These men were the elite of the hospital service and their earliest history goes back to Elizabethan times. Porters were appointed to open the hospital gates to let the poor in and out and the beadles were a mixture of policeman and ambulance man. Their duty was to clear the streets of the beggars (both infirm and healthy). Children went to Christ's hospital, the able bodied to St. Brides' house of correction and the infirm to St. Thomas' or Bart's hospitals.
In 1584 it was recorded that Hartford (the beadle) was no longer to make the hospital candles. As early as the 19th century there was a porter of the dissecting room and the dissecting room porter at both St. Thomas' and Guy's seem to have maintained close links with the resurrectionists. Sir Astley Cooper was noted for his successful negotiations with them, most likely via the offices of Butler who was the porter there at the beginning of the century.
The porters were also charged with keeping order among the medical students and in 1836 a dispute broke out at St. Thomas' when the porter tried to enforce the rule that only the dresser of the surgeon operating might stand in the centre area of the theatre. Two Guy's dressers tried to force their way in and Williams the porter seized one by the collar and was violently assaulted. The operation was suspended and the surgeon called the police. Two were fined for assault and a third for breaking down a door, but their counter charge of assault by Williams failed.
One of the most famous of the beadles was Rampley at the London Hospital. In an article in the London Hospital Gazette of November 1898, Dr May the Dean refers to him as the "Grand Old Man of the London Hospital". Rampley was connected to the theatre in about 1871, having duties in the post-mortem room. He was appointed surgery beadle in 1893, his predecessor, Stuckey, having been dismissed for not having a stomach pump ready for the surgeon at operation. He was closely associated with Sir Frederick Treves. He and Treves would go straight from the post-mortem room to the operating theatre, with or without washing their hands, as they felt inclined. Rampley attended nearly 40,000 operations and he invented the sponge-holder and needle-holder that bear his name.
1914 - 1918:- Before the advent of the Great War, theatres were said to be not a nice place for lady to work, although the first record of a theatre sister is at St. Thomas' in 1893. The war took a great toll on the fit young men of the country and many more nurses worked in theatre to fill the gaps. Upon return from the war the men were happy to fill any position offered and most of these attendants (as they were then known) became solely assistant to the anaesthetist.
1939 - 1945:-The Second World War brought a further exodus, but this time with a difference. Their usefulness was recognised and the armed forces trained them and the Theatre Technician was developed. Upon their return from the war these men were anxious to carry over their considerable skill to civilian hospitals, although few could find such employment.