A History of Town Criers
As long as there has been news to share, there have been messengers to deliver it.
Town Criers were the original ‘newsmen’ finding their origins in the early Greek Mytholgy, In fact Stentor, a Herald of the Greek Forces during the Trojan War, 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. In later times, they were provided with a bell and used to make important proclomations in the area in which they lived.
As the literacy of Britain’s population remained low well into the late 19th century, people came to rely on criers and heralds as a useful way of hearing about proclamations, edicts, laws and news, as books and newspapers were generally only accessible to a small percentage of the English population. Proclamations, edicts, laws and news may well have been written on paper, or parchment, however they were usually passed on to the general public by the Town Crier – the first (talking) newspaper.
Oyez, Oyez, Oyez roughly translated from Old French, as “Hark” or “Listen”
Oyez, Oyez, Oyez 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. After the ringing of his bell, in order to attract the crowd, the Town Crier would read a proclamation, often at the door of the local inn, then nail it to the doorpost of the inn. This led to some of the crowd entering the inn to discuss the news over a flagon of ale, often to the gratitude of the landlord and the advantage of the Town Crier.
The result of this tradition has been to bring the expression “post” into the English language and 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 or harm.
As literacy spread, the Town Crier’s role was eventually superseded by newspapers and modern media, but there are lots of Towns that still retain the service of it’s Town Crier to enhance the traditional character of their Town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. A great number of today’s Town Criers decided to organise into a collective in order to further the art and skill of Town Crying. The inaugural meeting of the Loyal Company of Town Criers was held in October 1993 at the Adelphi Hotel Leeds and so celebrates 25 years this year. We now hold an annual British Championships in order to promote the skills we have and bring awareness to the great British public of the historic value of Town Criers in this country. In addition, a number of towns hold annual competitions and the dates and locations can be found on our competitions page.