Keith Holderness could easily be the best known face around Southend, as the town's official Macebearer to the Mayor. After all he has accompanied 23 Mayor’s on their official duties which amounts to around 14,000 engagements, making Southend's Mayor one of the busiest in Essex. Keith's role is to make sure they are on time, in the right place and keeping a record of the event they attend and of course providing a security role, of course one day can mean a number of engagements back-to-back so there is a need to ensure the first event does not over run, and that there are plenty of 'pit-stops' along the way.
Keith is extremely proud to have looked after the first citizen of his adopted city of hull, and his hometown of Southend, and of course very proud of Southend itself; a fine man to talk to when you get stuck on a question about the town. The editor of Southend Timeline has certainly made use of this resource.
Well I guess most of you are wondering about the role of a Macebearer and its origins? You will not be too surprised to discover the the role has some historic leanings, and from its earliest days would have been connected to the security/bodyguard of the key person, hence the Mace, a weapon used in medieval times. Today although there is still a security role the Mace itself is far more decorative and mainly used for ceremonial purposes. For more information checkout the following website: http://www.civicprotocol.com/ The Southend Mace is Victorian and made by Finley & Taylor, ‘To the Corporation of Southend from Major Rasch MP SE Essex 1892’, This amazing image of 1935 shows 12 Essex Mayors of the year assembled, behind them the town clerks and at the rear an amazing collection of Mace Bearers with their equally smart uniforms.
The Southend Mace is Victorian and made by Finley & Taylor,
‘To the Corporation of Southend from Major Rasch MP SE Essex 1892’,
This amazing image of 1935 shows 12 Essex Mayors of the year assembled, behind them the town clerks and at the rear an amazing collection of Mace Bearers with their equally smart uniforms.
Southend Timeline forever curious, can never resist the opportunity to go and discover a little bit more, so tracked Keith down on one of his quiet moments, and placed him in a comfy chair and fired off a few questions, here is the outcome…
Hi Keith, how are you, and what was on the Mayor's agenda today?
Fine, and enjoying a cup of tea and a digestive. Well as ever another interesting trip, one I believe your website is involved in; the Mayor Cllr Ann Holland launched the Sarfend Visitors Book at the end of Southend Pier. You know I never tire of going to the end of the old pier, it is just what Southend is all about and now to have this book for all to sign and leave comments is great, so many people will be able to interact with it online, it’s great news.
Thanks for the plug Keith you are right this new book will I am sure be warmly welcomed by all who love Southend and enjoy a stroll on the pier But let’s talk about you. I have loads of questions about being a Macebearer, before you got the job what were you doing?
After my discharge from the Army (Royal Artillery), I was appointed the Lord Mayors Chauffer for Hull City Council in 1982. In October 1983 I was promoted to the post of Senior Beadle to the Lord Mayor. In 1987 I was appointed as the Northern Warden of The Guild of Macebearers. I served seven Lord Mayors of Kingston upon Hull.
Wow that is mighty impressive, but a Senior Beadle?
Senior Beadle: In most Cities and Town’s the Mayors Officer is known by a variety of titles. This is traditional to that City or Town. For instance in Leeds, he is known as the Sergeant at Mace, in some places it is the Beadle, here in Southend it’s the Macebearer. The Beadles were men who preceded the Mayor with long staffs to keep the masses back. In Hull we had three members of staff, The Lord Mayors Chauffeur, The Junior Beadle and The Senior Beadle. Hull being a large City was very busy on the Civic side and had two civic cars, KH1 and 1KH, quite amusing as I had my own personlised number plate.
How did you find out about the job of Southend's Macebearer?
I knew my predecessor Russell Whitwell quite well. Russell sadly died in 1988 after 8 years as Macebearer, and together with some of my colleagues from the north attended his Funeral in Southend. I was approached by Southend Borough Council to apply for the post of Macebearer in Southend my hometown. The post was advertised nationally and I know quite a few applied. I was lucky to be granted an interview and was offered the job. I took up my post in April 1989. The first Mayor I worked for was Councillor James Hugill back in 1989.
I guess you have attended many occasions and events with the Mayors but which one in particular stands out in your mind and why?
