Woman who died in Amberley cottage fire remembered

Elisabeth Belcher, who died after a fire at her Amberley home. Pictured in 2007
Elisabeth Belcher, who died after a fire at her Amberley home. Pictured in 2007

Amberley resident Mike Toynbee has written the following obituary of Elisabeth Belcher, who died in a fire at her home on Friday June 5.

Elisabeth Belcher, who tragically died in the fire at North Road Farm, Amberley, during the afternoon of Friday, June 5, was a much loved and popular member of the community.

She and her husband, Hugh, retired to Amberley in the late Eighties, acquiring the then incomplete Owl Barn conversion in Hog Lane, and went on to turn it into a comfortable home. Elisabeth created a beautiful garden in which the couple regularly hosted parties.

Hugh, a leading expert in radioisotopes in medical diagnosis, had worked for the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna for a number of years. Elisabeth, who spoke excellent German, worked as his secretary and accompanied him on many trips to conferences around the world. “We had such great fun travelling,” she once recalled.

In Amberley, they quickly settled into village life. Hugh became chairman of the Parish Council, and Elisabeth managed the church hall for many years. She was also an accomplished bellringer, acting as vice-captain when the bell captain of the day, Rex Charman, was unable to attend. She also became one of the stalwart helpers at the Amberley Village Lunch and was a life member of the Amberley Society.

She worked for some years in the Post Office at Amberley Village Stores, and was a strong supporter of Amberley Millennium Green, a joint venture by the Parish Council and the Amberley Society, coming up with imaginative ideas for its use. She organised the children’s sports at the gala opening in 2000 and a party early on bonfire night, and also helped fund much needed equipment.  And she would frequently be seen walking her beloved West Highland terriers, Castor and Pollux, around the Green.

A trained nurse, Elisabeth was totally selfless, first looking after her elderly parents, who moved into Old Place Cottage, next to Owl Barn, and then, following a serious stroke which left Hugh completely incapacitated, she provided round-the-clock care for her husband so that he could remain at home.

During this period of immense stress, she suffered a heart attack and finished up in St Richard’s Hospital for a day or two. However, once home, she continued her devoted care of Hugh until his death in 2007. After this, she moved, with her mother, Agnes, to North Road Farm, a couple of hundred yards away in Hog Lane, a home which she loved and in which she was very happy. Agnes died in 2010, aged 103.

Elisabeth was a familiar sight around the village, making daily visits to the shop until illness prevented her, and driving her dogs in her tiny car for walks at Rackham and Wiggonholt.

“Despite all her sadnesses, she retained a great sense of humour and never complained, even during the last few years when she herself was not well,” said close friend, Mary Leonard, of Hog Lane.

Her generosity of spirit was extended to the village in many ways, not least by the wonderful parties she gave at the Black Horse. Yet she was a very private person, always much more interested in other people than talking about herself.

Friend and neighbour Chris Hedgethorne, of Church Street, who popped in on a daily basis to keep an eye on Elisabeth as she became less mobile , recalled her kindness to him when he needed help.

“She drove me to hospital for my two cataract operations. Of course, I couldn’t drive myself and wasn’t allowed to use public transport. This involved a lot of waiting, before, during and after the operations. She was always so patient.”

Another close neighbour with fond memories, Jodie Lambert, said: “Elisabeth was one of the first people I remember meeting when we first moved to Amberley and she was so kind and friendly.

Whether she was walking her Westie, pottering in the garden or driving her little car, she would always stop for a chat, give a cheerful wave or simply give you a smile. I particularly remember how happy she was when she finally moved into North End Farm and how proud she was when she showed me round her new kitchen.”

Another long-standing friend, Margot Edgcumbe-Rendle, of Newland Gardens, also has many happy memories , including a certain predictability: “A group of us would regularly meet for lunch at the Sportsman and despite all the tempting items on the menu, we always knew what Elisabeth would have: egg and chips, every time!”

Elisabeth will be remembered as a truly lovely person, kind and caring, and whose loss we are all the poorer for.

She leaves a brother, David Mullett, the artist.

News of Elisabeth’s death came just as members of the Amberley Society were about to start a guided tour of St Michael’s churchyard. As they stood in silence, the vicar, the Revd Alison Pattenden, said prayers and three bell captains – Elizabeth Butler (current) and John Bentley and Valerie Myers (both former) each provided a one-minute toll of a bell as a mark of respect.

Among the many floral tributes placed outside North End Farm, was one which summed up the feelings of those who knew Elisabeth: “With deep sadness on the death of Elisabeth, a wonderful, kind and funny woman who we will always remember.”

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