrated London News, Saturday 03 July 1915. 

  20. Illustrated London News, Saturday 03 July 1915.