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Town crier

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Town crier
The Town Crier by Charles Green, 1867
Activity sectors
Civil service

A town crier, also called a bellman,[1] is an officer of a royal court or public authority who makes public pronouncements as required.[2]

Duties and functions[edit]

The town crier was used to make public announcements in the streets. Criers often dress elaborately, by a tradition dating to the 18th century, in a red and gold coat, white breeches, black boots and a tricorne hat.[where?]

In English-speaking countries, they carried a handbell to attract people's attention, as they shouted 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 (modern French, oyez, infinitive, ouïr, but has been largely replaced by the verb écouter). The proclamations book in Chester from the early 19th century records this as "O Yes, O Yes!".



Prior to widespread literacy, town criers were the means of communication with the people of the town since many people could not read or write. Proclamations, local bylaws, market days, adverts, were all proclaimed by a bellman or crier.

In ancient Rome, they typically proclaimed public business during the market days that formed a kind of weekend every eight days.[3]

In Goslar, Germany, a crier was employed to remind the local populace not to urinate or defecate in the river the day before water was drawn for brewing beer.[4]

Bells were frequently used to attract attention, but not always – in the Netherlands, a gong was the instrument of choice for many, and a drum or a hunting horn was used in France.

In the observance of Allhallowtide, "it was customary for criers dressed in black to parade the streets, ringing a bell of mournful sound and calling on all good Christians to remember the poor souls."[5]


In order to gain the attention of the crowd, the crier would yell, "Hear ye" – "Oyez".

Peter Moore, the Town Crier to the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority.

In medieval England, town criers were the chief means of news communication with the townspeople, since many were illiterate in a period before the moveable type was invented. Royal proclamations, local bylaws, market days, adverts, even selling loaves of sugar were all proclaimed by a bellman or crier throughout the centuries—at Christmas 1798, the Chester Canal Company sold some sugar damaged in their packet boat and this was to be advertised by the bellman.[citation needed]

The crier also escorted the destitute to the workhouse, installed minor criminals in the stocks and administered floggings. During public hangings he read out why the person was being hanged, and helped to cut him or her down.[6]

Chester records of 1540 show fees due to the bellman included:

"of every worshipful gentyllman that goyth onye gounes at ther buryall ...one goune [at funerals gowns would be given to mourners]. when he gythe or aneything that is lost ...jd [one penny]. for every bote lode with powder mellwylle [salted fish] ...one fyshe, for every boute lode with fresh fyshe that he goeth for ...jd [one penny]."

In 1620, there was a fight at the Chester cross between the butchers and the bakers where the "Cryer brake his Mace in peeces Amonge them". In 1607, one public notice read by George Tunnall, the bellman, forbade tipping rubbish in the river.

In 1715, a local man recorded that the:

"Belman at the Cross … Reads publicly a proclamation in the Mayor's name, commanding all persons in the City to be of peaceable and civil behaviour, not to walk around the Streets or Rows at unreasonable hours of night."

Salmon fishing season was also closed by the bellman.[7][8]

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. Some newspapers took the name "The Post" for this reason.

Town criers were protected by law, as they sometimes brought bad news such as tax increases. Anything done by the town crier was done in the name of the ruling monarch and harming a town crier was considered to be treason.[9] The phrase "don't shoot the messenger" was a real command.[9]

There are two organisations representing town criers including the Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers and Loyal Company of Town Criers.

A copy of a royal proclamation announcing the dissolution of the Parliament of the United Kingdom is delivered by hand from the Privy Council Office to Mansion House in the City of London. It is then read out by the Common Crier of the City on the steps of the Royal Exchange in the heart of the City, having been handed to him by the Common Serjeant of the City, ahead of the proclamation also being read out in the London boroughs.

Beetty Dick (1693-1773) was a woman town crier in Dalkeith, Midlothian, Scotland in the mid 18th century, succeeded by three further women town criers.[10]

North America[edit]

There have been town criers in North America ever since Europeans have been coming to the continent, and the First Nations peoples including the Nakota and Comanches have had the eyapaha (village crier). There are records throughout the 16th century of town criers in Mexico, Peru, and Panama. During the 1830s and 40s Halifax, Nova Scotia had as many as four in the city. All through the American Colonies and beyond, such as Santa Fe, New Mexico; Boston, Massachusetts and Stamford, Connecticut had criers during the mid 17th century. In some places, the office of town crier persisted into the early 20th century. At least as recently as 1904, Los Angeles and several adjacent towns had official town criers.

Town crier of Provincetown, Massachusetts, in 1909

The town of Provincetown, Massachusetts, has had an active Town Crier from the 1840s up to the present day.[11]



In many parts of India, the village crier traditionally carried a rustic drum to call public attention, following up with the message.


