Town Crier

Town criers - or Bellmen as they were sometimes called - were the original newsmen. Before people could read, town criers brought the news to the people and served as spokesmen for the King.

The tradition was started in ancient Greece when heralds were used for official proclamations. The first use of criers in the UK dates back to Norman times, when the cry “oyez, oyez, oyez”, (old French for “hear ye”) was used to draw the attention of the mostly illiterate public to matters of importance.

The town crier would read a proclamation, usually at the door of the local inn, then nail it to the doorpost of the inn. This tradition gave us the expression “posting a notice” and the naming of newspapers as “The Post".

Announcements weren’t always of national status but included more domestic matters such as crying for “cows not to run the streets by night” or “the donkey not to run on the green”, but would always conclude with “God save the King” (or Queen!).

Criers were usually people of some standing in the community, as they had to be able to read and write the proclamations. They were rewarded for their services with a pair of shoes and a few trifles. We usually think of criers in brightly coloured uniforms but this wasn’t always the case; a uniform wasn’t always provided so often the criers wore only their normal clothes when performing their duties.

Town criers were protected by law. “Don’t shoot the messenger” was a very real command - anything that was done to a town crier was deemed to be done to the King and was therefore a treasonable offence.

Photograph of Llanidloes Town Crier
is courtesy of Llanidloes Museum

The job of town crier continues to this day with over 200 criers currently appointed in the UK and “The 12th World Town Criers’ Championship" taking place in South Africa this September.

As far as I know, Yapton’s last town crier was Mr Deegan... unless you know differently!

Geoff Westcott
April 2007

(Originally published in Yapton News & Views, May 2007)

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