Yes you are correct I must have attended thousands of events and functions over the years but think the one that comes to mind was the Charter Day celebrations in 1992. Southend was officially 100 years old as a Borough on this day. The Lord Mayor of London came down by train with all his members as they had 100 years before. There was a full day of events throughout the day, and a Time Capsule was buried at Priory Park before we waved off the Lord Mayor at Southend Central.
Keith that sounds like an amazing day?
There was a fantastic feeling in the Town on Charter Day; the crowds were tremendous throughout the day at all the locations. Certainly the Lord Mayor had a great time and was a real sport engaging with the people of Southend. Yes I believe it did receive National coverage on the media and TV.
Maybe someone reading this remembers the day and can provide their version of events? Contact Us
Keith you have been doing this job for over twenty years, what do you enjoy most about being the Mayor’s Mace Bearer?
Every single day is different and you are always meeting people from all walks of life. During the course of my career I have met most members of the Royal Family and acted as Toastmaster to Her Majesty the Queen and Princess Margaret. I have also met many celebrities, some famous and some not so famous. I have visited many places over the years, including Freetown (Sierra Leone), Rotterdam, Germany, Iceland, Ireland and Raleigh, North Carolina. In my role you can meet the full spectrum of our society in one single day. We also represent Southend in all that we do and always try to give a good impression when we are on duty with the Mayor and Council.
I have to ask, have any amusing incidents happened you can share?
Yes there have been many. One funny incident happened when with the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress (Hull) on a visit to 50 Missile Regiment in Menden, Germany in 1987. They were staying as guests with the Commanding Officer in his house. On the morning we were leaving the Lady Mayoress needed to go to the bathroom, unfortunately the key broke in the lock and she could not get out. There was a bit of a flap on as they tried to free her as time was tight and we had to leave for Rotterdam to catch the ferry. In the end we got her to climb out of the window and down some ladders, but she was a good sort and saw the funny side of it.
Brilliant that certainly has overtones of 'Carry On...' about it. So when you are not accompanying the Mayor on various functions what do you like to do in your spare time?
I myself run several websites for my old Regiment. 36 Heavy Air Defence Regiment who were based at Shoeburyness and we are all still in touch with each other and hold annual reunions. My main website address is http://www.36regimentra.org.uk/ there is a lot of information about the Regiment and its association with Shoeburyness. I have my own page also with some info on myself. I am also interested in Genealogy and have traced my family back till 1575. I am a great Rugby League fan and still support Hull FC.
You are a very knowledgeable man about Southend, and in particular Porters what can you tell us about the place?
Well I have tried over the years to find out as much as possible about Porters and on request take Tours around the house. Porters as it stands now dates from approx 1575, but there was a house on the site from the 13th Century, that is where they believe the name Porters first originated. The house was purchased by the Corporation in 1932. Major work was undertaken between then and 1935 to bring it up to standard, and opened as the Civic House and Mayors Parlour in October 1935. From that date Porters is of course used for Civic purposes. We do a lot of Charity work there for outside organisations and also for each Mayors own charity. Any important Visitors to our Town are usually invited there and given a Reception or Luncheon or Dinner. It is officially the Mayors official home for their year of office, but of course they cannot sleep there as there are no bedrooms.
There has always been a rumour that a tunnel exists under Porters going somewhere have you discovered it?
I have heard these stories myself. The last private owner of Porters Sir Charles Nicholson (1912-1932) also was told of these, and to this end he had excavations made in the garden to try to find them. I have to tell you that he found nothing. There may have well been some tunnels in the past times, but Southend was developing rapidly in the late 19th century and I fear they were lost.
Councillor Ann Holland is the current Mayor, and I guess the Royal Anglians at their homecoming in the town in June must stand out as a highlight of her year; but is there anything coming up you are really looking forward to?
I always enjoy the run up to Christmas. We undertake many Christmas visits during December, and it’s always a pleasure to meet as many people as possible at this time.
That sounds like a cue; Keith thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak to Southend Timeline, may I take this opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and please pass on the best wishes of the season also to the Worshipful the Mayor Cllr Ann Holland.