In Nepal, the town crier is called a katuwal which derives from local Tibetic, kat 'voice' + an Indic suffix -wal 'kind of a person

Sri Lanka[edit]

In Sri Lanka, traditionally criers would carry a specific drum to call public attention (called tom-tom beating), following up with the message. The practice dates back from ancient times as it was used by Sri Lankan kingdoms through the colonial period up on to the modern times and was known as Ana Bera (Announcement drum beating). The practice was used by municipal or village councils until the late ninetieth century when the practice was replaced by modern communication mediums. The use of a tom-tom beating announcer is still defined in legal statutes for situations for public notification in situations such as partition of lands. It is however not practiced.[12][13]


Congolese town crier

Town criers were prominent in the precolonial and colonial eras of Igboland, a West African region in the present-day Nigeria. They served as the major means of information dissemination in their respective communities.

Modern town criers[edit]

A town criers competition in Thetford in 2015

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 early 20th century. Subsequently, some cities and towns reinstated the post purely for ceremonial purposes.

Many local councils in England and Wales reinstated the post of town crier from the mid-1990s onwards (e.g. Chester).[14] 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 Honourable Guild of Town Criers.[15] 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,[16] an appointment which exists in no other local council.

In England, town criers still announce the births of royal heirs and occasionally the arrival of the royal family. Tony Appleton, an octogenarian and self-proclaimed “royalist crier,” took it upon himself to announce, as loudly as he can, important news about the royal family. Appleton has served as town crier for the nearby city of Romford, but he does not represent the royal family. Appleton admitted as much in 2013, when news outlets were confused by his presence.[17][18][19][20][21]

There are several town crier guilds in both Canada and the United States. These include the Ontario Guild of Town Criers, the Nova Scotia Guild of Town Criers and the American Guild of Town Criers.[22][23][24] In 2016, the town of Burlingame, California added a town crier.[25]

In Australia, as of October 2010, the City of Sydney, City of Hobart, City of Greater Geelong, City of Portland, City of Ipswich, City of Gosford, City of Salisbury, City of Gold Coast and 22 other local councils had an official town crier.[26]

Competitions and records[edit]

Peter & Maureen Taunton won a Best dressed crier & lady competition in 2008[27]

European, Canadian, American, North American and Australian championships are held in alternating years with the World Championships.

The best dressed town crier at the World Championships in 2008 was Daniel Richer dit La Flêche representing the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau, in Canada.[28]

In 2001, Alan Myatt held the Guinness record for the world's loudest man.[29]

The Best Dressed Couple were Peter and Maureen Taunton from the county town of Stafford, in Staffordshire, England.[27] Richard Riddell of Anacortes, in the state of Washington in the United States, was the 2008 American Champion and winner of the 2009 Bermuda International Town Crier Competition. He was awarded Best Dressed and tied for First Runner-up at the 2010 World Tournament at Chester in England and Overall Winner at the 2013 World Invitational Town Crier Competition held in Kingston, in Ontario, Canada.[30]

Peter Moore, the London Town Crier,[31][32] held the position for more than 30 years. He was Town Crier to the Mayor of London,[clarification needed] the City of Westminster, and London boroughs, and was also a freeman and liveryman of the City of London. He died on 20 December 2009.[31]

Alan Myatt holds two Guinness World Records. As well as being the loudest crier (recording a cry of 112.8 decibels),[33] he also set the record for vocal endurance, issuing a one-hundred word proclamation every 15 minutes for a period of 48 hours.[34]

Daniel Richer dit La Flêche, who is a member of the First Nations Abenaki tribe, is a full-time bilingual town crier.[28] David Hinde, Bridlington Town Crier, was measured at 114.8 decibels.[35]

