George Edward Dering: Engineer, Inventor and Squire of Lockleys, Welwyn

Jennifer Ayto

George Dering was born in 1831 and inherited Lockleys in 1859.  He died there in 1911.

Sherrardswood School. The old house was previously known as Lockleys, and this name is still preserved within the school as the name for the junior department. At the time of this photograph the school was known as “St Margaret’s”

During the 1880s he left Welwyn, returning occasionally to pay the servants and then moving back permanently in 1907.  On his death, there was surprise that he named the executors of his will as Charles Longmore (solicitor in Hertford) and his daughter, Mrs Rosa Georgina Neale.  He asked to be buried next to his deceased wife in Sussex.  This was news to everyone.  No one knew that he was married.  He had been living in Hove under another name George Dale, with a wife, Martha Dale.

Memories of George Dering concentrate on the mystery of his private life and his later years but the acquisition of his diaries which run from 1850 – 1870 (HALS/Acc6135) provides an opportunity to discover more about his early life and personality.


He became fascinated by tightrope walking and was friends with Blondin who visited Lockleys.  The only known photograph of Dering is of him crossing the River Mimran.[1]

George Dering – Crossing the River Mimram

His diary entry for 18 August 1862 recorded that Samuel Debenham, a photographer in Tilehouse Street, Hitchin “took photographs of me upon the wire over the river and of Mary and Laura [his cousins].  Mr Blake [of Danesbury], Crowther and Bailey all called whilst the photographing was going on and Crowther [Curate of Welwyn] sat for a likeness.  Debenham brought his son who tried rope walking”.




Dering went to Rugby school where Henry Highton was Assistant Master.  Highton was a pioneer in the development of telegraphy and in particular the conduction problem of underwater telegraph cables, subjects which fascinated Dering.

By the age of 20 he had invented a needle suspended to swing like a pendulum in 1850.  This was used by the Bank of England in its communication system.  He became a Director of the Electric Telegraph Company of Ireland.  Attempts to lay undersea cables between Scotland and Ireland and the first Transatlantic cable are recorded in the diaries.

Dering then turned his attention to the railways.  On 28 January 1858 he recorded that “At work all day in my room.  Read up the subjects welding and hard soldiering”.  A similar note for the following day, “At work all day in my room, chiefly on Permanent Way improvements and reading up the subject”.  Within a few weeks the local tradesmen were producing wood models of his drawings.

By 1862 his ideas had been put into practice.  7 February: “Down to Lockleys by 4 o’c train …. Examined my fastenings in the line at Welwyn station with Walker and Steggles.[2] At some point he had constructed a forge at Lockleys as a few days later he noted, “SundayTo morning service … Saw Blow coming out and he told me that my Fire Insurance is not affected by the forge”.

He exhibited electric telegraph apparatus at the Great Exhibition, 1851, permanent way joints at the International Exhibition of 1862, in Dublin in 1865, and in Paris in 1867.[3]   He recorded,

27 March 1862: “Passed most of the day superintending completion of Exhibition work by Sarney, young Joyner [Plumber and Glazier in Welwyn] and Blow’s man. Old Joyner came up in the afternoon – Practised rope walking and crossed river many times”.

30 March:  Goods for Exhibition went off by farm waggon this afternoon.  Sarney to meet them in London early tomorrow.

Dering took out 19 patents.  His inventions have been described by Richard Neall.  (HALS:  942.586WEL).

Dering inherited Lockleys on his father’s death in 1859 and fulfilled his role of local squire.  He contributed to the fund for a new organ, was actively involved with the faculty system in reorganising the pews, supported the school and the Reading room. He noted on 17 June  1869 that, “Mr Wilshere called early with reference to the fever in Welwyn and water supply and drainage questions. I agreed to share with him the expense of 2 new public wells”.

He also made many improvements to the estate and was a stickler for detail.  Returning to Lockleys on 23 August 1867, he noted that he saw Mr Nunn and his man about the hurdles recently put up, Titmus about the iron gates and their posts and Blow about the brass screws on the window frames. They all needed to be properly adjusted.[4]

But what about his wife, Martha Dale?  She makes her first appearance in the diaries in April 1861 when he starts looking for lodgings in London for her and the daughter Rosa.  A letter amongst the diaries suggests that 28 August 1858 was a significant date for them.  The diaries and other records have Martha as being born in Taunton on 6 October 1841.  The daughter, Rosa Georgina, was on born 27 September 1859 in Brampton, Middlesex.  Martha died on 27 July 1894 and buried at Aldrington, Sussex on 2 August 1894.

The diaries tell us very little more about Martha.  Dering was very fond of her.  She was consumptive and had the best medical treatment available.  He rented houses in London in the Highbury/Holloway area and whilst he spent time with her there, he was often travelling, living at Lockleys and, even when in London, frequently stayed in hotels.  The poste restante facility enabled him to collect letters wherever and under the names of Dale and Dering.

The diaries for 1869 and 1870 have Dering and Martha spending time in Brighton with Martha clearly very ill.  A permanent move to Brighton probably occurred in the 1880s but, as the 1891 census reveals, they had separate addresses.  Dering remained in Aldrington for some years after Martha’s death and retained contact with his daughter.  His son in law confirmed that they knew he went under two names, but never asked why.[5]

The memorial to George Edward Dering is in the grounds of St Leonard’s Church, Aldrington.  It also records M. Dering.  Her date of birth is unknown and the date of death recorded as 27 July 1892 although it was 1894.

Memorial – St Leonard’s Church, Aldrington.

Martha may remain a mystery and George may also be remembered as an eccentric.  A positive and contemporary description of him comes from John Edwin Cussans:[6]

Mr George Dering is one of the most amiable gentlemen I have ever met, but by reason of the secluded life he leads, he is not appreciated at his true value”.



[1] A copy of the photograph is at HALS – HALS/Acc5091.

[2] William Walker, Station Master and Robert Steggles, Railway Plate Layer at Great Northern Station, Harmer Green.

[3] The programme notes for the 1867 Paris Exhibition describe George E Dering, Inventor & Patentee, of Lockleys, Welwyn as exhibiting “Improved Permanent Way of Railways”.  It was also noted that he had received the only Jurors’ award for such improvements at the International Exhibition of 1862 and the prize medal at the Dublin Exhibition of 1865 for spring clip fish joints of tempered steel.

[4] James Blow of White Horse Street, Welwyn and William Blow of Fore Street, Welwyn were both enumerated as Carpenter on the 1861 census.  The 1861 census recorded Charles Titmuss, a Carpenter, in Codicote Road, Welwyn.  Nunn may be Charles, an Ironmonger in Hertford.

[5] HALS/DE/Gr/82/2/16.

[6] John Edwin Cussans, “A Professional Hertfordshire Tramp”, Hertfordshire Record Society, 1987.

This page was added on 24/10/2023.

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  • This is a brilliant piece of research into the life of an exceptionally creative and interesting man with many special interests and skills, and all the more impressive because of Dering’s reclusive nature.

    By Ruth Jeavons (17/11/2023)