Town Criers day takes place Annually on 11 July. A town crier, is an officer of a royal court or public authority who makes public pronouncements as required. The town crier can also be used to make public announcements in the streets. Criers often dress elaborately, by a tradition dating to the 18th century, in a red and gold coat, white breeches, black boots and a tricorne hat. They carry a handbell to attract people’s attention, as 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 derives from the Anglo-Norman word for listen (modern French, oyez, infinitive, ouïr, but largely replaced by the verb écouter). The proclamations book in Chester from the early 19th century records this as “O Yes, O Yes!”
Prior to widespread literacy, town criers were the means of communication with the people of the town since many people could not read or write. Proclamations, local bylaws, market days, adverts, were all proclaimed by a bellman or crier. In ancient Rome, they typically proclaimed public business during the market days that formed a kind of weekend every 8 days. In Goslar, Germany, a crier was employed to remind the local populace not to urinate or defecate in the river the day before water was drawn for brewing beer. Ewww!
Criers were not always men either. many town criers were women. Bells were not the only means used to get people’s attention, in the Netherlands, a gong was the instrument of choice for many, and in France a drum was used, or a hunting horn.
In the observance of Allhallowtide, “it was customary for criers dressed in black to parade the streets, ringing a bell of mournful sound and calling on all good Christians to remember the poor souls.
In England the crier would yell, “Hear ye” In order to gain the attention of the crowd,
In Medieval England, town criers were the chief means of news communication with the townspeople, since many were illiterate in a period before the moveable type was invented. Royal proclamations, local bylaws, market days, adverts, even selling loaves of sugar were all proclaimed by a bellman or crier throughout the centuries—at Christmas 1798, the Chester Canal Co. sold some sugar damaged in their packet boat and this was to be advertised by the bellman. The crier also escorted the destitute to the workhouse, installed minor criminals in the stocks and administered floggings. During public hangings he read out why the person was being hanged, and helped to cut him or her down.
Chester records of 1540 show fees were due to the bellman. In 1556, a record shows “To ye belman for p’claimyng ye Founder’s dyryge” i.e two pence on Henry VIII’s death, the founder of the King’s School). In 1620, there was a fight at the Chester cross between the butchers and the bakers Which was sorted by the town Crier. In 1607, one public notice read by George Tunnall, the bellman, forbade tipping rubbish in the river. 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 be of peaceable and civil behaviour, not to walk around the Streets or Rows at unreasonable hours of night”. Chester once had a crier, a day bellman and a night bellman, but in 1734, John Posnitt took over as “Day and Night Bellman.” A 1701 will of the vicar at Waverton stated that notice was to be given “by the Belman to the People of Chester, of the time when, and the place where my Corpse is to be buried”. Salmon fishing season was also closed by the Town Crier/Bellman. 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. Some newspapers took the name “The Post” for this reason.
Town criers were protected by law, as they sometimes brought bad news such as tax increases. Anything done by the town crier was done in the name of the ruling monarch and harming a town crier was considered to be treason. (Hence the term “Don’t shoot the messenger”). There are two organizations representing town criers including the Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers and Loyal Company of Town Criers, both of which take part in the Lord Mayors Procession.
By tradition, a copy of the Royal Proclamation about the dissolution of the Parliament of the United Kingdom is also delivered by hand from the Privy Council Office to Mansion House in the City of London. It is then read out by the Common Crier (aka Mace-bearer) of the City on the steps of the Royal Exchange in the heart of the City, having been handed to him by the Common Serjeant of the City, ahead of its being also read out in the London boroughs.
Gradually the need for a town crier disappeared, and the position passed into local folklore. Nevertheless Informal and later formal town crier competitions were held from the early 20th century. Subsequently, some cities and towns reinstated the post purely for ceremonial purposes. Many local councils in England and Wales reinstated the post of town crier from the mid-1990s onwards (e.g. Chester). Many are honorary appointments or employed part-time by the council. In October 2010, there were 144 towns in England and Wales with town criers registered with the Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers. They mainly perform ceremonial duties at civic functions. Local councils with a paid town crier often make them available for charity events. In the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, the town crier is also appointed the Tipstaff, an appointment which exists in no other local council. In the 2010s in England, town criers still announce the births of royal heirs and occasionally the arrival of the royal family. Having previously served as town crier for the nearby city of Romford! Ton Appleton, an octogenarian and self-proclaimed “royalist crier,” took it upon himself to announce, as loudly as he can, important news about the royal family.
There are also several town crier guilds in both Canada and the United States. These include the Ontario Guild of Town Criers, the Nova Scotia Guild of Town Criers and the American Guild of Town Criers. In 2016, the town of Burlingame, California added a town crier. In Australia, as of October 2010, the City of Sydney, City of Hobart, City of Greater Geelong, City of Portland, City of Ipswich, City of Gosford, City of Salisbury, City of Gold Coast and 22 other local councils had an official town crier.
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