‘Herbert is like one of the church pillars. He has always been here’

Herbert Mole who is retiring from his post as church warden at Norham Parish Church
Herbert Mole who is retiring from his post as church warden at Norham Parish Church

IN the week when the Queen celebrated 60 years on the throne, closer to home a Horncliffe man has reached a milestone of his own. Now 91, Herbert Mole has been a church warden at Norham Parish Church for 54 years, but has decided to call it a day after more than five decades in the role.

He will be honoured at a special service at the church on Sunday, June 24, when he will be officially presented with a plaque in recognition of all his selfless work by the Bishop of the Newcastle Diocese, the Reverend Martin Wharton. The service will be led by the Archdeacon of Lindisfarne, the Venerable Peter Robinson.

Until then, the praise of many others is ringing in Herbert’s ears, and deservedly so after such long and distinguished service.

Herbert has been churchwarden at Norham ever since leaving the navy after serving his country with pride in a number of conflicts – including the Second World War.

And as well as being modest about everything he has done at the church he also played down his part in the war effort.

He explains: “I started in the Royal Navy which was quite an eventful time, we hit an iceberg at one point. I was in there a few years and I was also involved in some invasions including D-Day.

“From there I travelled all over during my time in the forces, places like north Africa, Sicily, Italy, Crete and I came into the job at Norham on one of the first weekends I was back at home.

“I went into Sunday service and Canon Little said to me ‘Herbert you’re churchwarden now’.”

Despite having the role heaped on his shoulders unexpectedly, Herbert threw himself into the job with an enthusiasm that has never deserted him since.

Most churchwardens stay in the position for six years, but Herbert, who was born in Falkington near Duddo and now lives at Horncliffe, has surpassed the trend by decades, never letting his age stand in the way of his duties.

“I’ve spent most of my time looking after the churchyard,” he continued.

“It was in a right state when I took over so my brother and I took it upon ourselves to cut the grass, dig some of the tree roots out, plant some more down the roadside and widen the footpaths.

“Being churchwarden has been fun and even at the age I am now I had to think long and hard about whether I wanted to retire or not. I wasn’t sure for a while.

“I’m not going to disappear completely. I’ll still come to church all the time and I’ll help whenever and wherever I can.

“The thing I’ve enjoyed most about the job is the people I’ve met. There have certainly been some interesting ones. I’ve served alongside five different vicars but I wouldn’t like to pick a favourite.

“Fortunately I haven’t had any major problems and vandalism has never been an issue here. I can’t think of anything particularly memorable happening here- nothing I’d want to give away anyway.”

At the age of 92, Herbert has thoroughly earned some time to take it easy and even though he has only been the minister at Norham for a year and a half, the Reverend Rob Kelsey describes him as a real inspiration.

“Herbert has been a massive help to me during my time here,” he commented. “Both in terms of being here for so long and having so much wisdom.

“The congregation here are very appreciative of what Herbert does, but because he’s been here longer than some of them have been alive I don’t think they realise the extent of his work.

“Herbert is a quiet, steady presence. Just knowing he was there was reassuring when I started. He’s on the Parochial Parish Council (something he will keep up) and he doesn’t say a great deal but when he has got something to say you know you need to listen.

“Herbert is like one of the church pillars. He’s always been here. What sometimes happens in the church, or any other organisation, is that the longer a person has been in post, the harder it is for them to let go.

“I take my hat off to Herbert not just because he’s served for such a long time, but also because he’s willing to give someone else a go.”

The man who has some incredibly big shoes to fill is the new churchwarden, William Jackson and like Rob he is a great admirer of Herbert for his dedication to the cause.

He said: “It is quite daunting following in Herbert’s footsteps. He’s a fantastic man.

“What impresses me the most about him is his wisdom and his experience.

“He also has a way of saying things without offending. He’s firm in his views and you always know where you stand with Herbert.”

Herbert admitted that even his family – which includes two children, nine grandchildren and five great grand children, were slightly shocked at his decision to finally step down, but as well as keeping his hand in at the church he has other things to occupy him, including a title to defend at the Horncliffe Flower show.

“My bees and garden will definitely keep me busy. I don’t think I’ll have much time to put my feet up.”