To many of you who follow The Man in the Red Coat you will know that I am also a City Beadle and Toastmaster to 4 of the City of London’s Livery Companies and 1 of the Guilds seeking Livery. However, what is the life of a City Beadle and Toastmaster and what benefit can they bring to your event? We shall find out later, but first as so many people have asked me and is what prompted this article in the first place, I need to answer a question.
What is a Beadle?
They were, and to a certain extent are, every-man to the Livery Companies and the other establishments they serve, except where administration is concerned. Given my total lack of ability at administrative duties, that suits me rather well.
The Modern Livery Beadle is mainly a ceremonial role mixed with that of the Toastmaster and involves driving events forward, guiding those present and leading from the front, under request of the Master, albeit through a Clerk.
But, what is a Beadle? For that we have to go back a very long way, back as far as the temples and places of worship. Thought to be taken from the Latin “Bidellus or Bedellus” found within the words that meant herald, the Beadle normally worked as a Minsters assistant, or in some environments court constable due to their authoritative nature.
Earliest incarnations are believed to have been within the church or temple as a server to the priest or even Rabbi, they also carried out educational, administrative and ceremonial duties within that organisation.
As time moved on, so did the wide range of environments that Beadles were to be found. By the middle ages they had moved more into the community, being more of a staff carrying village constable, keeping law and order, and very often being linked to charitable institutions such as the work houses. The most famous literary illustration of this being Mr Bumble in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.
Moving further down through the years, even more varied institutions appeared to have them. Some used them as glorified security guards almost in the same vain as the Beefeaters of the Tower of London, where as others used them in the more traditional sense. This being being a jack of all trades, assisting a senior figure and giving law and order within that environment. This included several educational establishments who still have them today like the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Durham and London City.
However, it is the last destination that the Beadle is now most commonly found and associated with. “The City” steeped in tradition uses Beadles in two very important institutions – The Ward Clubs and the Livery Companies.
The City of London is made up out of 25 separate areas known as Wards, which are controlled by the Ward Clubs. These Wards all appoint an Alderman, and are run by a Clerk who is assisted by a Beadle or in some cases, 2 or even 3 Beadles. Ward Club Beadles are recognisable by their tricorn hats and they carry a mace.
The Livery Companies, now numbering 110, are the societies set up by the different trades that operated initially within the City. Starting life as Guilds their initial aim was to support and regulate the trades they were associated with. Nowadays however, whilst still being heavily involved with their trades, they operate in a primarily philanthropic manner, to raise money for worthy causes as well as supporting education. The hierarchy is very similar to the Ward Clubs. In lieu of an Alderman, they elect annually a Master or Prime Warden, or in the case of the Weavers’ Company Upper Bailiff, and they are run by a Clerk who is assisted by a Beadle. Livery Beadles are recognisable by their gowns which have tassels attached and they carry a staff of office rather than a mace.
Tin Plate Workers Gown worn by Toastmaster James Hasler
Fan Makers Beadle Toastmaster James Hasler
Maketors Beadles Gown worn by Toastmaster James Hasler
(If you look at the coats above you will notice the tassels. It is said that these used to be dipped in aromatic oils. If you imagine walking through the City 150 years ago it was quite a fragrant place – and not pleasant either. As the Beadle lead every procession all those following would walk in the “waft” of the Beadle, which was made pleasant by the smell from the oils and certainly better than the open sewer they may be processing past! You will also notice if you go to St Paul’s Cathedral that the Verger also wears a similarly styled gown, which possibly shows a link to where the roles were once linked in the past.)
The Clerk – Beadle Relationship
The Clerk – Beadle relationship is a symbiotic one. It is almost like one can’t operate without the other. Prior to the postal service taking operation it was the Beadle who was the lead. People would live close to or within the confines of the City and at the Masters order the Beadle would summon the members of the Livery, the Liverymen, to wherever requested and at what time. However, as Liverymen moved further from the City and postal services became available the rise of the Clerk began to grow. Beadles would have done pretty much all event work up until this point because most would have been done by word of mouth (something Beadles are good at!) but as the administration grew, their role began to shrink as the Clerks took on more and more responsibility. So today the Beadles role is mainly symbolic and ceremonial but they are still considered the “strong arm” though in a less authoritarian manner, more of a general dogsbody as you will see later!
Nowadays lunches, dinners and banquets are organised to the best of their ability by the Clerk to almost military precision, in fact many Clerks are retired ex forces officers. They then instruct to the Beadle to get everything in place and to the run that event to the same precision giving a “good show” on behalf of the Master.
