I thought you and your congregation might be interested in the story of one of the first to worship in your church, as it now stands.
For many years I have owned a picture of a striking lady of middle years, painted by the popular late 17th, early 18th century artist, Michael Dahl. Finally, after years of idle speculation I have taken the trouble to identify her as Mary Pett, who was baptised and buried at St Mary’s, and lived for many years at Old Battersea House.
Inscribed on the painting is, ‘the wife of Samuel Pett’. Samuel Pett was from the Pett naval family, more commonly associated with Chatham and Deptford. He settled in Battersea in 1681 and became a Commissioner of the Royal Navy [in charge of victualling]. Dahl painted a number of Pett portraits and Samuel’s successor as commissioner in charge of victualling, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell.
The lady in my portrait is his second wife, Mary Pett. She was living in Old Battersea House at the time of the painting [she lived in the house for at least 52 years]. She was born Mary Otger in London, and was from a Flemish Protestant family. She married first a London merchant called Samuel Defisher [also from a Flemish family], and their children were baptised and appear in the Battersea registers. When Defisher died in 1676, she married again, one Edmund Long. Long died in 1681 – the year Samuel Pett moved to Battersea. A licence for the marriage of Samuel Pett and Mary Long was issued in June 1684. There are letters between Samuel Pett and Pepys relating to naval business in the Bodleian LIbrary. Pett was appointed Commissioner in March 1693. Pett was fairly active in parochial life in Battersea, he attended parish meetings frequently and was church warden in 1683. He died in 1710 and was buried at the church, I think. Mary Pett was a widow for the third time.
Mary Pett died in 1716 at the age of nearly 81 years. She was probably born in Old Battersea House [source: The story of Old Battersea House by F T Smallwood], she was christened at St Mary’s, Battersea, and lived in Old Battersea House for some 52 years and is presumed to have died there. She was buried at St Mary’s on 26th March 1716. The house was then occupied by her daughter-in-law, Grace, and grandchildren. The family continued to have a connection to the ‘mansion house’ for many years after.
More details of the life of Mary Pett and her connections to Old Battersea House, charitable giving in Battersea and to the church can be found in The story of Old Battersea House by F T Smallwood.