OBITUARY: Lizzie Sanders 1950-2020

Edited from original article, published Saffron Walden Historical Journal No 40 (2020)

With a huge sense of loss, we record the death of Lizzie Sanders in August 2020, aged 70. She had lived in Littlebury since 1987, but I think our first encounter was probably when she produced the Parish of Littlebury Millennium Album (2000), a portrait of the village residents at the turn of the century. This was followed by an even bigger volume, the magnificent Littlebury: A Parish History (2005), co-edited with Gillian Williamson, and surely one of the best village history books ever published. Not the least achievement was leading a local group of other residents to take up historical research, but this was typical of Lizzie’s community approach. By going on to edit The Life and Times of a Country Gardener at Howe Hall (2007), for Sarah and Stan Casbolt, she enabled others to get into print a unique slice of oral history.

The culmination of her historical works was Audley End Landscape Histories (2019), based on a series of articles written for the Saffron Walden Historical Journal about the hamlets along the river Cam. Lizzie’s painstaking research, careful writing and sense of design ensured she knew exactly what she wanted for the book, and the result is a fine volume on a subject little explored before. The book was launched in December 2019, with her many friends and family present (see Saffron Walden Historical Journal No 39, p.1).

Through the Recorders of Uttlesford History, she took over the role of Local History Recorder for Littlebury some 15 years ago and, as always, carried it out with enthusiasm and unfailingly high standards. She was a stickler for getting things right – a great attribute for a historian. Her annual reports are not just lists of village events, but personal essays presenting a picture of parish life over the course of the year, written with affection and insight. Re-reading them online (www.recordinguttlesfordhistory.org.uk) is a reminder of the numerous other activities – oral history, transcription, archival scanning, beating the bounds, visiting lecturers, website, house history days, guided tours of the village, junior history days in the summer holidays (including the memorable re-creation of the Eddystone Lighthouse story), the discovery of a stone circle, a stall at the Uttlesford History Fair, field-walking with Prof Tom Williamson which produced Celtic and Roman coins, a summer evening visit to Ring Hill at Audley End, and a Saffron Screen presentation of the Littlebury film she compiled. Plus all the day-to-day demands that come the way of a Recorder – family history enquiries, collecting ephemera and newspaper cuttings, taking local photos, recording memories, updating parish magazines and website, etc.

Somewhere in the midst of all this hectic activity, she found time to do a Master’s degree in Modern History at King’s College, London, graduating in 2014. A particular joy was the discovery of the oldest known map of Saffron Walden, which aroused much interest when put on display in the town hall.

She also did an excellent photographic project on the 1758 map of the town, which has been useful time and again for articles in the Journal. She decided that ‘the thought that someone else, a new Littlebury Recorder coming after me, would have to be able to understand how to access information within the materials I had assimilated, was a stimulus to freshly organising them’. At her own expense, she then compiled 11 huge bound volumes of about 275 pages each of Littlebury material gathered, all sorted into subjects, and donated them to The Gibson Library, Saffron Walden where anybody can consult them. Most recently Lizzie organised a very successful village arts festival, and extracted references to other villages in Victorian Littlebury parish magazines, passing them on to other Recorders. Her very last project, to catalogue the 1758 map of Saffron Walden, is being completed by her son.

Lizzie was also a campaigner, writing, for instance, against excessive signage spoiling local heritage; highlighting the importance of the Gibson (formerly Town) Library; and opposing new flight path proposals from Stansted Airport.

None of this even touches on Lizzie’s earlier career over about 40 years as a highly successful illustrator – contributing to numerous publications, designing book covers and so on. An obituary appeared in The Guardian with a picture of the Yorkshire Tea image she painted (6.9.19). A phenomenal personality who crammed so much into her 70 years.

Jacqueline Cooper

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