As a ten-year-old I was full of joy when I won a book token as a school prize.

I remember taking it to Southampton’s oldest bookshop - Gilbert’s in Portland Street ¬– it had the unusual road number of 2½. The store closed down in 2002 after trading for 143 years.

The staff recommended Southampton Cavalcade by Elsie Mary Sandell who had a great love of the city’s history and the gift of communicating her enthusiasm to her readers.

It is interesting in life how seemingly small events can have a major long-term influence. In my case this book lit the spark for a lifetime’s interest in local history and led to my becoming a published author.

Elsie’s family lived at 78, The High Street, Southampton where she was born on February 5, 1891. Her family later moved to 63 Portswood Road.

She was the daughter of George Washington Sandell who was a shipping broker in the local family shipping firm of Sandell Brothers & Son of 6, Canute Road. George was a good maritime artist and some of his work is held in the City’s art collection.

In 1911, Elsie was boarding and working in London as an examiner for an international correspondence school and at the start of The Second World War she was living near Axminster with her retired father who died in 1945. It is probably at this time she returned to Southampton.

Elsie was a prolific writer, producing a number of books on the town’s history, including The Story of Old Southampton: a walk within the walls (1947), Southampton Sketches (1948); Southampton Cavalcade (1958), Southampton Panorama (1958), Southampton Contrasts (1960) and Southampton through the Ages (1964). She also wrote local history booklets for children and articles for the Daily Echo. One was on 'Old East Street and its People’ in June 1954.

She also spoke on radio and appeared on television.

Her books are well worth reading today.

In May 1947 there was a Quincentenary Pageant with 200 performers to commemorate the Charter that established the County Town of Southampton in 1447 and Elsie wrote large parts of the script which gave a short history of the town.

It included the 1415 plot against King Henry V and the sailing of the Mayflower in 1620.

Elsie was involved with a number of local organisations, including the YWCA, the Poor Ladies Fund charity, Friends of Old Southampton and the Alliance Francaise.

Elsie also helped organise the D-Day embroidery. In 1947, while looking at the bomb damaged High Street, she had the idea of creating an embroidered memorial to Southampton’s contribution to D-Day in 1944. Several local women’s groups rose to the challenge. The first stitch on the 9 by 4.5 feet embroidery, designed by Miss C. Christison, was sewn in May 1950 and the last in 1953.

The embroidery was recently displayed in the Sea City Museum to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

In 1962, she unveiled a plaque at the opening of the girls’ section of the new Glen Eyre School in Violet Road telling the girls about the history of Glen Eyre, pointing out that it was the first girls’ school to open in Southampton in 200 years.

Having merged with Hampton Park Secondary School in 1986 it is now known as Cantell.

At Millbrook Secondary School for Girls there was a house named after her. Since 1963 the University of Southampton has awarded an Elsie M. Sandell prize for history students. It is worth £10!

Elsie sat on the Public Libraries and Museums Committee, and in 1953 became the first person to receive the Southampton Publicity Club’s award for Outstanding Service to the Town. She successfully fought a planned expansion of Tyrrell & Green’s store in Above Bar Street to save encroachment onto the park behind it.

Elsie lived at Winn Road from 1923 to 1970 and later in a flat in Westwood Road. A block of flats in The Parkway, Bassett, is named Sandell Court in her honour.

Elsie died in 1974.