SHE chose a life that would have as little impact as possible on the world.

Yet a memorial service for Eleanor Bolton, known affectionately as the Botley Bag Lady, proved her impact on the community was far from little.

Some 50 people gathered at The Church of St Peter and St Paul in West Way yesterday to pay their respects and share memories of the Oxford icon who died in June.

The 73-year-old was known by many, having spent years living rough and often seen walking up and down Botley Road collecting plastic carrier bags.

But the congregation yesterday heard of her early life growing up in Bloxham, near Banbury, with parents Eleanor and George Bolton.

Her mother, a land girl, was said to have a ‘wild, ethereal quality’ much like her daughter, and her father was a maths master at Bloxham School.

Ms Bolton, something of a child prodigy, followed in her father’s footsteps with a mind for mathematics.

Rector of North Hinksey Reverend Clare Sykes said: “A brilliant child, Eleanor showed early promise in mathematics - in church one Sunday, aged three, she is said to have observed that all the hymns numbers were divisible by three.”

Reverend Sykes continued with tales of Ms Bolton’s life collected from friends and family accounts.

The congregation heard of her studies at university where she gained a first-class mathematics degree, before moving on to teach at a preparatory school in Bloxham.

She is thought to have left this job over a disagreement about school charging fees.

Reverend Sykes spoke of Ms Bolton’s struggle with relationships and the choice she made to ‘live a life that had as little impact on the world as possible’.

From some point in her 20s she began sleeping in her garden, before roaming the countryside, first in Bloxham and then Botley.

She ended up living in a battered shed by Seacourt Stream and eating leftover food out of bins on Botley Road. According to one tale recounted yesterday, she once assured a passer-by that banana skins had a good deal of vitamins.

One resident who shared a fond memory of Ms Bolton said she first met her in 2010 when she tried to give her £5 but was refused. Despite the short encounter Ms Bolton remembered the West Oxford resident, who said: “She spoke most eloquently and was the sweetest lady who, over four years, I became very good friends with.

“Her words were ‘I don’t need anything, my mind is free, my brain is clear and I am happy. I live in the moment and I survive.”

Another resident added: “She seem to have the extraordinary ability to remember people’s names. I first bumped into Eleanor in the early 90s just after my daughter was born and we used to walk her up and down Botley Road.

“Eleanor took a great interest and always asked after her and my wife by name - that’s what stood out to me.

“The conversation belied the appearance and many people thought there must be something wrong living a life like that. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Ms Bolton was buried alongside her mother and father in Bloxham.

Reverend Sykes said: “Botley has lost one of its greatest characters. This brilliant, independently minded, high principled Christian lady who was part of our landscape, who we cared about, yet who remained illusive and unknown to us. May she rest in peace.”