Ancient offices such as that of the Ale Conners, the Bridge Masters, the Chief Commoner, the Clerk to the Chamberlain's Court, and the Secondary and Undersheriff are just a few among the panoply of sceptre, mace and sword bearing custodians of the City's traditions.
The Beadle is the one office holder which is common to both the City of London and to its many Livery Companies, yet in typical City style the role is not the same in every Company and certainly not between the Companies and the City. Such is the way of the City that delights in creating myriad exceptions to, and variations on, a common theme!
There are other Beadles (sometimes 'Esquire Bedell') to be found in some of the ancient universities in the UK and the Commonwealth, and these are ceremonial officers who keep the customs and traditions of the university in addition to performing a role similar to that of the Livery Company Beadle. However our exploration starts with that most ancient of City officers, the Ward Beadle.
The Ward Beadle
Each of the City's twenty-five wards has at least one Beadle, some of the larger wards have more than one Beadle (up to a maximum of three for the largest wards), but the norm is for a ward to have a single Beadle. The Ward Beadle is an office probably dating from the Anglo-Saxon period, and may be as ancient as that of Sheriff - nobody can say for certain.
The Ward Beadle (or Beadles) are nominated by the Alderman for each ward and elected at the ward-moot with the Common Councilmen for each Ward. They serve as ceremonial officers who carry the ward's mace (otherwise kept in Guildhall) and assist the Alderman in the performance of civic duties, especially during ceremonial events, meetings of Common Hall and during a ward-moot or any folk-moot as may be called. They wear a colourful ceremonial robe and tricorn hat, the colour of the gown varying from ward to ward.
|Ward Beadles of the City of London here seen outside Guildhall © Paul D Jagger|
The Ward Beadle also had responsibility for fining Freemen who failed to attend a ward-moot without sufficient cause. Theoretically this power still exists, but is never exercised.
The principal surviving duty of the Ward Beadle is that of opening each ward-moot, keeping order during proceedings and bringing the meeting to a close.
Another duty of the Ward Beadle is that of informing the Alderman of any person of 'bad and evil life' or hucksters of ale, or persons keeping a brothel. In this respect they are something akin to a police officer, or at least a watch keeper.
The Livery Company Beadle
Each of the City's Livery Companies has a Beadle, who may be a full-time salaried employee or a part-time retainer, perhaps working for several companies. Livery Company Beadles, like their City brethren, are most often seen performing a ceremonial role by making announcements and carrying the Company's staff at the head of the procession during dinners, banquets, church services and other events.
|Mr Alan O'Connor, Beadle to The Worshipful Company of Information Technologists. Image copyright Alan O'Connor|
Livery Company Beadles are responsible for keeping order and ensuring that only members of Court are admitted to Court meetings, and only Liverymen of their Company are admitted to Common Hall. In this regard they perform a similar role to the Ward Beadle.
In times past when Livery Companies had many young apprentices in their charge, the Beadle was responsible for their discipline, and today a Company Beadle might have a quiet word in the ear of any Freeman or Liveryman who requires a bit of close quarter counselling on his or her dress, behaviour or timekeeping. If the Court of a Livery Company awards a fine for misbehaviour to one of the Company's Freemen or Liverymen, it is the Beadle who is responsible for administering the fine.
Perhaps it is for this reason that Livery Companies Beadles are often former police officers or non-commissioned officers from the Armed Forces.
|Livery Company Beadles during the annual Lord Mayor's Show. Image copyright Alan O'Connor|
While the Beadle must be able to administer a quiet word from time to time his role is much aided if he has a thunderous voice that commands attention - a Beadle is often heard more than seen; never the less he usually wears a brightly coloured gown that echoes the colours of the Company's coat of arms unlike the Clerk's which is a sober legal gown based on that of a Barrister at Law. In addition they carry a staff of office which may be raised up like a tour guide's umbrella to lead the way in church or during the entry and exit of the top table at a Livery Company dinner. Some Beadles wear a tudor bonnet, others a bicorn hat worn athwart.
|Bicorn Hat worn by the Beadle of the Engineers' Company © Paul D Jagger|
The Beadle must be a man* of many talents, able to seamlessly adapt to a number of roles, and for those that manage a hall they will also have the responsibility of guiding visitors and guests, and perhaps liaison and negotiation with clients who hire the hall on a commercial basis.
|The Beadle must maintain a commanding but diplomatic presence no matter what the circumstances. Image copyright Alan O'Connor.|
Together the Beadles of London have their own Guild, which is raising awareness of this ancient and multi-facetted role, one which has perhaps received less attention and importance than it should. You may discover more about the role and history of the Beadle at this website: www.thebeadlesoflondon.com
* There is no restriction on the role of Beadle being held by a man. The current Junior and Senior Esquire Bedells of Cambridge University are both women.
|The Junior Esquire Bedell of Cambridge University carrying the University's silver plated ebony mace © Paul D Jagger|