Glastonbury · Town Crier

“Excuse me, may I take your photograph?”


It’s something I’ve got used to over the four years I’ve been a Town Crier of a tourist town and that is a request to either photograph me or be photographed with me.  It’s wonderfully flattering and also, so terribly good for the ego!

I am the most unphotogenic face on the planet but dress me in a costume of the late 18th Century, give me a prominent, animated and noisy role in the streets of a quaint historic Town, crammed with holiday snappers and I am fair game.

When asked, I always respond courteously and in the affirmative.  I’ve always liked being photographed with young kids or the elderly.  It’s fun getting them “in on the act” by asking them to  hold my bell or scroll.


Some like to take that candid shot using a long lens.  But when I see them photographing from a distance, I tend to give an obliging pose with my bell held in the air; it’s great to get that nod of appreciation or raised thumb, in thanks, from the other side of the street.


I was stood in front of the huge gaping Glastonbury Abbey doorway as a group of photographers started assembling across the road but for a better backdrop, I took a few paces right to stand in front of  that wonderful Aladin’s-cave-of-a-shop, “Man, Myth  Magik” and then let them snap away! The small windows and bollards give a nice authentic historical touch, don’t you think? As I was saying to Mrs Richmond, the shopkeeper, it helps give her shop a bit of publicity when these photos are downloaded or shared to all corners of the Globe.  Of course, there is a bonus, inasmuch as it reminds them that I am the “Man, Myth and Magik of Glastonbury” as well.

I’ve learned to switch on and off a smile instantly as a camera lens appears as well as going into statue mode, which I sometimes do anyway when I’m bored …..just for the hell of it!

This morning I was busy chatting to two ladies from Australia who wanted a photo with me.  “You’ve come all this way for a photograph with me?” I quipped.  Always a good line to use, to break the ice and put them at their ease.  I was not able to converse as long with them as I was hoping to, since a lot of people were assembling across the road, getting ready to snap away.


Only in Glastonbury could you get photographed with a Dragon!  Soso, the Dragon’s owner, is now a good friend – along with her dragon of course.  I’ve been photographed with a few animals, but I do draw the line at pet snakes and crocodiles!



When I was in Marrakech in 2010, I photographed this tinker from several hundred feet away. He turned and saw me photographing him.  He spun around and briskly marched towards me forcefully and aggressively demanding payment!  If I’d asked for the same amount of cash that I was forced to give him, from every tourist since starting this job, I think I could now comfortably retire in the Bahamas!  But when I meet people, I want them to leave me feeling pleased that they’ve met me and had a chat…….. and that’s the way it’s going to stay.



Town Crier

A Right Royal Proclamation!


Photograph by Jason Bryant

Since taking on this job, I’ve had a host of enjoyable, not to mention humorous experiences and as time passes, I’m sure I’ll get around to sharing many of these with you. But one event stands out head and shoulders above all the others for its sheer “spine tingling” importance and significance. It was the day we celebrated Her Majesty’s 90th Birthday on 21st April 2016. It had its funny moments too as I shall reveal.

The plan was to light beacons all over the country, at elevated locations, all at the same time on the evening of Her Majesty’s Birthday by way of celebration. For those who do not reside in the UK and who may be unfamiliar with this practice, let me enlighten you. It’s an age-old custom, this “lighting of beacons” caper. Essentially, on very special occasions, a bonfire is lit – wherever possible at an elevated spot, so that it can be seen for miles around. Traditionally, a large steel basket is mounted on top of a steel pole, some way above the ground and it is then filled with logs. The whole lot is then doused in paraffin or some similar combustible fluid. A flame is added and, as they say…..”Bob’s your uncle!” Instant flaming beacon!

Now, in Glastonbury, we have the perfect location for a beacon. We have Glastonbury Tor! Glastonbury Tor is a hill that rises 518 feet above some reasonably level surrounding scenery. They actually refer to this land as “The Somerset Levels”.


Just to add to this strangely conical and almost volcano-shaped hill’s majesty, it has a large stone tower right on the very top – St Michael’s Tower.



This tower is the remnant of a church built there in the 1300s. In its own way, the Tor stands out as beacon to travellers approaching it from any direction…….. even without the addition of any flames! It stands out in a remarkably conspicuous fashion for miles around.

Tor and surrounding Somerset Levels Glastonbury UK aerial view

Talking about the Tor, I’m reminded of an exchange I had with a visitor, just outside the Town Hall, a year or two back. A tall, dishevelled-looking man with, unfortunately for the both of us, severe halitosis, had just stepped off a coach that had arrived from Portsmouth on a day excursion to Glastonbury. I’d hardly finished my “cry” when he came up to me, pointed in the general direction of the Tor and blurted out his question: “That big thing……that big mound of earth over there…… when did they build that?” My reply ran something along the lines of: “That is a natural landform, my friend, a geological outcrop of sandstone, that has resisted erosion for millions of years.” He’d hardly had time to digest the significance of my answer when he rattled off another enquiry. “Who mows all that grass then?” My quick-witted reply (for me) was as follows: “That’ll be the sheep, Sir, they eat the grass, Sir.” He turned around and wandered off, as I started to breathe freely again. I tell you, I get all kinds of questions in my job.

