History of

The Beadles of London

History of The Beadles of London

The Ward Beadles of the City of London

Contributed by Tony Sharp, Clerk, The City of London Ward Beadles

Unlike the Livery Company Beadles, the Ward Beadle is an elected official within the City of London.

The History of The Ward Beadle

The each of the twenty five Wards of the City elects a suitable person to the ancient office of ‘Ward Beadle’. Currently there are twenty nine Ward Beadles (the three largest Wards have two or three Beadles). They are nominated for office by the Aldermen every four years and are elected at the same Wardmote as that of the Common Councillors.

The Ward Beadles circa 1922

From ‘The Customs of London in the Rein of King John’

“There are three chief folkmoots annually. One at Michaelmas, to know who is sheriff, and to hear his commands. The second at Noel for keeping the wards. The third at St John’s day to protect the city from fire, by reason of the great drought. If any Londoner neglect one of these three, he is in the king’s forfeiture for forty shillings. But by the law of London the sheriff ought to have enquiry made concerning any one of whom he would know, for certain, whether he is there or not.

If the good man say that he was not summoned, that must be ascertained from the beadle of the ward. If the beadle says he was summoned, the man is convicted at the husting; for the beadle has no other witness, nor ought to have than the great bell which is rung at St Paul’s for the folk-moot.”

(reproduced from Stubbs’ ‘Select Charters’ OUP).

The ‘folkmoot’ at ‘Michaelmas’ is the ‘Common Hall’ at which the Lord Mayor is elected, but originally when the citizens were informed by the king who was the sheriff. That at ‘Noel’ was the ward mote as held in December until 2003 when it moved to March under the revised electoral arrangements. That at ‘St John’s Day’ is the midsummer ‘Common Hall’ for the election of the Sheriffs. As can be seen, the Beadle was the sole judge and witness of a citizen’s compliance, who would be subjected for neglect to the swingeing fine of £2.00; this at a time when a workmen may earn only a penny a week!

Primarily, it must be understood that Ward Motes were originally meetings of the Freemen (now those on the Ward List) and that the democratic and electoral element of the meetings was a later development. This was because they were essentially the same as a Court Leet / Manorial Court with the Freemen making ‘presentments’ of civil issues and criminal matters with the Alderman punishing miscreants according to law, the Beadle ‘attaching’ such persons as the court’s officer. Indeed, even today, ward electors can ask general questions at the Ward Motes which the Alderman, Ward Clerk and Common Councilmen attempt to address.

According to the famous Liber Albus compiled by the City Secretary John Carpenter at the request of Sir Richard Whittington in 1419 (Part I, Chapters I to XVI; and most of which of its procedures are still maintained) the Beadle as an elected officer actually predates that of the Councilmen as elected representatives. The councillors date from as late as Richard II – Henry IV, but then they did not govern the City as today. The election of Alderman is much later still and was only (until the last Act) ‘once for life’, this deriving from the Aldermanry of a Ward as a personal property acquired as the land title of a City magnate. The Sheriffs were originally appointed officers, of and by the king, until the early twelfth century (Henry II) whence from they were elected by the Liverymen. The Lord Mayor first appears in 1189 (Richard I).

The Beadles are already acting at the earlier date along with the Ward Clerks, whom always seem to have been appointed. The Beadles were elected at the Folk-Moot (now the Ward Motes and Common Halls) but whether this was originally an open election by those present or only to choose from those nominated by the Alderman, as today, is difficult to say. Whatever, the Beadles duties were as follows:

1) To prepare the list of Freemen of the Ward for the Ward Mote and Folk-Moot and summon them to these.

2) To conduct the details of any elections, in regard to the list, held at the Ward Mote with the Ward Clerk.

3) To open/ close and keep order at the Ward Mote.

4) To ‘amerce’ non-attendees of the Ward Mote and Folk-Moot and ‘attach’ ie collect the fines for this; the Beadle’s word in regard to summons being delivered to a freeman and his non-compliance was the only evidence required.
(see also Prof Wm Stubbs Select Charters ... to 1307; Customs of London in the Reign of John 1205-06 pp 312-314)

As can be seen the original role of the Beadle was as an Electoral Officer, with the Ward Clerk as Recorder and the Alderman as Returning Officer.
Duties 1) and 2) are now performed by the Electoral Services section of the Town Clerk’s Department.

Duties 3) are largely ceremonial and are still the preserve of the Beadle.

Duties 4) have long ago fallen into disuse.

Apart from the ‘Ward Mote’ the Beadles attend on the Aldermen at the seven great ceremonial occasions of the Civic Calendar.

These are:-

The United Guilds Service at St Paul’s

This is the most recent ceremony dating from the period of our nation’s greatest peril during the Second World War; all of the Livery Companies and their Livery men attend this in mid-March. The address is always given by a senior Bishop, recently the Cardinal of England.