If you become a Freeman or Liveryman of a company it is the Beadle who will bring you before the court at your installation. It is the Beadle who leads every procession ahead of the Master and Wardens of the company and it is the Beadle who will guide and make sure that the Master and Wardens are all attired correctly and lead throughout any event allowing them to relax and enjoy being a part of it.
Without the Beadle, the Clerks work does not get carried out, and without the Clerk, the Beadle would not know how the event is scheduled to run. The Clerk is the Beadles checklist, whilst dare I say it the Beadle is the Clerks dogsbody! This sounds harsh, but the relationship should always be a good one, even if the leg work carried out by the Beadle in shifting gear from Hall to Hall if required can be exhaustive! (Beadles who’s Company have a Hall have different responsibilities. – Less leg work but more Hall management duties.)
(The photo is the Tin Plate Workers “Taxi-Full”!)
Between them they are the constant. Masters and Wardens come and go on an annual basis, but the Clerk and the Beadle remain for some time and provide a stability to the company. We are the civil service if you like.
My Companies and their needs.
The four companies I look after come from both the ancient and the modern eras. The Marketors (modern No. 90) and the Tin Plate Workers alias Wire Workers (ancient No.67) are both completely peripatetic, meaning every event is at a different venue. The Fan Makers (the very last of the ancient No.76) are currently based at Skinner’s Hall, where the majority of their functions take place. Finally the Furniture Makers (modern No.82) have their own hall. All have a banquet at Mansion House where a Toastmaster is required. However, as they have wisely chosen a Beadle who is also a professional Toastmaster, on those occasions I morph from Beadle into Toastmaster sometime during the reception.
James Hasler, City Toastmaster
The type of equipment that I have to transport between halls can vary. In the case of the Fan Makers for their annual banquet at Mansion House they do not transport their treasures but do require the movement of around 30 gowns for the Master, Wardens, Clerk, the 25 or so Court Members and of course the Beadle as well as his staff. The Furniture Makers having their own hall only transport a few gowns and the Beadles staff. The Marketors require their gowns (on average around 10) which are stored at Plaisterers’ Hall. Additionally, they also require company equipment including, Flags, the Beadles Staff and company Sword, all of which need to be collected from Stationers’ Hall. Finally the Tin Plate Workers’ carry around 10 gowns and what can only be described by me as a “Taxi-Full!” All I will say is there is only just enough room for me to squeeze into a taxi and that is after we have loaded the space beside the driver! Luckily it is at least all stored in the same vault at Vintners’ Hall.
So you see it isn’t all glamour. However, when things work well, as invariably my events do, with not only slick and well informed movement of everybody, but also running them to time in what appears to be an effortless manner, they are a delight and a privilege to be a part of. You get well fed and sometimes the time to eat it too! This is not always the case if it is an evening with lots of take offs and landings. Last week at Mansion House for instance I was in the out-mess, for a total of 12 minutes for the whole evening and not in one go either. I ate my delicious 3 courses and a glass of wine (or two) in a total of about 8 minutes. What must the chef have thought? Luckily no indigestion on this occasion.
What is the benefit to an event?
The thing is, all the skills used to be so effective at running a City event as either a Beadle or a Toastmaster make me perfect for running any event, from a party, a product launch, a charity auction, an awards ceremony a conference or even to a wedding (of any kind from English, Indian, or even Jewish). It is the ability to guide people in a way that allows them to relax. To an outsider, their initial thought might be that this may be “regimented and stiff” and not suitable to their kind of event. It is true City events are formal and it has often been said that the more formal, the more relaxing it can be for the guest. However, it doesn’t have to be stuffy, even if a degree of formality is observed. The beauty is my training and vast experience allows me to run any event, something that your average Master of Ceremonies or Moderator can’t do, as they get tied to events that don’t involve protocol. Just because I might end up wearing a red coat, or a red and white sash or even a gown with tassels it doesn’t mean I have to wear them at every event. What it does mean though is you are assured of a professional facilitator for any kind of event involving people guidance who can bring warmth and clarity, making it look slick and polished.
In summary it is a privilege to do this job. Agreed there are better paid, but working in the City brings other benefits like a great network of people around you. You have to eat fast, and be adaptable. You often have to think on your feet and sometimes do serious juggling of schedules. However, you get to work in some of the best and most historical buildings in the City, let alone the world. Yes, there is some physical leg work to do, and there is also some advising on protocol. However, when at the end of an evening, as is so often the case at all my City events, people come up and shake my hand and thank me for making their experience such a delight, any thought of all that lugging around town soon evaporates.
“How do you make guiding so many of us look so easy? It has been such a relaxing and fun evening and you are always so calm and warm.” If only they knew that below it all I am often paddling frantically like a swan avoiding a weir!