The woman who died in a house fire in Amberley last night (June 5) has been named locally as Elisabeth Belcher, although Sussex Police have yet to officially confirm this.
Mrs Belcher, who was in her 70s, lived alone at her thatched cottage in Hog Lane, when the blaze erupted, engulfing much of the property in heavy smoke.
Today, residents and friends who knew her have been paying tribute to a ‘kind and wonderful woman’ whose death has ‘left a hole in the village’.
Retired pensioner Sheila Jefferson was a friend of Mrs Belcher and lives opposite her home,
She was devastated by the news and said: “It is just horrible. I was very upset when I was told.
“She was awfully nice and very friendly.”
Sheila added that when the fire took hold at her friend’s home yesterday afternoon, she thought that Mrs Belcher had been evacuated.
“I was of course worried about her but the thought never entered my mind that she would have still been inside.
“It’s just tragic.”
Widower Mrs Belcher had lived in the village for many years and had been a member of the Amberley Millennium Green Trust which helped to maintain the bushes and grass verges in Amberley.
However, in recent years she had been ill and was housebound.
Gardener Paul Hurdle has been working in Amberley for about 15 years and knew Mrs Belcher.
He recalled her walking her pet dog around the village and described the pensioner as ‘bright and bubbly’.
The 56-year-old said: “When you live in a small village like Amberley everyone knows everyone. When someone dies it’s a part of the village that dies too. It leaves a hole there.”
He added: “Elisabeth was a great laugh once she got to know you. We’re all going to miss her.”
Before retiring, Elisabeth had been a nurse and travelled the globe with her husband, Hugh, who had been a leading expert on X-ray equipment.
He had also been a former chairman of Amberley Parish Council.
Mike Toynbee, who knew the couple well, described Mrs Belcher as a caring and devoted character, who tended to her husband after he suffered a stroke, right up until his eventual death about ten years ago.
Mr Toynbee added: “She also looked after her elderly mother, who turned 100, for many years, and died about three years ago.
“She moved from Owl Barn to North Road Farm in Hog Lane about five or six years ago and was very happy in her new home. As one resident summed her up: ‘Such a lovely lady with indomitable spirit’.”
In a touching floral tribute left outside Mr Belcher’s home this morning, one resident wrote: “With deep sadness of the death of Elisabeth, a wonderful, kind and funny woman who we will always remember.”
Fire investigators, alongside police scenes of crime officers were this morning combing the cottage for any clues as to how the blaze started.
However, a source at the fire service said that emergency crews were not treating the incident as suspicious.
For more details on the blaze, click here.
If you knew Elisabeth and would like to pay tribute to her, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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