Farewell to Topsy, Sidmouth's oldest resident

Topsy Hindley, Sidmouth's oldest resident

Topsy Hindley, Sidmouth's oldest resident, has died aged 108 - Credit: Doveleigh Care

Gertrude ‘Topsy’ Hindley, believed to have been Sidmouth’s oldest resident, has died at the age of 108.

She died on Sunday, March 7 at Arcot House care home, where she had lived since she was 102.

Topsy was well known in Sidmouth as the founder of the Animal Rescue Centre charity. She is also thought to be one of the oldest people in the UK to receive the Covid-19 vaccination.

Topsy was born on May 25, 1912 in Bourne, Lincolnshire, in a room in the bank where her father was manager. Her brother Jim was born in 1903, Margaret in 1905, Charles in 1907. One other brother, Christopher, only lived for a week.

Topsy’s mother stayed at home to look after the house and the children until the First World War started in 1914 and then she also spent time nursing injured troops.

Topsy’s mother died when she was 27. Her sister went into the land army during the Second World War and Topsy took charge of the house when she left.

She went to school in Lincolnshire until she was 11, when her father, Charles, retired from the bank at 57 and the family moved to Sidmouth. Charles lived to be 100.

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Topsy never married but she was an aunt, a great aunt and a great-great aunt.

She started the animal welfare sanctuary in 1972 and said in recent years how it happened.

“The police used to ring me up to look after stray dogs until the owners were found and it just started from there. I love all animals,especially dogs.”

The charity still runs to this day. It is now called the animal rescue centre and is based In Ottery St Mary.

When Topsy came to Arcot House, he family had been told she only had days to live. She lived for another seven years.

Richard Hindley, Topsy’s nephew, said that Topsy played the viola in the Sidmouth Orchestra under the guidance of a renowned musician and conductor, Clifford Brown.  She took part in many concerts as well as recitals by quartets.

She loved hill-walking with her father and they went on many excursions as far afield as Scotland, Wales and the Lake District.  She had an extensive knowledge of all of these areas.

Richard said: “During the war her sister, Peggy, was in the Land Army and after the war she rented a farm on Dartmoor with a fellow Land Army girl.  Topsy spent a great deal of time helping them on the farm.

“She is perhaps best known in Sidmouth for her great love of dogs and could be seen exercising the dogs she was boarding in and around the town – sometimes taking as many as six at a time, all on leads, and all under strict control. When visiting her home for a family holiday it was no surprise to find that she had seven or eight dogs in her charge. She was instrumental in setting up ARC, the Animal Rescue Centre, which celebrated its 40th anniversary a few years ago.”

He added: “My abiding memory is how welcoming she always was to me, my own family and the extended family.

“She had ‘open house’ to many of the family from the spring right through to the autumn. Nothing was too much trouble.  She would not let any of us wash up and waited until we had all gone to bed and set to it. In the morning we would always say that ‘Mary the maid’ must have come during the night! She continued this until she was well into her nineties.”

Samantha Evens is the senior manager of Doveleigh Care Ltd, which runs Arcot House in Sidmouth and Dove Court in Seaton. She said: “I have so many memories of Topsy, she was in my care for nearly seven years. 

“She always had a smile or a story to tell. She would always make us aware of what she would like and how she would like it. Every morning I would walk past her room to come into work and we would see her tapping her feet and nodding her head to the music while she had her soft dog toys around her. 

“Topsy loved to have ketchup with all her main meals. We always made sure we had plenty in stock and every year I would write to Heinz on her behalf and they would send her a birthday card and personalised sticker for a bottle.

“A most recent memory was talking to Topsy about the Covid vaccine and she was able to read back to me what I had written. She agreed everything would be alright and gave me a cuddle. We all need that reminder sometimes that everything would be all right and Topsy would always give us that.”

Samantha added: “Topsy was fiercely independent and had a room with a separate lounge (garden view), en-suite and mini kitchen. She was very set in her ways and would always voice her views about how she would like things done. She loved to sit and reminisce about her love for dogs and the charity she set up, known as Animal Rescue Centre.

“Topsy had many friends and family who would visit, bringing their dogs in too. She was a petite lady but always loved a good start to the day with eight cups of tea and eight slices of bread and butter! She always found room for her snacks and meals throughout the day.”

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