BELLINGHAM has lost one its most colourful and popular characters with the death of former village baker Tom Arnup on his 91st birthday.

Known for his bushy beard and booming laugh, Tom was a popular figure throughout the North Tyne and beyond.

Having taken over the bakery in 1971, Tom could still be found in the early hours of the morning turning out pies and loaves from the Parkside Place ovens at the age of 88, before he reluctantly stood down during the Covid pandemic.

Revellers returning from dances and discos in the village used to queue at the back door of the bakery for hot pies straight from the oven.

Tom grew up in Eltham in South London, which accounted for his unmistakable cockney-cum-North Tyne accent. He still lived in London during the Blitz and was twice evacuated.

He joined the Merchant Navy as a young man, serving for six years, before starting a new career as a dairyman, working on farms all over the country.

His late wife Hazel was a Bellingham girl, whom he married in 1957, and they had son Neale and daughter Diane.

The family settled in Bellingham in 1971, taking over the former Bell’s Bakery - still a successful business today.

Tom was very much involved in village affairs, serving on Bellingham Parish Council for a number of years. He was involved when the parish council was gifted what is now the Jubilee Field to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 and developed it into a popular playground and riverside picnic area.

He also fought to save the Bellingham Institute – now the snooker club – which was due to be demolished as part of plans to build government advance factories in the Foundry Yard.

Tom was a governor at Bellingham Middle School for some years, and a long-serving member of Bellingham Town Hall committee, where he was a popular bingo caller and Santa Claus.

He was a formidable batsman for Bellingham Cricket Club, a keen salmon fisher on the North Tyne as well as being an enthusiastic member of Bellingham Leek Club.

In his later days, he enjoyed carpet bowls.

Tom was left a widower when Hazel died in 1997, but took pleasure from his four grandchildren.