A Very Rare Beadle's Staff, Probably Late 17th Century

Maker: 
Maker's mark W.S
Dated: 
circa 1690
Dimensions: 
9 1/2 in, (23.8 cm)
Weight: 
0

Of architectural form depicting a Tudor tower with brickwork sides each with 2 pairs of leaded light windows all below a studded frieze. The sloping fluted top with ball finial and the central large knop with girdle around the middle, partly fluted below and with 4 acanthus leaves and circular vacant dics above, all on a matted ground. The tapering stem engraved with the names of Churchwardens for the Borough of Stepney and other donors to the recipient John Went.

Price: 
8500 GBP

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The tapering stem inscribed "This is a free gifft given to Jon. Went by the Parsons under Thos. Wittingham Ch. Warden: Jon Cole Sideman; Jos. Gosdin; Edw. Wyburd, Constable; Peter Lees, Peter Marget Survaors; John Goodwell, Jon Roulston, Tho Thorne, James Smith, Jon Charpentir Headborroughs", the bottom inscribed "Jon Went 1721".

Architectural examples are exceptionally rare. The Tower of London mace of 1671 is probably the most famous in this genre but is not a staff. The Worshipful Company of Cutlers has a rare example of a tower on the back of an elephant dated 1680 but most others are of a figural form.

This staff appears to be in the form of the original Tudor tower of St. Dunstan's Church, Stepney. A map dated 1615 shows the church with a much closer resemblance to the staff than later 18th century prints suggesting a certain amout of re-building in the 17th century. It is also stylistically from an earlier period, the fluting and foliage being more reminiscent of the late 17th century. It is quite possible, therefore, that this piece was made in the 17th century and presented in 1721, especially as it would be very unlikely that a new staff would have been made as a presentation.

A certain amount has been discovered about some of the names on the stem: John Went, the recipient, was Beadle of Bethnal Green and his name appears as a witness, along with Joseph Gosdin, on a document relating to a certain Elizabeth Newmarch, dated April 1726. Went was buried at St. Dunstan's, Stepney, on 8th May 1741. On the same document Gosdin is recorded as Churchwarden "Overseer of ye. Poor". Thomas Wittingham was also Churchwarden at Bethnal Green although his name is usually spelt "Whittingham". His signature appears on a document dated 26th February 1721 and his will was proven on 19th November 1734 described as a Merchant Taylor of the Parish of St. Dunstan, Stepney, Middlesex. John Cole, inscribed as "Sideman" on the staff may be the same John Cole whose will was proven on 24th April 1731 and described as "Joiner, Officer belonging to the Sheriff of Middlesex". A sideman was an assistant to a churchwarden, somewhat similar to an usher. A John Cole of "St. Dunstan's in the West" was indicted for stealing from Elizabeth Daniel on February 27th 1717 but was acquitted. Edward Wyburd, Constable, was a baker in Bethnal Green and had a child baptized at St. Dunstan in 1730. Peter Lees and Peter Marget are inscribed as "Survaors" although a Peter Lees is recorded as a victualler from Bethnal Green and his will was proven on 4th November 1727. John Roulston, also a Victualler of Bethnal Green, was buried at St. Dunstan in 1730. The only possible record of Jon. Charpentir may be that at the Old Bailey. Thomas Parker, defendant of Stepney, was indicted for stealing 24 ounces of unwrought silk value 48s, the goods of John Charpentier, 6th December 1721. Attempts to trace details of the other names have not been successful. A "Headborrough" was a local law enforcement officer, junior to a constable.

Beadle's Staves seldom appear on the market as most belong to individual parishes, corporations or are in museums.