TRIBUTES have been paid to a Winchester man with "a heart of gold" who died last week.

Ronald Cecil Purse, who lived in Fivefields Road, Highcliffe, was known affectionately throughout the city as Ron, and has been described as one of the city's "characters". He was 71.

He was often seen pushing a pram around the city.

Police are not treating his death last Friday as suspicious.

Neighbours had grown worried about his non-appearance and police broke in to find his body.

The cause of death is thought to be natural causes.

The central Hampshire coroner has been informed and a post-mortem examination was carried out on Tuesday at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester.

Deputy Mayor, Cllr Chris Pines, who had known Mr Purse for decades, said: "He was a lovely old thing. He had a heart of gold, although his way of dealing with things was not often the most sensible.

"If he knew you had a birthday he would find something on the street and wrap it in newspaper and give it to you.

"He was a Winchester character. In a strange kind of way he was one of the people that Winchester accepts and looks after and makes Winchester that kind of slightly oddball place."

The city centre manager, Graham Love, said: "He was held in high regard. Every city has its characters, and Ron was one of Winchester's."

City busker Frank Williams, who would often chat to Mr Purse, agreed, and said there was one less "character" in Winchester.

"He was harmless and he brightened up the street. He had a heart of gold and Winchester will be a poorer place for the loss."

Mr Williams said it was ironic that Mr Purse had died before Christmas.

"One of his favourite catchphrases when he put the world to rights was, never mind, it will soon be Christmas'," he added.

Sian Thomas, who has organised the Hat Fair for four years, where Mr Purse could always be found in the summer, said: "Ron has been a really important part of the Hat Fair.

"He always decorated his pram or pushchair for it, and whenever I saw him he would always say, it's coming up to that time of year again'."

She added that he also represented something important about Winchester.

"He lived his own way and represented an aspect of tolerance in Winchester. People appreciated him and had time for him."

Mr Purse leaves behind brothers Alfred and Basil, and sisters, Dot and Joyce.

He will be buried near his late brother, Reg, at Morn Hill cemetery.

The funeral service will take place at All Saints' Church, Highcliffe, next Tuesday, December 19, at 12.30pm.

Flowers or donations to benefit the RSPCA can be forwarded to Richard Steel & Partners, Chesil House, Chesil Street, Winchester SO23 0HU.