Beadle, sometimes spelled "bedel," is a lay official of a church or synagogue who may usher, keep order, make reports, and assist in religious functions; or a minor official who carries out various civil, educational, or ceremonial duties.
The term has Franco-English pre-renaissance origins, derived from the Vulgar Latin "bidellus" or "bedellus", rooted in words for "herald". It moved into Old English as a title given to an Anglo-Saxon officer who summoned householders to council.
In religion 
In England, the word came to refer to a parish constable of the Anglican Church, one often charged with duties of charity. A famous fictional constabulary beadle is Mr. Bumble from Charles Dickens' classic Oliver Twist, who oversees the parish workhouse and orphanage.
In Judaism, the term "beadle" (in Hebrew: shammash or "sexton") is sometimes used for the gabbai, the caretaker or "man of all work", in a synagogue. Moishe the Beadle, the caretaker of a synagogue in Sighet in the 1940s, is an important character in Night by Elie Wiesel.
In education 
In the medieval universities beadles were students chosen by instructors to act as assistants, carrying books, taking attendance, and assisting in classroom management.
In the collegiate universities in the United Kingdom (for example Cambridge, Oxford, Durham, and the University of London), the post of beadle still exists. The beadle has varying duties, always relating to management or security (but not instruction), and often represents the college to outsiders through wearing a uniform and providing information. The position of Beadle still exists at the King's School Canterbury, where the beadle is tasked with making sure pupils are dressed correctly and that they are arriving at lessons on time.
The ancient universities of Scotland have a ceremonial bedellus, who is also sometimes given the designation of head janitor. Officially, they are responsible for administration of the buildings of the university. They are most notable for being responsible for carrying the university mace in academic processions.
Jesuit secondary schools maintained the post of beadle—some still do. In each classroom, a student designated as beadle reports attendance to the teacher, acts as messenger, assists in distributing materials, and leads the class in activities.
Other uses 
The most numerous officers designated as Beadles, after religious and educational institutions, are the officers of secular bodies of some antiquity.
Sometimes the title is used by uniformed security guards. For example, security duties at the Burlington Arcade, an upmarket shopping mall in Piccadilly, London are carried out by staff in what appears to be nineteenth century uniforms, who are called Beadles.
City of London 
In the City of London the title is held by two distinct groups, both of whom originated as "executors" or police for more senior persons. The first group are the Ward Beadles, who hold the oldest elected office in the City, as functionaries not as representatives, in their Wards. Their duties today are largely ceremonial in that they accompany the Aldermen in the eight major ceremonies of the civic calendar and open and close the Wardmotes (the election meetings for members of the City's Courts of Aldermen and Common Council). However, the title is also held by paid employees of the Livery Companies of the City. These Beadles are usually assistants to the Company's Clerk, being responsible for attendance on the Court and Master of the Company originally to enforce its trade policy but now to act as Masters of Ceremony at formal banquets and to accompany the Master on civic occasions. The title "Hall Beadle" is also held by the administrator of a Livery Hall.
In popular culture 
- John McLaughlin, the host of The McLaughlin Group, used to call former panelist Fred Barnes "The Beadle". McLaughlin's use of the term may well derive from his experiences when he was a Jesuit student or priest (see above).
- In Stephen Sondheim's musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, later adapted into a film by Tim Burton, the cruel and corrupt Judge Turpin is served by an unctuous deputy known as Beadle Bamford. "Beadle" also makes an appearance in the list of professions running through one of the show's songs, "A Little Priest."
- Charles Dickens' character from Oliver Twist, Mr Bumble, is the parish beadle and leader of the orphanage. He's officious, corrupt, a chronic mangler of the King's English, and a great source of comic relief.
- Elie Wiesel's character from Night, Moshe the Beadle, is an escaped captive from one of the concentration camps who returns to warn the Jews.
- In the klezmer musical Shlemiel the First, based on stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer, the title character is the beadle to the "sages" of the town of Chelm, and sings the song "Beadle With a Dreydl".
- In Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, Mr. Conner, Maycomb's ancient beadle, is partly responsible for Boo Radley's predicament.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Beadle.|
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- This article incorporates text from The Modern World Encyclopædia: Illustrated (1935); out of UK copyright as of 2005.