The History Of The Traditional Town Crier

Ancient Greek Runners

Historically Town Criers – or Bellmen as they were sometimes called – were the original newsmen. The first Town Criers were the Spartan Runners in the early Greek Empire and as the Roman Conquest spread through Europe the position increased in importance.

This appointment was a judicial as well as informative role. A Spartan Runner would be well educated by the standards of the day – being able to read and probably write too. His task was to present information to the people and to ensure that appropriate rules were respected – especially the ones he had pronounced!

The Bellman Or Night Watchman

The Kings, and later the Lords of the Manor would appoint a Bellman, the earlier name, to go around, ringing a bell and giving out details as directed. The Bellman could ‘double’ as the night–watch man informing people it was time to go to bed – how quaint?

Bellman

Having read a ‘notice’ for the public the Bellman would ‘Post’ it’ onto a nearby tree or more often the tavern door. The phrase of ‘posting a notice’ remains in use today and originates from that task – Post it notes!!

As printing became more available and reading for the masses improved publishing companies developed and newspapers were created. These often mirrored the Town Crier’s posting a notice and they called themselves ‘Daily Post’ or ‘Weekly Post’.

The Bellman’s uniform began to become more ornate and flamboyant in order for the people to recognise him as he was going about to proclaim the N E W S – North, East, West and South. He would often wear a hat – a ‘top hat’ or three cornered hat – a ‘tricorne’ are often favoured.

The tricorne is quite relevant to the times and interlinking of law, religion and Monarchy. A three cornered hat marked the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The uniform often reflected the Monarch’s colours and the ‘jabot’ linked the judicial status as similar to that of a judge.

He would ‘make a stand’ in a particular prominent part of the town or city and following the ringing of the bell for three times would ‘cry’, O yez, O yez, O yez. This being ‘Hear Ye’ or ‘Listen well’. Again the three link of religion as with the tricorne hat.

Town Crier

The Bellman was seen and heard in most big towns and cities and his ‘cry’ began to take more prominence in his title and hence ‘town crier’ became a more modern title. It became more common to see the wife ringing the bell and the husband doing the shouting or should that be the other way round!!

He was not always popular with the people since his information was sometimes provocative or demanding. Tax increases or the ending of fishing rights to rivers did not sit squarely with everyone. At the least he was abused with soft fruit and often worse, eventually being killed for his pains!

From this came the saying ‘don’t shoot the messenger’. The result of this lead to the current edict that anyone being rude, abusive or insulting to the Town Crier may be held for treason and the punishment is death.

The Traditonal Town Crier Today

Lytham & St Annes Town Crier

The Town Crier’s uniform, as with the Mayor and/or Lord of the Manor, reflected your standing in society and Country. Today it varies considerably but here in Lytham and St. Anne’s it reflects the traditions of the Manor of Lytham and Fylde Borough Council’s Mayoral robe with a bright red coat, reflecting Craft Guilds and legal entitlement to sit of behalf of the Monarch.

The Jabot, as worn in court sessions is believed to have come here from France where the nobility wore them. In order to guard against mud damage and/or vermin he wore gartered stockings and ‘breeks’ – a trouser fastened just below the knee. Beneath the coat a brightly coloured waistcoat is worn and may be revealed in the warmer weather when or if the coat is removed.

The bell is a new one cast early in 2012 at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London. It weighs 7lbs and has a very ‘rounded tone’ and is quite loud too. It is engraved around the rim with my name following that of Eddie Bowkett, Town Crier to the Manor of Lytham prior to his retirement in 2001 when the post fell vacant.

The Uniform was created by Lynda Ormerod of Lytham in early 2012. She based it upon the original of Eddie Bowkett but added more modern embellishment – modern bling! The black Tricorne hat is from Lairdlondon and adorned with a red and blue ‘Quil’ – a reminder of the early town crier’s ability to write his message. The footwear, is from Oswaldtwistle in recognition of being in Lancashire – traditional Gibson style clogs with a gold buckle overlap.

The role of Town Crier is somewhat symbolic today but he or she can proclaim the up and forthcoming events, give information regarding the features of the area and announce celebrity visits. The area may benefit from the colourful character’s interaction with the public, media and personalities.

The advice, well crafted, from the Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers says:

To keep in mind the need to preserve decorum and solemnity in office and not to seek for personal gratification

BY:
Promoting Prestigious public pronouncements
Proud to preserve and protect our heritage by proclamation

My appointment to this role is jointly between James Hilton, ‘Squire’ to the Manor of Lytham and St Anne’s Town Council. The most recent previous incumbent, Eddie Bowkett was appointed by ‘Squire’ Hilton under his entitlement as Lord of the Manor, previously held by the Clifton family.

Whilst technically the Manor of Lytham boundary runs northward to ‘Squire’s Gate’, since the creation of St Anne’s on Sea, as a separate town, that has ceased to hold sway. Since the uniform and regalia is expensive the costs have been born jointly by the two parties. The position is not a remunerated one and whilst deemed a privilege to serve the community private commercial work is charged for.

I am proud to hold the office as Town Crier to the Manor of Lytham and St Anne’s and do what I can to promote our beautiful Fylde coast to both locals and visitors. The position affords me the privilege to meet with hundreds of people, appear on thousands of photographs and videos, tour schools and interest groups to talk about the history of town criers and my duties.

  

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