Taking place from the 20th to 23 August 2014, Chris Whyman from Kingston, Ontario, Canada, was declared the winner of the 2014 World Town Crier Tournament in Chester.[36][37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nicoll, Allardyce (28 November 2002). Shakespeare Survey. Cambridge University Press. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-521-52349-3.
  2. ^ Black's Law Dictionary
  3. ^ Struck (2009), "Nundinae".
  4. ^ Brown, Chris (19 April 2013). "Twin Town Crier helps keep the beer flowing". Windsor and Maidenhead Town Crier. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  5. ^ The World Review, Volume 4, University of Minnesota, p.255.
  6. ^ Schoettler, Carl (9 April 1994). "Town crier: a venerable calling that speaks volumes". The Baltimore Sun.
  7. ^ Courant, 17 April 1792.
    A few days ago some persons were brought before our magistrates, charged with angling and catching salmon fry in the River Dee, As the law expressly forbids the young salmon to be taken, either with nets or other engines, the bellman had orders to give notice to the inhabitants, that prosecutions would be commenced against any persons offending in the like manner.
  8. ^ Chronicle, 12 December 1845.
    Illegal Fishing
    On Saturday last, four fishermen, named William Gibson, William Hand, Robert Barlow, and William Banks, appeared at Chester Police Court, to answer an information preferred against them by Buckley, the constable appointed by the River Dee Conservancy, for being out night fishing with illegal nets (less than 2½ inches in the mesh), and also for taking unsizeable fish. The information was laid under the 1st George 1. c. 18, s.4. Immediately upon being placed before the Bench, a somewhat noisy colloquy commenced between the Supt. of Police, the court and the defendants; the latter stoutly denying that to use small nets would be to ensure the escape of all other fish. On being told that at this season of the year they could catch nothing but salmon, Barlow stated that the other night they had caught nine shillings worth of flukes, and we have good authority for saying that this statement was correct. Gibson, striking his fist on the table, solemnly swore that, "he had not killed a salmon since they were cried down" and another affirmed that it would be no use killing them as "they were not fit for pigs, much less Christians." After a long debate between the Court and the defendants, in which the latter seemed strongly disposed to try elsewhere the right of the Magistrates to prevent them fishing with nets of any size, providing they took no salmon, a reluctant promise was wrung from them, that they would not offend in a similar way in the future and they were discharged.
  9. ^ a b "Top town crier to be crowned as Hebden Bridge hits 500". BBC News. 20 August 2010.
  10. ^ Ewan, Elizabeth L.; Innes, Sue; Reynolds, Sian; Pipes, Rose (27 June 2007). Biographical Dictionary of ScottishWomen. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0-7486-2660-1.
  11. ^ James, George Wharton (1904). Travelers' handbook to southern California. Pasadena, California: G.W. James. The book provides lists of current office holders, including town criers, for several local jurisdictions.
  12. ^ "featur01". www.island.lk. Retrieved 26 June 2019.
  13. ^ "Rhythm and Moves with Sri Lankan drumming". Daily News. Retrieved 26 June 2019.
  14. ^ "Cross Proclamation Feedback". Chester Town Criers. 2016. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  15. ^ "Home: Promoting Prestigious Public Pronouncements". Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers. 2016. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  16. ^ "About the Office of Mayor and other civic roles". The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames. 2016. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  17. ^ "FACT CHECK: Did a Town Crier Announce the Royal Birth?". Snopes.com. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  18. ^ "Royal baby: Town crier announces news of Prince William and Catherine's son". BBC News. 22 July 2013. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  19. ^ "Royal baby: Town crier announces birth of Royal Prince". Slough & Windsor Observer. Berkshire Media Group. Archived from the original on 21 August 2013. Retrieved 21 August 2013.
  20. ^ "Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall visit Bridlington Priory, Tuesday 23 July". Bridlington Priory. 5 August 2013. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  21. ^ "Visit to Yorkshire". princeofwales.gov.uk. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  22. ^ "The Ontario Guild of Town Criers". towncrier.on.ca. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  23. ^ "Home". Nova Scotia Guild of Town Criers. 2016. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  24. ^ "American Guild of Town Criers". americantowncriers.com. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  25. ^ Walsh, Austin (6 February 2016). "Calling all history lovers: Burlingame announces city's first official town crier". San Mateo Daily Journal. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  26. ^ "Town Criers in Australia". Ancient and Honourable Guild of Australian Town Criers.
  27. ^ a b "The British Town Crier". britishtowncrier.co.uk. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  28. ^ a b "Daniel Richer: Crieur public / Town crier". danielricher.com. 2007. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  29. ^ "Quiet night's sleep for 'world's loudest man'". BBC News. 19 June 2001. Retrieved 14 January 2023.
  30. ^ John, Robert (7 August 2013). "World Invitational Town Crier Competition Winners Announced". Kingston Herald. Kingston, Ontario. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  31. ^ a b "London town crier Peter Moore dies aged 70". BBC News. 30 December 2009. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  32. ^ "City - News - Events - Information - Local". London Town Crier. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  33. ^ "Quiet night's sleep for 'world's loudest man'". BBC Online. 19 June 2001. Retrieved 13 April 2014.
  34. ^ "Oyez! Oyez! Town crier Alan Myatt rings in 25 years of service". Gloucester Citizen. 9 May 2013. Archived from the original on 14 April 2014. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  35. ^ "Hear ye! I'm loudest crier in all the land". Hull Daily Mail. 26 August 2013. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  36. ^ Henwood, Jo (27 August 2014). "World Town Crier Tournament Chester: Final". Chester Chronicle. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  37. ^ "Whyman world champion again". The Kingston Whig-Standard. 25 August 2014. Retrieved 14 May 2016.

Works cited[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • David Mitchell, For Crying Out Loud: The Story of the Town Crier and Bellman, Past and Present (2010) ISBN 978-1-905575-10-7
  • David Mitchell, "The Word on the Street: A History of the Town Crier and Bellman" (2019) ISBN 978-1-9160047-02

External links[edit]