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City Beadles

History of Beadles

The Beadle is an elected officer of the Ward acting on instruction of the Alderman. In the reign of King John, the Beadle was the sole judge and witness of a citizen’s compliance with summonses to "Chief Folk-Moots" (meetings) of which they were three a year. Today these have become 'Common Hall' meetings - one for election of the Lord Mayor, one for election of the sheriffs - and a Ward Mote (ward meeting). Citizens who failed to attend were subject to the fine of £2 at a time when a workmen often earned only a penny a week.

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 and the Beadle ‘attaching’ such persons as the court’s officer. 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 Liber Albus compiled by the City Secretary John Carpenter at the request of Sir Richard Whittington in 1419, the Beadle as an elected officer actually predates that of the Councilmen as elected representatives.

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, is unknown.

The Beadles duties were

  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.

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 department. Duties 3 are largely ceremonial and are still the preserve of the Beadle. Duties 4 are no longer performed.

The Beadles attend on the Aldermen at ceremonial occasions.

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Published:
28 November 2013
Last Modified:
29 September 2017

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