MORE than 50 people held a minute’s silence yesterday to pay tribute to an elderly widow who died after being struck by a car while crossing a busy road.

Ellen Hendry, 81, died hours after villagers from Brancepeth, a few miles from Durham City, delivered a petition for the speed limit on the A690 to be lowered.

Yesterday, friends and neighbours gathered at the scene of the accident to lay flowers and hold a silent tribute.

The popular grandmother, who lived in elderly people’s accommodation in Brancepeth, died as she tried to cross the A690 Crook to Durham road after getting off a bus from Durham, just after 5pm on Wednesday.

She was struck by a Suzuki Swift driven by an unnamed 40-year-old man from Weardale, who was unhurt but shocked. It is not yet clear if speed was a factor in the accident.

The road, which bisects the village, was closed for two hours while police examined the scene.

Six hours before the tragedy, the chairman of Brancepeth Parish Council, Major John Jackson, handed in a petition, signed by more than 200 people, at Durham County Council’s headquarters, in Durham City, calling for the 40mph limit to be lowered to 30mph.

He presented the petition to highways committee chairman Dennis Morgan and later took a copy to the county’s police headquarters.

The tragedy has shocked the close-knit community, which has been calling for action to tackle traffic problems for years.

Mrs Hendry lived in Brancepeth for several years, having moved from Sunderland. She leaves two sons, two daughters – one of whom lives in Brancepeth with her family – and three grandchildren.

A family spokesman said in a statement: “Ellen Hendry will be sadly missed by all who knew her.

She was a popular figure, loved by everyone in the village of Brancepeth and, of course, Sunderland, where she grew up.

“A kind gentle and generous person, she would always put other people’s interests before her own.”

Maj Jackson said: “It is a horrible coincidence. At 11am I was with the chairman of the highways committee presenting the petition to the council, at 2pm I was taking a copy for the chief constable and at 5pm Mrs Hendry was dead. Awful.

She was a very popular, very nice lady.”

The A690 through Brancepeth used to have a 60mph limit that villagers managed to get lowered to 40mph.

Maj Jackson said: “We have asked for 30mph for quite a while, although they say in a national survey that it might go back up to 60mph. It is like a Formula One racetrack. There is one crossing, but it is so dangerous. It is by a sharp bend and cars come whooshing round so fast that nobody uses it. It is 30 yards from the bus stop.”

Resident Bob Chapman, who used to lead the village’s speed reduction campaign, said: “Ellen was a good friend of ours. She was a lovely lady. She had a smile for everyone. We are absolutely distraught.”

Alison Hobbs, who lives in Brancepeth Castle, said it was becoming increasingly dangerous for people of all ages to cross the road.

She said: “At peak times the traffic is a nearly unbroken stream and that is the time when people will be getting buses.”

Dave Wafer, the county council’s acting head of highway management, said the cause of the accident would be examined jointly with the police. Until the outcome it was “neither possible nor appropriate”

to comment on it in relation to the petition, he said.

He added: “As far as the petition itself is concerned, we shall be conducting traffic speed surveys on this stretch of the A690.

“We shall also be working with the police to establish whether, in light of the speed survey findings, any action may be necessary to address the concerns of local people.”

A Durham Police spokesman said: “This matter has been reviewed by the county council on a number of occasions in conjunction with the police and there have been no grounds to support this campaign. However, given the level of community concern, we are aware it will be looked at again by the county council.”

Any witnesses to the accident are asked to contact police on 0191-375- 2159.