A town crier is a person who is employed by a town council to make public announcements in the streets. The crier can also be used in court or official announcements. Criers often dress elaborately, a tradition known from the 18th century, in a red and gold robe, white breeches, black boots and a tricorne hat.
They carry a handbell to make a loud noise and they shout the words "Oyez, Oyez, Oyez!" before making their announcements. The word "Oyez" means "hear ye," which is a call for silence and attention. Oyez is from an Anglo-Norman word for listen. Some town criers announcements are recorded in books called a Proclamation Book The proclamations book in Chester from the early 19th century records the town criers call as "O Yes, O Yes!"
History[change | change source]
England[change | change source]
In Medieval England, town criers were the most important way of spreading news with the people of a town. Many could not read newspapers. Royal proclamations, local bylaws, market days, advertisements and even selling loaves of sugar were all proclaimed by a bellman or town crier for centuries. During Christmas 1798, the Chester Canal Company sold some sugar that was damaged in their packet boat and this was advertised by the town crier.
Chester's first 'belman' was in 1540. His was paid one (old) penny for 'going for anything that is lost' and 4 old pennies for leading a funeral procession. In 1681, a fire safety law that all houses should have tiled rooves, not thatched, was to 'be published throughout the city by the day bellman. In 1553, the crier was paid 13 old pennies for 'ridunge the banes' (reading the banns or adverts) for the Chester Mystery Plays. In 1598, bellman Richard Woodcock must have been dressed in a similar way to the London bellman, for he had 'a tymber mast typt at both endes and embellished in the middest with silver' (a wooden stick with silver decorations).
In 1620, there was a fight at the crossroads between the butchers and the bakers where the 'Cryer brake his Mace in peeces Amonge them'(broke his silver stick among them). In 1607, one public notice read by George Tunnall, the bellman, that putting rubbish in the river was illegal. In 1715, a local man recorded that the 'Belman at the Cross ... Reads publicly a proclamation in the Mayor's name, commanding all persons in the City to bee of peaceable and civil behaviour, not to walk around the Streets or Rows at unreasonable hours of night'. In 1743, John Posnitt took over as 'Day and Night Bellman'.[source?]
In 1792, Chester had a day-time and night-time bellman, John Yarwood and a crier, William Ratcliffe, but by 1835 there seems to have been only one position. It was not until 1998 that Chester had both a crier and a bellman again.
Town criers were protected by royalty, as they sometimes brought bad news such as tax increases. To this day, any town crier in the British Commonwealth is protected under old English law that they are "not to be hindered or heckled while performing their duties". To injure or harm a town crier was seen as an act of treason against the ruling monarchy. The term "Posting A Notice" comes from the act of the town crier, who having read his message to the townspeople, would attach it to the door post of the local inn.
Europe[change | change source]
The same as England, town criers were the most important way to deliver news to the people of the town because many people could not read newspapers or write. Proclamations, local bylaws, market days, adverts, were all proclaimed by a bellman or crier.
Modern town criers[change | change source]
The best dressed town crier and escort at the last World Championships (date of entry 2008) are Peter and Maureen Taunton  from the county town of Stafford, UK. They also hold the title of the best dressed town crier in Britain 2008 Competition held at Alnwick for the Loyal Company of Town Criers. They are also the Best Dressed Crier at the National Town Crier Competition in Hastings 2007.
Peter Moore has been The London Town Crier for more than 30 years. He is Town Crier for The Mayor of London, The City of Westminster, and London Boroughs. He is also Freeman and Liveryman of The City of London.
The need for town criers has disappeared and they became part of the local folklore. There are European and World Championship competitions for modern town criers. The World Champion town crier is the town crier of Ninove, Hans Van Laethem.
References[change | change source]
Books[change | change source]
- Gordon Emery, Curious Chester (1999) ISBN 1-872265-94-4