It was at a Town Council meeting a couple of weeks earlier when I’d first heard that I was needed to attend the lighting of the beacon as Town Crier. Now I’ve climbed the Tor many times but this was to be my first time in full regalia. It’s quite a steep climb but well within my capabilities. A few questions flashed through my mind though. Would my shoes get stuck in the mud? Would I slip over, getting my £2,000 worth of livery all muddy and then have to face the wrath of the Town Clerk? Would I snag my white tights on the thistles? Would my tricorn blow off? Most importantly……. would I have any breath left after climbing the hill, should I have to perform a cry?

Sure enough, a cry was required. As I soon found out, I was needed to read something out just before the beacon was lit. This was explained to me by a Town Councillor, as he thrust a piece of paper on which was written my script, into my hand at the end of the meeting, a couple of weeks before. “This one’s for you, Dave” he said cheerily, with a rather smug smile on his face. The words were written by HRH Prince Charles, with precise instructions that they were to be read out immediately before the lighting of the beacon. Golly!  Little old me was going to have to read out words written by a member of the Royal Family and I was the one going to have to shout it out, on the Tor, in front of hundreds of people, at a never-to-be-repeated event in history. I felt a tingle running up my spine.

On the day of Her Majesty’s birthday, the plan was for various local groups (church groups, scouts, guides and the like) as well as many local citizens, to join the Mayor and the Civic Party in an ascent of the Tor, finally, assembling around the readily fuelled beacon. We were to congregate outside St John’s Church in Glastonbury High Street before walking to the Tor. I arrived early, giving a few cries around and about, to let people know what was going on, should any not have heard about the plan and perhaps, wished to join us.

In the High Street, as we all killed time, I was approached by a photographer. Judging by the myriad of cameras and lenses that hung from his body like presents on a Christmas tree, he must have been a press photographer. He explained that he had a small bear mascot which apparently, went with him everywhere – the stuffed toy being photographed at just about every photographic location he’d visited. That evening, it was going to be my turn, as the lucky guy being photographed with his small, slightly soiled little bear.


We found a comfortable place for his little mascot, as you can see.  It’s the little things……

The Mayor and the Civic Party were a little delayed due to an important meeting at the Town Hall. A nearby BBC TV presenter hopped anxiously, from one foot to another, in front of his rather bored-looking cameraman, outside St John’s Church. He frequently looked at his watch, his “interview window” with the Mayor of Glastonbury for the local TV news rapidly shrinking, with still no sign of the Mayor. He came over to me and asked me if I was involved in the evening’s festivities. “No, I always hang around Glastonbury in the evening, dressed like this!” (Sorry, I’ve lied……I didn’t really say that at all). “OK, I don’t know where the Mayor’s got to……… but you’ll do!” he insisted. He quickly told me about the sort of questions he was going to ask and then I had approximately 35 seconds to think of some vaguely coherent answers. In no time at all, the “cameras rolled” and I was speaking live on BBC-TV News!


“Yes, you may interview me now, young man”

Soon after, the Civic Party could be seen striding up the High Street at a brisk pace. What a grand sight they looked in all their robes. Two highly-polished maces, presented to the town by Her Majesty Queen Anne in 1705, were carried by our Macebearers, or to give them their full title, “Sergeants-at-Mace”, Terry and Gary. The brass royal crests glistened in the evening sunshine.

“Hey…’ve got the matches, right?” I helpfully enquired, shouting down the street. My humour was met with a stony silence.

Once assembled, we set off up the High Street, pausing at odd places along the route for more witty banter.


I walked a fair way in the procession with the vicar (proudly wearing his red scout scarf) – a most pleasant gentleman. We conversed at length about the current state of the English Education System.


The slow and steady climb up the Tor went fairly well. There was a fairly strong and cool easterly breeze, of which I was very glad. It kept me cool under all that regalia. I paused a few times to get my breath.


Once assembled around the beacon, various speeches and announcements were made. I was a little irritated with the crowd, since not everyone was listening……..the taking and publishing of selfies on social media taking precedence. Then it was my turn to make the final speech before the beacon was lit. I was very appreciative of several people in the gathering who kindly stepped forward and pulled my capes down when they blew up my back.  After all, a Town Crier must always look his best!


After I had let out three deafeningly loud “OYEZ”s, everyone listened. I really mean, everyone. The complete silence of that moment took my breath away – luckily, in a metaphorical sense only – as I introduced and subsequently read out the Royal Proclamation from HRH Prince Charles. It had suddenly hit me that I was now centrally involved in a little piece of British history. Heart racing, this is what I cried out:

“I am delighted that so many people throughout the United Kingdom are coming together to light beacons in celebration of my mother, The Queen’s, ninetieth birthday. It is a wonderful gesture which I know has deeply touched Her Majesty.
Beacons are to be lit on mountaintops, on beaches, in farmyards and on church towers, uniting us all in our heartfelt appreciation of The Queen’s lifetime of service to the United Kingdom and other Realms, and to the Commonwealth.
Since time immemorial, the light of beacons has relayed important messages across the land. “This message we proclaim with the greatest pride and affection: Your Majesty, we all wish you a very Happy Birthday!”

