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Town Crier

Town Crier

Oyez, oyez (which means listen to what I’m about to shout).  This month we welcomed Jonathan Jones, who used to work for Vodafone and now has a new role as a Town Crier for Farnham.  Jonathan told us how historically the town crier was a person who could read or write, they would be well educated, could blow horns, ring bells and read out the King’s new laws & taxes. They were often appointed by a competition (as he was).  They would write the news on a scroll, walk into town (often the inns) and proclaim the news, then pin the scroll up in town so others could read it (which is called posting the news). It’s a historical role, the Romans & Greeks had criers.

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Having a very loud voice and wanting to wear the nice (warm) outfit are the desired skills. Competitors are chosen by competition over two shouts; in Jonathan’s case, one was a set piece about an extravaganza and the other was written by his wife. Only three people entered when he did in 2003 and one became the mayor of Waverley the following year, so his main competitor was a woman, dressed as a New Age traveller with red dreadlocks. Once elected, you don’t need to re-compete if the town likes you. David Peters, the town crier in Guildford is fourth generation of his family, his great-grandfather announced the out-break of World War One in the town centre.  The town crier in Liverpool greets passengers off cruise liner ships. Payment is honorarium of about £500 (which mostly goes on the costume), and some criers are given a nice bottle of port and a Stilton cheese by the Mayor.  The coat is green for Farnham Greencoats, Farnham Green or Farnham Pottery, the waistcoat is red for Hansard, the coat is a replica of an 18th Century trisard, often with a little furry animal sat in the front for the children. Scrolls are kept in the hats, with the home shout on one side, the away shout on the other and the third shout in the back. There’s no longer a a feather in the cap as it gets soggy in the rain (you can tip it out from the hat).

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There are now only two professional criers (the rest raise money for charity); Sir Peter Moore in London who had a bell from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Jonathan had one cast, now he needs a bell holster for when it arrives. Chester have a man and wife team of criers. The jabo is the lacy neckerchief that could be used to hold over the face is smellier parts of town and the crier normally also carries gloves and stocks and a pottery whistle. He shouts in a very fitting area – the Lion and Lamb Yard had mullion windows and leads into the castle area. There are around 200 criers in the UK now of which 10% are ladies, many of the criers are on the south coast. Altogether there are around 700 around the world. Jonathan is also a mace bearer, which represents power and authority and parliament can’t sit without it. There is a town crier calendar, like the WI Calendar Girls, still in the making.  They always end with “God Save the Queen.”


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