The Beadles

Not John, Paul, George and Ringo but more like Mr Bumble from Oliver Twist.

‘Beadles’ or ‘Bedels’ were an early form of what we might consider a sort of religious overseer but they also could be put to other uses. For instance from Punch Jan – Jun 1844.

The Government of the Burlington Arcade is vested in a mixed Beadlery, which is very distinct from the pure parochial Beadlery prevailing in certain portions of the metropolis. There is what may be termed the reigning Beadle, who wields the actual sceptre and has first choice of the easy-chair at the end of the Arcade; the secondary Beadle, or Beadle apparent – if we may be allowed the term – being only permitted to take a seat when there is a vacancy. 

So the Beadle here is really being used as private security guard, a faux policeman as we see in many stores today.

The manner in which he repels any attempt to desecrate the Arcade by the smuggling of bundles on the part of those who are improperly attempting to make the passage of the frontier, is truly admirable. He never descends from his high position to parley with a delinquent, but he goes through a piece of impressive pantomime that is sufficient to turn back the sturdiest of bundle-bearers. In such cases as these, the Beadle first moves majestically towards the man or boy, as the case may be, who carries the parcel. The second motion is a tap on the shoulder. The third consists of pointing significantly to the bundle. The fourth comprises an almost imperceptible brandishing of the bludgeon ; while the fifth and last is a series of flashing glances from the offender to, the gate, and from the gate back again to the offender, until the delinquent and his bundle are fairly ejected by ocular force from the sacred locality.

But the Beadles main job which had developed over the centuries. He was initially the Parish Beadle., his charge was that of the property of the parish and also enforced discipline in the area.

So a Beadle really was the local policeman covering domestic and religious situations. Certainly Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist overseas the Workhouse which was run and paid for by the parish and ends up selling Oliver Twist.

Robert Peel set up his Metropolitan Police in 1829 which to point saw the decline of the Beadles. Churchwardens replaced the religious aspect of their work and the Bow Street Runners replaced the disciplinary aspect of their work.