The Beadle is an elected officer of the Ward acting on instruction of the Alderman:
The twenty five Wards of the City elect a suitable person to the ancient office of ‘Ward Beadle’ of which there are twenty nine (the three largest Wards have two or three Beadles).
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.
The City of London Ward Beadles (founded 1895)
A History of the City of London Ward Beadles
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