Screaming for the beagle

In the 1951 film “Scrooge” with Alastair Sim, Mrs. Dilber runs down the stairs screaming and says “You’ll force me to scream for the beagle!” What does she mean by that?


In the absence of other context, I suspect Mrs. Dilber is actually threatening to scream for the beadle.

A beadle, in England, is a minor church or university officer charged with keeping order. Prior to the advent of modern policing in the 19th century, he served as a low-ranking law enforcement agent, as the distinction between religious and civil authority was blurry (and there was no distinction between religious and civil parishes).

According to The Night Watch and Police Reform in Metropolitan London, 1720-1830 by Elaine A. Reynolds (Stanford, 1998),

Another parish officer was used for law enforcement— the beadle.… Beades also had a wide range of duties… As an assistant to the parish constable, the beadle helped keep the streets clear of beggars and vagrants by day and ften acted as supervisor of the watch by night.

The Online Etymology Dictionary offers a quick etymology:

Old English bydel “herald, messenger from an authority, preacher,” from beodan “to proclaim” (see bid). Sense of “warrant officer, tipstaff” was in late Old English; that of “petty parish officer,” which has given the job a bad reputation, is from 1590s. French bédeau (Old French bedel, 12c.) is a Germanic loan-word.

The “bad reputation” made its way, for example, to another Dickens novel; Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist is a villain. The only modern example I am familiar with is another fictional villain, Beadle Bamford from the Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd.

Source : Link , Question Author : Tom Bailey , Answer Author : choster

Leave a Comment