The paraffin soaked rags, already wrapped around a long pole, were then lit and held aloft by a young boy scout (with a little assistance from the vicar).


The beacon ignited successfully and in no time at all, the flames were licking round the basket and out into the darkness. Several times we had to dodge showers of sparks from the beacon as the wind changed.


It was my first time on the Tor at night. The lights of Glastonbury and Street shone out as if being seen from a plane. A magical sight to behold.

image    (Photo by carlydutton PHOTOGRAPHY)

This very patriotic lady wished to be photographed with the Town Crier. How could I refuse? (Oh, I’m such a tart!)


On the way down, I passed some disgruntled people on the way up, who had come to see the beacon lighting. Apparently, the beacon had been lit about 45 minutes before the billed time.

Being heard · Glastonbury · Town Crier

Getting their attention


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.

Picture1King 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………?






Glastonbury · Harmonium · Town Crier

“An odd request”

I’m occasionally asked if I’ve ever had any strange requests whilst carrying out my official duties. I’ve had a few, I can tell you! (Watch this space!) But I’d like to tell you the story about one very odd request made of me, only a few months back.

It was a chilly, crisp and bright Saturday morning when I stepped out of my sports car, behind the Town Hall and put on my green eighteenth century-style Great Coatpulled on my white gloves and gathered together my bell and scroll. (I’ve often thought what an odd spectacle that must be……. an historical figure, dressed from head to toe in the style of a late 1700’s coachman, walking away from his relatively modern horseless carriage, pressing his remote locking key fob as he does so.)

I was publicising the opening day of a new branch of the Nationwide Building Society, not far from the Market Cross, in Glastonbury High Street, where you see me standing.


The Market Cross is a tall and very fine structure as you can see.  The steps enable me to get a little bit of elevation and if I get up close to the stone, it not only affords some  shelter from the cold north-west wind that funnels down Northload Street behind me (nothing worse than getting “wind-in-me-capes”) but also  helps with the projection of sound into the Market Place. Believe me, I need all the help I can get, when trying to compete against those double decker buses that thunder past, off up the High Street! Huge Royal Blue moving walls of sound.

The Market Cross that you see in the photograph behind me was erected in 1846 from a design of one B. Ferrey Esq. It is built at the junction of four streets in the centre of the town.  In 1877, Charles Pooley described it, rather uncharitably as: “A Gothic pinnacled structure of a simple type, with no pretensions to elaborate architectural display.”

glastonbury-x-1So there I was, belting it out from the top step, as only Town Criers can, when along came a rather animated and anxious elderly lady. She kindly waited until I had done my “God Save the Queen” followed by my long ceremonial bow (as per the Union rule book)……yes, us Town Criers have a Union too you know – well, a Guild actually. More about this another time.

The rather flustered lady explained her predicament to me. She was a visitor to the town, who had travelled with a young female singer from Ireland. The girl was going to be singing at a musical event at the Chalice Well Gardens in town, that very evening. The singing was going to be accompanied by a harmonium player. The harmonium player, also from the Emerald Isle, was told that he need not bring his harmonium over from Ireland as: “one was going to be supplied for the evening concert.”


Yes, you guessed right! No harmonium had turned up!  The lady asked if I could make an announcement in the hope that any passing harmonium players might be able to help out with the loan of a harmonium for the evening……….

I tried my best not to look sceptical……honestly, I really did. After all, everyone plays the  harmonium these days, don’t they – there’s nearly one in every home. Whilst hurriedly scribbling down the bare bones of the story with which to make a special cry, I thought to myself, we’d have more luck getting hold of a bucket-full of moon rocks than a blessed Harmonium, for God’s sake!!

Seeing the look of desperation on the old lady’s face – since I was her only hope – I did my cry. I did it EXTRA LOUD. All 105 decibels of it.  (Yes, I have measured it…’s equivalent to a pneumatic drill apparently). Several times I bellowed out her request..  Afterwards, the lady thanked me profusely, before scurrying off to a café nearby, letting me get on with the important publicity stuff.  I didn’t really give it much more thought that morning, to tell you the truth, until about an hour and a half later, when the same lady appeared in front of me again, this time, beaming from ear-to-ear with a sparkle in her eye!

To cut a long story short, a man in the street had heard my cry and mentioned it to the local butcher who he knew was a musician. The butcher knew someone who actually plays a harmonium!  Sure enough, a harmonium was successfully loaned by the butcher’s friend for the evening concert!

Ahhhhh………..the benefits of Town Criers, eh?