Thanksgiving service: Rustington villagers pay tribute to former librarian and local historian

A packed thanksgiving service paid tribute to former Rustington librarian Harry Clark, a familiar face to many in the village.

There were very few empty seats at the United Reformed Church in Rustington on Wednesday as people gathered to honour the well-known local historian, who died in June aged 98.

Harry was best known to older Rustington residents as their librarian for several decades but he was also chairman of Rustington Heritage Association for 30 years, retiring from the role only two years ago.

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He was also an active member of Littlehampton Camera Club and West Sussex Horticultural Club, and was selected as Rustington’s Parishioner of the Year in 2009.

Harry Clark was a familiar face in Rustington, having been the village librarian for several decades

Son Roger Clark described his father as ‘a practical man, always willing to give something a go’.

He added: “His determination to learn new things was incredible, even if it did make him hugely frustrated at times. But he didn’t give up, announcing proudly, aged 98, that he’d finally worked out how to print a photo from an email.

“And during lockdown, even as his health began to fail, he acquired several books on ‘how to use an iPhone’.”

Born in Hastings in 1922, Harry moved to Littlehampton in 1930 and attended Chichester High School for Boys. Leaving school in 1939, Harry started work at the West Sussex County Library Service, helping deliver books to libraries run by volunteers.

Harry Clark opening the new Rustington Library in Claigmar Road in January 1969

Harry’s family said that with his love of books and with staff being called up for war service, it was the perfect opportunity for him to get involved in a job that would lead to a long career.

In 1942, Harry was called up and served in the RAF as an air rigger and storeman, mostly in India and beyond, though he still managed to find the library at each camp as a reading retreat and later took on a second job as the camp’s librarian.

Harry resumed his library career in West Sussex in 1947, at a time when the service wanted to improve library premises in smaller villages. Rustington was one of the first villages in the county to get its own dedicated library, which opened in 1951.

As the project grew, Harry, now regional librarian and living in Rustington, ultimately became responsible for six libraries, Angmering, Arundel, East Preston, Ferring, Rustington and Storrington.

Harry Clark and Mary Taylor opening the new Rustington Museum in 2019. Picture: Steve Robards SR31101903

He opened the new Rustington Library in Claigmar Road in January 1969 and in 1974, took charge of Rustington full time until he retired in 1982.

Harry married his wife Margaret in 1969 and they had two sons, Roger and Paul. After his retirement, the couple worked together as volunteers for the County Record Office as indexers for the Census returns, before they were digitised.

In 1989, Harry took over as Rustington Heritage Association chairman, after Mary Taylor, the first chairman, had stepped down for health reasons.

As well as chairing almost every meeting during his 30 years at the helm, he researched the history of the village and of its people and buildings.

He gave talks to many organisations and led guided walks around the village for many years, later helping to turn his scripts into booklets for self-led walks.

Harry was involved from the outset in the collection of artefacts and archives which the heritage association started in 1989. His photographic skills helped to provide an important record of the changes Rustington had seen and as recently as 2019, he presented slide shows revealing these changes in the local scene.

Sheila Marsden, who took over as association chairman in 2019, said: “His background as a librarian was an enormous help as the paperwork behind the collection is very important. Indeed, he was involved in almost every aspect of the RHA for as long as it has existed. He was at the helm of the association for so many years that it is hard to think of it without his presence.”

The thanksgiving service was led by retired minister the Rev Norman Croft. Roger delivered the eulogy and Zachary, 14, one of Harry’s grandchildren, performed on the piano.

Harry’s choice of hymns included Dear Lord and Father of Mankind with music composed in 1888 by celebrated Rustington resident Sir Hubert Parry.