A sketch of me in full cry, by a local artist
Since ancient times, Town Criers have been proclaiming all manner of things. It’s what we do. You just wouldn’t believe the variety of things Town Criers have been asked to announce throughout history: all those customary run-of-the-mill things, such as announcing forthcoming markets, explaining important changes to local bylaws, highlighting upcoming public auctions, giving the outcome of voting in elections, verdicts at trials, as well as a whole raft of Royal Proclamations.
However, there were times when it became significantly more dramatic for Town Criers.
They were sometimes involved in summoning mourners to funerals and a few had to give special cries for prisoners being sentenced to death and then give the final command for executioners to carry out sentence – surely, the unkindest cry of all!
Rather less serious, but nevertheless life-changing, Town Criers also officiated at wife sales in the early 1800s.
In more recent times, I once heard that a Town Crier was hired to announce a guy’s divorce! How’s that for style!
Keeping on the matrimonial theme, for a moment, as Glastonbury’s Town Crier, I thoroughly enjoy attending weddings where I get the job of being the very first person to introduce Mr and Mrs so-and-so to the World! Being the first to kiss the bride is always a delight too. (I’m such a tart!!)
Of course, the official job of Town Criers can be traced back in this country to 1066, when the news of the invasion by King William of Normandy, was passed from town to town, by individuals specifically employed to call out the King’s Proclamation.
King William of Normandy
Town criers were protected by the law of the land. “Don’t shoot the messenger!” was a very real command (especially when it came to bad news, as in announcing tax rises). Anything that was done to a Town Crier was deemed to be done to the ruling Monarch. It was, therefore, a treasonable offense to harm Town Criers. To the best of my knowledge, this “Hands-off-the-Town-Crier” Law has never been repealed. (My wife had better take note!)
So, if you assault me, especially in mid-cry, “Ye must expect to be taken straightly unto the Tower of London”. Now, there’s a thought!
In all these multifarious jobs, the first vital requirement is to get the attention of the crowd. Of course, the very attire of Town Criers is deliberately ornate – almost flamboyant – so as to attract their attention.
Tony Appleton, pictured above, is a most flamboyant crier; even though he’s a self-styled, self-appointed Town Crier of: absolutely nowhere!
The Greatcoat lends itself well to the role; it was a popular choice for coachmen, sat outside, facing the elements for hours on end and today, is perfectly adapted for the role of a Town Crier. The profusion of buttons, large cuffs and capes create the potential for an array of ornamentation and contrasting colours.
Mr Bumble (Oliver Twist)
Additionally, the romantic association with the golden age of coaching and highwaymen, is just perfect!
Besides all of this, we need to make some kind of sound too. In order to gain the attention of the crowd, I yell: “OYEZ” three times, as do all the Town Criers in the country. “OYEZ” is French for “Hear ye” (you’ll remember William the Conqueror, 1066 and all that stuff!) I yell it to the left, to the right and then straight ahead. VERY, VERY loudly!
(Photo taken by Vicki Steward. Do have a look at her “Normal for Glastonbury” Blog!)
I was opening a village fete a year or two ago near Glastonbury and apparently, they could hear me in the next village! Ahhhh, such heart-warming news for a Town Crier!
I also ring my bell aloft. Some of you may have heard that I once lost the clapper (or is it the “clanger”?) out of my bell, it hurtled to the pavement, narrowly missing a lady watching the spectacle! Luckily, no one was hurt, as a result of my serious bell malfunction.
Yes folks, I’ve actually “dropped a clanger” in Glastonbury High Street! (You knew that was coming, didn’t you?) Incidentally, I’m a fully paid up member of the Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers and, one of the perks of membership is that I’m covered by £5,000,000 public liability insurance! Comforting to know, should my clanger ever decide to embark on another surprise trajectory!
Traditionally, Town Criers use bells but that has not always been the case. The legendary lady Town Crier, Beety Dick of Dalkeith, Midlothian (1693-1773) used what looks like an old tin plate.
Here’s George Pratt of Edinburgh using two drummers in 1784.
This lovely painting, by Carl Spitzweg, currently on display in the Milwaukee Art Museum, depicts an idyllic German scene from 1875, where a drummer boy announces the arrival of the Town Crier. Do you think I could have one of those in Glastonbury? Mmm, something to think about….
Billy Clark of Nantucket used an interesting posthorn-like instrument.
Just a few Town Criers in the UK use horns. Depicted below is the Town Crier of East Riding, Yorkshire.
The Town Crier of Rippon has an even bigger one; using the horn in Rippon goes back centuries and centuries, I am reliably informed.
My good friend Fiona, of Shieldmaiden in Benedict Street, Glastonbury, presented me with this rather handsome horn (see below), complete with a brass mouthpiece, which I occasionally use. (Shieldmaiden is a great shop for all your Viking accessories and knick-knacks by the way. I can thoroughly recommend their mead!) Did I tell you, I got kidnapped by a gang of Vikings in town? Well, that’s a story for another time.
This American crier takes no chances on being heard! I like the way his scroll is held by the bugle. Highly inventive, don’t you think?
Amazingly, the Town Crier of Glastonbury, Connecticut, USA, as seen here with myself on the front page of their local newspaper a few years back, carries a musket with which to command attention. Yes, that should do the trick nicely!
But, the prize for the most interesting piece of apparatus for gaining attention, must surely go to this Town Crier from Holland. The device is called a Klepper, I bet it makes a most fearsome sound.
Now, where did I put my football rattle………?