Farewell to the beadle: The man who stops Sheffield’s traffic on Master Cutler installation day retires
For more than 25 years, Geoff Dakin has led one of the most important and historic ceremonies in Sheffield.
As the beadle at the Cutlers' Company, he has donned a traditional maroon tailcoat, picked up a silver mace dating from 1896 and held up traffic in the city centre to head the procession to the Cathedral at the installation of every Master Cutler since 1993.
But this October a new face will be required to guide the top-hatted dignitaries and business chiefs to their seats in the church pews, as Geoff has taken retirement.
The former Coldstream Guard stepped down on Wednesday, when the Cutlers' Hall closed early so his friends and colleagues could decamp to a nearby pub for a lively send-off.
And, while he's going to miss the privilege of holding such a visible and responsible position, Geoff has already discovered the benefits of his new routine.
"Now I don't have to bother getting up at six in the morning any more to open the building, which I've been doing for the last 26 years," he says.
The term 'beadle' derives from the Old English word bydel, meaning a herald or 'messenger from an authority'. While in Sheffield they are best known for a few things - chiefly their duties on installation day, and acting as toastmaster at the hall - the job is significantly more involved.
"It's security, and the upkeep of the building," Geoff explains. "I have to be there every day, and when you open up you have to turn the alarms off and then get the building ready for the cleaning staff. They crack on, and then I go round looking for anything untoward like bulbs out, chandeliers that need lowering, pipes and taps dripping... general maintenance, really."
The hall is one of the most prominent places in Sheffield and needs to be kept spotless, he says.
"It has to be immaculate because they've got to sell it to the punters - people come in for weddings, and if it's not as desired they're not going to book it, are they? The money goes into the building to keep it going."
Moving the chandeliers is a particularly tricky task. "One weighs half a ton. It's a three-man job because you've got to go up into the roof space. A lot of people don't realise the Cutlers' Hall from front to back is as long as the shopping precinct on Fargate."
Geoff, alongside archivist Dr Joan Unwin and deputy beadle Richard Varney, has also hosted guided tours of the venue.
"We give them the history from 1638, when they first started out as a small building. Obviously they needed somewhere bigger. The main banqueting hall got built and they never looked back. I always tell the people who come on tours that it's the jewel in Sheffield's crown. They love it in there. They'll go away and spread the word that if there's anywhere you want to go and have a do, or a wedding, the Cutlers' Hall is the place to hire."
The annual processions 'go in a blur', he says. "There's that much happening around you. It's not as easy as people think. It's mammoth."
Richard has taken over as the next beadle, and another deputy has been hired.
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"He will have to train, and learn the history," says Geoff. "I wouldn't say I'm an expert, because you're picking things up all the time. The archivist delves into the history books more than anybody else. Nine times out of 10 she'll find something really interesting and you'll tell people about that."
There is a story behind the tiniest details of the hall, down to the elephant motif on the venue's stainless steel doors.
"They're all over the building," says Geoff. "The reason is because top-class cutlery always had ivory handles."
Born and bred on the Manor estate, Geoff joined the Army after working as an apprentice at engineering firm Keeton Sons & Co, in Darnall. He had four sisters, and five brothers who were all fellow Coldstream Guards. His father, a World War Two veteran, served in the same regiment too.
Geoff spent 22 years in the Armed Forces and was posted all over the world, from Hong Kong, Australia and Canada to Germany, Switzerland and Norway. But he was injured in a bomb blast in Northern Ireland, and returned home where he was given a job as a recruiting sergeant at the Army office in Sheffield's Castle Market, signing up young applicants.
"I went to a silver exhibition, a military one, that they had in the Cutlers' Hall," he remembers. "I took charge of all the silver the different regiments brought in. I was asked when I was leaving the Army and I told them that shortly after the event I'd become a civilian. That's the way I entered, as the deputy beadle. Years go on and you get promoted up the ladder, and obviously different lads come and go - Richard's finished in the Royal Navy and he's the beadle now."
The Cutlers' Hall CEO George Kilburn is an ex-colonel, Geoff adds. "He runs the whole shebang. But not every person that comes in is ex-military - like the lads that run the door for events. We have to put them under the microscope with the amount of valuable things kept in there."
The beadle wears the hall's oldest piece of silver, a large breastplate made in 1718. It is the only item in the venue that is not hallmarked.
"There have been a few beadles, there's a list of 25 or 30-odd," Geoff says. "The Cutlers' Company has always got to be at the top of the agenda for industry. The Master Cutler is the ambassador, he goes up and down the country preaching the good word of Sheffield's industry."
The company was highly supportive when Geoff fell seriously ill several years ago. "Since then it has been a struggle on occasion, especially in the mornings, but I wanted to complete my service. I'm happy to be leaving."
His retirement plans include a holiday in India, as well as plenty of fishing trips. "There's always things to do in and around the house. It's going to be different. I can turn the alarm clock off now."
Geoff, 65, lives in Hackenthorpe with his wife of 45 years, Marie. They have two daughters and eight grandchildren.
"They've seen pictures of me in the paper and they must be proud, I suppose," he says of his family. "I'll remember it for the rest of my life. I've got happy memories. When you're an ex-military man, standing with a mace in front of all the other military men on Remembrance Sunday, and you go out with the Master Cutler and lay a wreath - they're the sort of things that make the job worthwhile."
The 381st Master Cutler will be elected in September. They will succeed Nicholas Cragg.