A short History of Town Crying

 

 

As long as there has been news to share, there have been messengers to deliver it and Town Criers were the original 'newsmen' finding their origins in the early Greek Empire as Spartan Runners. In fact, Stentor an ancient Greek God was said to have the voice of 50 men and some men with a loud voice may be known as having a voice of a Stentorian.

Town Criers in Britain are thought to have come to the fore in 1066 when news of William of Normandy's invasion was known. Men employed to remind everybody of Harold’s authority passed information from town to town. These individuals were specifically employed to call out the King's proclamation.

As the literacy of Britain's population remained low well into the late 19th century, people came to rely on the Town Crier - the first (talking) newspaper, because proclamations, edicts, laws, and news may well have been written on paper; because they didn’t understand how to read them.

Oyez, Oyez, Oyez (roughly translated from Old French, as "Hark" or "Listen" to what I’m about to say) became a familiar call in town squares, markets and public meeting places all over Britain, a summons for the townspeople to gather and listen to news of the plague, victories in far off lands, royal births and deaths by execution.

They were used to protect Towns as night watchmen wandering the streets at night, making sure fires in bakeries and other businesses were put out by using a “Couvre feux” (Fire cover) at the end of the day. After this time no-one was supposed to wander the streets and the term “curfew” came from this and so the Town Crier would apprehend pilferers and robbers who were found to break the curfew.

The Town Crier would read a proclamation, usually at the door of the local inn, then nail it to the doorpost of the inn. The result of this tradition has been the naming of newspapers as "The Herald and Post", the expression "posting a notice", the "post office" and "posting a message" on the Internet.

Their position became so important that harming a Town Crier was turned into a treasonable offence and even in the 21st Century, these ancient laws are supposed to guard them against heckling.

As literacy spread, the Town Crier's role was eventually superseded by newspapers and modern media, but there are lots of Towns that still retain the service of it's Town Crier to enhance the traditional character of their Town and promote tourism.

I became a member of the Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers in 1990.

The inaugural meeting of the Loyal Company of Town Criers was held on Saturday 16th October 1993 and I have been a member ever since. I started as a Committee member and for the last eleven years I have been their Chairman.