You have probably seen the name “Beadle Bumble” before, but long ago and understandably forgotten. He was a minor character in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist who said, “The law is an ass—an idiot,” in response to being informed that the law assumes a wife acts under the direction of her husband. He was also the financial head of Oliver Twist’s orphanage, the one who flew into a rage when Oliver asked for more porridge.
“Beadle” is Bumble’s title, not his name. An English beadle is a constable of the Anglican Church often charged with overseeing the charities.
(“Constable” comes from the Latin for “stables” and was the Roman officer responsible for the horses. The title still suggests the responsibility for something valuable. There is a Constable of the Tower of London. A similar derivation is for the title “marshal” from the German marah schalah, “horse servant.”)
The Fund is named for Beadle Bumble because of his comment on the law. It was set up in 1959 in Richmond, VA, to reimburse victims of legal stupidities, usually a result of bureaucratic inflexibility. The founder was James J. Kilpatrick, then editor of the Richmond News Leader who later became a national conservative spokesman. He died in 2010 at age 89.
The first recipient from the fund was a Richmond resident who was fined $25 for climbing over the hood of a car blocking a crosswalk as the driver, who turned out to be an off-duty policeman, chatted with a friend.
In another case, a Philadelphia commuter asked a fellow passenger to turn down his loud transistor radio. When the passenger refused, he snatched it out of his hands and stomped on it, to the applause of his fellow passengers. The Beadle Bumble Fund paid his fine.
In 1966, founder-director Kilpatrick issued a public plea for no more contributions. The fund usually kept its reserves under $200, but the publicity generated by each case brought in ever more contributions that finally became too much. “It happens every time,” Kilpatrick said. “We seek to alleviate some sordid situation and reduce the fund, and what happens? More comes back than we sent out.”
The fund is long gone, but we could use it now. Today, it would need all of that $200, and more.