Beadle staff

Extract from Rothbury Parish Magazine.

October 1896

Rothbury Parish Beadles

By D.D.Dixon.


No doubt many of our readers would look with curiosity on the two Beadles’ Staves at the industrial Exhibition in August last, which were kindly lent by the Rector and Churchwardens of the parish. The older staff, having a brass head, dates from about 1730, the latter with the silver plated head, from about 1788

The various particulars contained in the following accounts of some of our Rothbury beadles- who in days gone by, carried the Beadles staff ( insignia of their office) through the aisles of the ancient Parish Church of Rothbury- have been collected from the pages of the Vestry books and the writer trusts that this record of a now obsolete Church official may be acceptable to the parishioners of the present day.

The first notice of a parish beadle at Rothbury is found in the Churchwardens accounts at the Easter meeting of 1730 during the Rectorship of Dr. Thomas Sharp (1720-1758).

Dr. Sharp’s predecessor, the worthy Dr. John Thomlinson (1679-1720), found the parish, when he came to it, in 1679, a chaos of confusion- its revenues alienated the Church and the Rectory both in a ruinous condition- therefore the whole of his energies were devoted to the important task of restoring his new parish to something like the order which he succeeded in doing in a most commendable manner. During his time the Parish Clerk and the Sexton are the only Church lay officials mentioned. Dr Sharp, soon after his advent appears to have re-established the daily services as we gather from the increased entries in the Church books of payments made to the bellringer for ringing the morning and evening bell, and then about 1730 a beadle is added to the band of Church officials, for we read in the list of payments;-

1730 – Easter. John Richardson’s ye Beadles Salary £1.0.0.

1735 – Easter John Perry’s salary as Beadle £1.0.0

1735 – Easter. New Painting ye Beadles Staff 3d

Mending the Beadles Staff Head 2d

1737 – Easter. Cloth and trimmings for ye Beadles Coat £1.7.0 ¼

1737 – Easter. Making Jno.Pery ye Beadles Cloaths 4.3d

In 1737 the Beadles salary is raised to the sum of £2 per annum, and in 1756 to £2.10.0

The minutes of the Easter meeting of 1761 record the name of Ben Robinson, the Beadle for the first time. He was paid a salary quarterly. “ To Ben Robinson’s Quarter Salary March 25th £0. 12.6d “ The minutes are signed by;- John Shotton, Curate.

Saml. Donkin. George Skelly. Wm. Donkin, Thos Bell. Churchwardens.

Benjamin Robinson died in 1774, and at a Vestry Meeting on 29th May in that year it was agreed “To Elect John Selby the elder into the Beadles place, now being vacant by the death of Benjamin Robinson, the said John Selby to enter on the same on June 24th next ensuring, with a Salary allowed out of Utensil Sess of Forty Shillings a year” It would appear from the entries in the Churchwardens accounts that about 1780, John Selby had filled the office of both Sexton and Beadle ( unless it was John Selby the younger) for there we find John Selby paid for ringing the bell, winding up the Church clock, washing the surplices, care of the Church etc., and in 1786 the salary is raised to £3.0.0 which it remained until the office became obsolete in 1862

1788 March 25, Beadles Staff, 19s, is one of the prominent entries in the Easter accounts for that year – this is the later staff with the silver plated head. The next change we come across in the name of the beadle is not until 1815 a period of forty one years, during which time the younger John Selby may have probably succeeded his father. John Potts was beadle from 1815 to about 1830. When Robert Hay, the last beadle was elected to that office, which he held for over thirty years. The writer remembers well, on attending the service for the first time in Rothbury Church on Sunday 5th October 1862, watching with much interest old Robert Hay, clad in a long black coat, carrying his official staff and proceeding with solemn step up the aisle, followed by the Rector the Rev. C.G.V.Harcourt, and the Curate, the Rev. Richard Mulcaster. Having conducted the Clergymen to their respective places, the Rector into the Chancel and the Curate to the reading desk, the old beadle placed the staff against the wall – as its worn knob will testify – and sat himself down on a small seat facing the congregation immediately on the right of the reading desk – this seat and the Clerk’s desk were removed some years ago. Again on Sunday October 12th the old beadle attended to his duties as usual, but during the following week was taken seriously ill and died towards the end of the month. The Parish register thus records his burial; “1862 November 2nd, Robert Hay, Rothbury aged 69 years. He was beadle of Rothbury Church for thirty years (signed) Richard Mulcaster, Curate”

Owing to numerous changes in Church matters the occupation of a beadle was nearly gone, therefore his place was never filled and the beadles staff for thirty four years has stood unused. A parishioner informs me that it was usually the custom of Rothbury to deck the head of the beadles staff with a piece of crepe on the first Sunday after the funeral of a person of much importance in the parish. We are pleased to add that the two beadles staves – interesting relics of the “Beadledom” of the eighteenth century – are carefully preserved in the vestry of the Parish Church.

Transcribed by F.M.W.

November 1999.