TributeS were paid this week to Branscombe’s oldest villager whose death - 20 days short of her 100th birthday - recalls a bygone age in village life, writes Kingsley Squire.

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Rita Saunders, born in 1912, the year the Titanic sank, had a remarkable memory of childhood.

She remembered the din made by the first car in the village and the old ladies who, dressed in long black, grey hair scraped back in a bun, sat out on their cottage doorsteps in the sun making lace.

“A bit of old Branscombe has now gone that can never be replaced,” said villager Jean Brimson in tribute to Rita. “She had this marvellous memory and she loved to sit back laughing in her chair to talk about what she called the good old days.”

Those memories live on in the archive of village life made by the Branscombe Project whose leader, Barbara Farquharson, joined the tributes.

“Rita, with her wicked sense of humour and turn of phrase, had this inate ability to bring to life things that happened so long ago,” she said. “If we did not have the stories and memories the few like her are kind enough to share with us, we would have lost so much of the whole of 20th century local history.”

Rita was born at Street, the top half of the village, and grew up down the road at Grapevine.

She left school at 14, first delivering milk from a hand-cart trundled around the village, before going into service as a cap-and-apron parlour maid.

Village life then pivoted on church and chapel and as a child, Rita, brought up a staunch Methodist, always went to Chapel twice on Sundays.

She and her late husband, Charlie, brought up three daughters, Jennifer, Angela and Marilyn, cooking on a black lead range in their little thatched cottage with a bucket loo in the garden across the road.

A member of the village WI and the Senior Citizens, she sang with the Christmas carollers around the village for some 50 years.

Rita, who went into care at 91, first in Sidmouth and then Exeter, also leaves six grandchildren, six great grandchildren and a sister, Gwen.

Her funeral is at Exeter Crematorium on Friday at 1.15 pm with donations to Arthritis Care.

It is especially apposite that her ashes will be brought back to Branscombe, the village that she loved so much for all of her life.

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