The smiling face of Betty Heather appropriately shines down near the Blue Market Square in Bermondsey, and for her grieving family, it is a lasting memorial to a woman who was like a mum to thousands of girls.
Elizabeth (Betty) Heather peacefully passed away surrounded by her loving family just two weeks ago on March 20th.
The 89-year-old was a regular face in the Blue and a true old-school Bermondsey girl. To thousands, she will be remembered as Nanny Bet having worked as a ‘lift lady’ at Aylwin Girls’ School on Southwark Park for 20 years until she retired in 2006, aged 72.
“She would have carried on but the insurance got too high because of her age,” her daughter, Kathy Heather told the News this week.
“She was a mum to all – the kids called her Nanny Bet at the school. She cared for you, she cared about you. When I talk to people they say, ‘Ah I’m gonna miss your mum’s smiley face.'”
But her smile lives on through the People’s Mural overlooking the Blue Market’s car park off St James’s Road. And it was the Blue where Betty could be found almost every day shopping. “Mum didn’t believe in monthly shopping,” Kathy continued, “she used to shop fresh every day down the Blue.
“And in her later years, she started using the Age Concern – she’d go in there and have her dinner, and play bingo. She put her bets on – she liked her 49s (the daily lottery).”
When the artist was painting the mural, he chose characters from the area everyone would recognise. “Her face has been painted directly underneath the wall light – so even in the dark she shines bright,” Kathy said.
Appropriately, Betty is among a line of women featured as working at the nearby former Peek Freens Biscuit Factory, which was a major employer in the area until it closed in the late 1980s.
Like so many women of her age Betty’s working life started off in factories, like Peek Freens and Hartley’s jam factory just off Tower Bridge Road. In fact, Betty never really left Bermondsey and the area of the Blue.
Her last job at Aylwin Girls’ School, now Harris Academy Bermondsey, as a lift lady involved standing in the lift and counting the kids that were getting on, to make sure not too many got on each time.
Asked if she ever met anyone else, Kathy said: “No – mum used to say no one would fit his shoes. He was only a size 5,” she joked.
Kathy says the couple ‘simply looked after each other,’ until her dad’s death in 1992.
The pair moved to St James’ Road soon after tying the knot and had four children in total: Kim, Kathy, Billy and Michelle.
Born in 1934 on Law Street, Bermondsey, towards Borough she was the youngest and only daughter to eight brothers, she was the last surviving sibling of her family.
In memory of Betty’s daily routine, on the day of the funeral (Monday, April 24) family and friends plan to pay a visit to all her regular spots – finishing off at The Blue Anchor pub, where Kathy says her mum used to sing with her brothers.
Kathy like her mum is a well-known face in Bermondsey having set up a pantry in the area during the Covid pandemic and more recently opened a baby bank named Betty’s Baby Bank, which is named after Kathy’s granddaughter who was named after her mum. “Mummy was so proud of that. Her legacy lives on.”
The family are encouraging anyone that knew their ‘mummy’ to come and raise a glass for her on the day.
On Monday, April 24 there will be tea and biscuits from 8:30 am at Albins funeral home in Bermondsey, leaving at 9:30 am for their journey down the Blue. The service will be at Honor Oak starting at 10:45.
If you would like to make a floral tribute please contact Nancy at Greens Florist on Jamaica Road at 07595 701 214.