The City of London Livery Companies and their Beadles
Richard Birtchnell is Beadle to two Livery Companies: The Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights and The Worshipful Company of Masons. Many people do not know what a Beadle does, or how the position originated, so here is the explanation. Beadle, sometimes spelled “bedel” is derived from the Latin “bidellus” or “bedellus”, rooted in words for “herald.” He was originally an official of the Roman Temple. The word Beadle has also been used to describe early policemen and church or parish wardens.
The Livery Companies, as they evolved many hundreds of years ago, needed a point of contact between the Master, Wardens, and Court of Assistants and the Livery in general. They therefore appointed (and paid for) a Beadle, who took care of the Company’s meeting place (‘Hall’), called the Court members and/or Livery together on behalf of the Master, and enforced any disciplinary measures decided by the Court.
The Beadle would also find suitable apprentices, and would organise the social and ceremonial functions. He was, in summary, a policeman, an almoner, a friend, social worker and communicator.
Whilst the Livery all lived and worked within the Square Mile, the Beadle was able to summon them personally, but, as people became dispersed, there grew a need for someone who could write and so use the new postal services to summon the Court. The humble Clerk then began his rise in importance to his position today as the chief executive of the Company. The office of Beadle, meanwhile, has become a ceremonial function.
The Beadle in most Companies retains his stewardship of the Company’s property, including in many cases, the fabric of buildings owned by a Company. The Beadle advises on matters of protocol, and acts in collaboration with the Clerk, to ensure all Livery functions take place smoothly and with due decorum; that the required regalia and treasure is produced, in place, and returned to the vaults after a function. He will attend the Master and Wardens on all proper occasions, to ensure that they are properly gowned and badged, and to assist the company by acting as Toastmaster at all its functions.
He would be issued with a Staff of Office, often wrongly called a ‘mace’, with which to protect the Master and enforce discipline. The Staff is usually a tall one so that it could be used as a rallying point at Common Hall etc. when the Livery was summoned to “Attend upon the Master”. The Wheelwrights’ staff which appears in the photos was made in London by John Carter in 1774 and bears the Company’s Coat of Arms and motto.
You can find out more about the work of Beadles by visiting the website www.thebeadlesoflondon.com
About the Author: Richard Birtchnell is not only a Beadle to two Livery Conpanies, he is als0 a?Toastmaster in London. If you want to make your?event one to run smoothly and on time, then why not contact Richard to check his availability.