Reading the Collections, Week 27: University Calendars and the office of Bedellus
At the end of July, John Jardine, University Bedellus, retired after 29 years’ service with the University. In that role as mace-bearer, almost the personification of the corporate identity of the institution, John was one of the key figures in University ceremonies in this most traditional of institutions. He was the University officer who placed the hood over the heads of thousands of new graduates after they had been capped by the Chancellor or Vice-Chancellor. With his mace, John was on duty each Sunday for Chapel where he led the academic procession. He held this ceremonial role alongside his considerable responsibilities as Senior Janitor of the University, in line-managing uniformed staff in Estates and working closely with the University Security Manager. Throughout he maintained a cheerful calm competence, and anyone who has been marshalled by him as he formed up a procession at graduation will remember his dry wit and impudent sense of humour.
For this week’s Reading the Collections post, I turned to the University Calendars (StA LF1104.C2) to trace previous occupants of John’s post as Bedellus over the past 150 years, and to reflect on this invaluable but late-lamented core printed source for the history of the University. I say ‘late-lamented’ since only when it was no longer being produced was it clear just how significant a resource it had been, and how much it was missed. The University website has become the repository for some of the information which used to be found in the Calendar but elements are no longer publicly accessible and searching the website back to 2003 is always challenging.
First, a bit of background. The Bedellus, or beadle, is mentioned in the earliest records of the University. The mace is referred to as the ‘beddell wand’ in an early inventory of the fifteenth century property of St Salvator’s College (UYSS150 Chartulary B) and the imagery on the medieval seal matrix (1414-18) can be interpreted as including a figure holding a mace.
The bedellus was a medieval University official common to the Scottish Ancient universities, responsible for janitorial matters such as security, buildings, announcements and administering exams as well as ceremonial duties as mace-bearer, in which capacity he led processions (see http://www.gashe.ac.uk:443/isaar/C1796.html).
There used to be an Archbeadle as well as a Beadle at St Andrews. The Calendars reveal that the Archbeadle’s post was occupied by Melville Fletcher from 1839 and that his son David succeeded him in 1867. Perhaps the origin of the Calendars dates back to Melville Fletcher, who was appointed as University bookbinder in 1831. He seems to have maintained his publishing business alongside his University job – there are a number of books published by him in our collections from 1839 to 1866, the year in which he died. In 1852 he asked for permission from the Senatus to publish a list of graduates for the last 51 years.
The bedellus role was held by the Janitor of St Mary’s College in the person of David Hutchison from 1865-1881.The senatus minutes record that at the vacancy at St Mary’s in 1881, “Robert Lang of the Police” was likely to be appointed. He held the post until 1902. This shows early evidence that the University preferred to appoint a man with a military or public service background – indeed that was still a desired criteria for those applying to fill John’s shoes last month. There was no Bedellus listed from 1902/3 until 1931/2, during which time there is reference instead to a Janitor or Superintendent of Works at both the United College and St Mary’s College. In 1931/2 Ernest David Snow is given the title of Bedellus and Janitor at the United College and Walter Mitchell is Janitor at St Mary’s: those two remained in their posts until 1953/4. That year there is a new Janitor at St Mary’s but Snow continues in office as Bedellus and Head Janitor of St Salvator’s College until 1966/7. John’s precedessor Jim Douglas was Janitor in St Mary’s before becoming Head Janitor and Bedellus. Latterly his role is listed differently in the latest Calendars, as his responsibilities had evolved to ‘Assistant Support Services Manager and Bedellus’ at the time of the publication of the last printed Calendar (2001-2).
The senatus minutes in the 1870s record that one suit of livery each year was to be provided for the Janitor of the United College. In his distinctive dress uniform, John Jardine has fulfilled his ceremonial role with great aplomb. He will be much missed and we wish him well in his retirement.
The Calendars are an invaluable record of the people and structure of the University and they provide 150 years of dependable facts; they are much used in answering routine enquiries about former students and staff, curriculum and statistics. Here are images from a sample of Calendars from 1852-2002. They show the varied and invaluable information which can be gleaned about the operation of the University which explains why they are the most frequently used series in the muniment collection!