The Spital Sermon

This is a short Service, held sometime between April and May, in the Guildhall Church of St Lawrence, Jewry for the Lord Mayor, Sheriffs and Aldermen only. It was instituted by the boy-king Edward VI in 1543 and marks the foundation of two ‘hospitals’:- Bridewell and Christ’s Hospital which are in fact schools. The Head Boy or Girl reads one of the Lessons.

Midsummer ‘Common Hall’ at Guildhall

This is for the Livery to Elect the two Sheriffs, on Mid Summers Day, effectively the Lord Mayor’s assistants. The Sheriffs live in the Old Bailey for their year of office with the senior judges and entertain them and deputise for the Mayor within the City at social functions.

The Admission of the Sheriffs

This is held in the Guildhall on the day before the election of the new Lord Mayor; it is attended only by the Aldermen and Lord Mayor and current Sheriifs to watch the swearing-in of their replacements who had been elected some months before.

Michaelmas ‘Common Hall’ at Guildhall

On the 29th September the Livery Elect two persons who have served as Sheriff and are Aldermen, one of whom is then chosen by the Aldermen, in private, to become Lord Mayor. He is then presented to the assembled Livery in Guildhall.

The ‘Silent Ceremony’ Guildhall

This is the ceremony of admission of the new Lord Mayor. The symbols of office are withdrawn from the previous incumbent and presented to the new one. The ceremony is very complicated and is done in complete silence, before the Aldermen and invited persons. It takes place the day before the Lord Mayor’s Show.

The Lord Mayor’s Show

This is officially called the ‘Presentation of the Lord Mayor and Procession to the Royal Courts of Justice’. Although the general public think this is done for their entertainment, in fact what it is for, since the time of King John when the citizens first chose their own Mayor, is to present him to the Queen’s representatives so that she can be told who he is. These are the Lord Chief Justice and the senior judge at the Royal Courts who is called the Queen’s Remembrancer. Originally, this was done in state barges on the river, they rowed to Westminster Hall, which was the original royal courts. When the present building opened at the end of The Strand in 1868 the procession moved to the street, but the celebratory groups and tableaux are still said to be carried on ‘floats’.


From the Liber Albus, 1861 ed Riley pp 272-3 compiled by City Secretary John Carpenter at the request of Sir Richard Whittington in 1419 most of its procedures are still followed:-

“You shall swear, that well and honestly you shall keep the Ward of which you are Bedel; and shall suffer no one accused of robbery or of evil covin, or huckster of ale, or of those keeping a brothel, or others commonly reputed of bad and evil life, to dwell in the same Ward, but you shall forthwith shew the names of such unto the Alderman, to the end that the same may have them turned out within fifteen days.

And if Alderman do it not, you shall at once, and after the fifteen days ended make known the same unto the Mayor. And if any one shall make affray or draw sword, or knife, or other weapon, you shall make known the same unto the Chamberlain of the City, or unto the Sheriffs, that so they may be able to make levy by their serjeants of such misdoers, in manner ordained for keeping the peace of our lord the King.

And also, you shall return good and lawful men upon Inquests at the Hustings, and before the Sheriffs and Coroners, and not persons suspected of maintenance of parties [to the suit]. And the returns that you shall make, you shall shew unto your Alderman two or three days before the Hustings that he may see if your return is sufficient or no.

And that you shall know no poultry or other small victual, or malt, or corn, to be received in any privy place, or to be sold in secret, or against the ordinance of the Mayor, but you shall warn the Mayor and the Sheriffs thereof; nor shall you be officer in any Court Christian during your office of Bedelship; nor shall you brew, by yourself or by any other, to sell; or keep an oven, or a cart for hire; nor shall you be a regrator of any victuals, or a huckster of ale, or a partner with such.

And all other things which unto your office pertain to do, well and lawfully you shall do. So God you help, and the Saints.”

The first two paragraphs outline the duties of Beadle as effectively a police officer for keeping the peace within his ward; he could be assisted by the Watch who looked after the City gates and walls.

The third paragraph details how the Beadle was also an officer of the City Courts, summoning the freemen for jury or coroners inquest service, the latter duty was actually performed until the re-organisation and merger of the City and Westminster’s Coroner’s office in . The reference to ‘maintenance’ was the disreputable practice of litigators paying henchmen to support them in their Court cases, usually over false claims to property rights.

The fourth paragraph reminds us that only Liverymen could trade or manufacture within the City in public markets, hence the restriction of the non-qualified trading privately. The Ecclesiastic Courts were a competing jurisdiction within the City in the mediaeval and pre-Reformation period and there would be a clear conflict of interest if the Beadle was also a servant of the many monastries, bishops palaces and other church institutions. The final part recalls how the Beadle was effectively the consumer protection service and weights and measures inspector for the ward.

The Wards of the City of London

Aldgate; Aldersgate; Bassishaw; Billingsgate; Bishopsgate; Bread Street; Broad Street; Bridge Within and Without; Candlewick; Castle Baynard; Cheap; Coleman Street; Cordwainer; Cornhill; Cripplegate Within and Without; Dowgate; Farringdon Without; Farringdon Within; Langbourn; Lime Street; Portsoken; Queenhithe; Tower; Vintry; Walbrook