‘Now Val has gone, part of old Sidmouth has gone, too’

Val French

Val French - Credit: Archant

Friends and neighbours joined family in Sidmouth this week in tribute to Valerie French, the much loved matriarchal head of a family of 27 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren.

Known to everyone as Val, she had lived in the same house in Mill Street for 60 years.

“She was the kindest, most gentle, loving, warm, dignified, classy lady any one could wish to meet,” wrote her eldest grandson, Richard Ramsey, on Facebook. “To all Nan’s children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, nephews, nieces and all that knew her, we were blessed.”

Val, the widow of Sidmouth fisherman Stan French, was locally famed, among much else, for the crab suppers she hosted in the early days of the folk festival to welcome the return appearances of the Dorset group, The Yetties.

“Now she has gone, part of old Sidmouth has gone, too,” said her lifelong friend, Frances Spence.

“She was a real stalwart in everything she did, a wonderful family person of the old school, comforting, motherly and great company.”

Val died unexpectedly, aged 85, only two days after attending morning service at Salcombe Regis Church where she was a lifelong worshipper.

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She was a noted singer and contralto soloist, who chose marriage instead of the chance to train professionally at the Guildhall School of Music.

Val, a founder of the former Sidmouth Music Club, was a long-serving reader for the Talking Newspaper and, over the years, sang with a number of Sidmouth choirs, namely the Choral Society, the Connaught Singers and, more recently, the Sidmouth Songsters whose leader, Joan Ridley, also joined the warm tributes to her this week.

She will be especially remembered at Salcombe Regis Church for her quiet dignity and a deep faith which characterised the responses she enunciated with such feeling, sincerity and clarity.

Val was mother to eldest daughter Jo, Andrew, Kate, Sarah and the late Michael.

“Mum was so very, very special to us all,” said Jo.