Who Is a Town Crier?
A town crier is a person who is employed by a town council to make public announcements in the streets. The crier can also be used in court or official announcements. Criers often dress elaborately, by a tradition dating to the 18th century, in a red and gold robe, white breeches, black boots and a tricorne hat.
They carry a hand bell 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. In Medieval England, town criers were the chief means of news communication with the people of the town since many could not read or write.
Royal proclamations, local bylaws, market days, adverts, even selling loaves of sugar were all proclaimed by a bellman or crier throughout the centuries. Town criers were protected by the ruling monarch, as they sometimes brought bad news such as tax increases.
To this day, any town crier in the British Commonwealth is protected under old English law that they are not to be hindered or heckled while performing their duties.
To injure or harm a town crier was seen as an act of treason against the ruling monarchy. 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.
Criers were not always men, many town criers were women. Bells were not the only attention getting device – in Holland, a gong was the instrument of choice for many, and in France a drum was used, or a hunting horn.
When the need for a town crier disappeared, the position passed into local folklore. Informal and later formal town crier competitions were held from the late 20th century. Subsequently some cities and towns reinstated the post purely for ceremonial purposes.
Many local types of council 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 Honorable 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 birth of the births of royal heirs and occasionally the arrival of the royal family.