Happy birthday, Minnie, 110!

Born in Victoria's reign, she remembers the sinking of the 'Titanic', and has never forgotten her forbidden first love. Yesterday, she celebrated yet another landmark
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Marie Curie was discovering radium; the builders of the Blackpool tower were just finishing its famous ballroom and the US declared war on Spain. The year was 1898, and in a corner of Bermondsey, south-east London, 110 years ago, Minnie Smith was born.

Yesterday, six monarchs, 21 prime ministers and 110 years later, the spinster joined Britain's tiny number of supercentenarians with a party at her care home, and yet another letter from the Queen to celebrate her longevity.

Miss Smith a former maid who first went to work at the age of 14 in the same year the Titanic sank puts her long life down to a regular drop of whisky and eating the previously uncelebrated fare of boiled onions.

She is virtually blind and deaf, and has difficulty communicating, but is described by relatives as "mentally all there", and friends say she loves singing at the Rookstone Salvation Army Home in south London.

Miss Smith is now less than five years short of the record for the oldest woman ever to have lived in Britain, currently held by Eva Morris, who died in 2000 six days before her 115th birthday.

Miss Smith, who spent much of yesterday surrounded by cards from well-wishers, never married or had children but keeps a photograph at her bedside of a soldier called "Noddy", her only boyfriend, whom she met during the First World War.

At the time, Miss Smith's mother banned the couple's blossoming relationship, and Sylvia Bond, her niece, 80, says her aunt talked about "Noddy" for the rest of her life even though he returned to his native Australia at the end of the conflict, never to be seen again. Mrs Bond says: "It was a bit of a tragedy really. She never fell in love with anybody else."

Miss Smith's cake yesterday was decorated with raised icing so that even if she couldn't see the decoration, she could feel it. She moved into the care home, aged 101, after decades of living independently.

Mrs Bond adds: "Everyone who has ever met her loves her. My aunt was always a bit of a rebel. She would never wear her little cap that was part of her maid's uniform."

While Miss Smith is one of the oldest women in Britain, she is not the oldest living Briton. Henry Allingham from Eastbourne, a survivor of the Battle of the Somme, is the oldest man in Europe at the age of 111.