Town Criers are a tradition that goes back for thousands of years. Back when few people could read or write town criers were the key method of getting information to people. These days Town Criers do lots for charities, add a bit of spectacle to the streets and help to promote the civic pride of their home towns.
Become a Town Crier
Firstly you will need to get yourself registered. If you just stand in the street shouting you are likely to be arrested for a breach of the peace. There are many towns where loud noises can incur quite hefty legal penalties. However, if you are registered as an official Town Crier then there won’t be any problems. Official Town Criers must be appointed by the local council or Lord of the Manor (in the UK). If your town already has a crier (currently about 250 in the UK) then try a neighbouring town; there are plenty of towns that don’t have their own crier. Send the mayor a letter asking for the council to reinstate the role and request that you be considered for the post.
In these economically straightened times Town Councils are unlikely to approve large budgets, so remind them in your letter that they will be getting a whole lot for little to no outlay. Many UK town criers receive next to nothing from their council except expenses. Being a town crier never made anybody wealthy.
However, being Town Crier does give you the opportunity to attend lots of fun events, meet interesting people and become a part of the story of your town. Local newspapers often feature pictures of the town crier at events, so if you want to appear in the press, this is the job for you.
You will probably be required to attend interviews and go through police checks. As long as you pass these, the role is suitable for anyone with a loud voice, young or old, male or female. In fact, some of the UK’s finest criers are women.
Join a Guild
There are two guilds in the UK. The Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers and the Loyal Company of Town Criers. Joining a guild gives you the insurance you need, the support of other criers and opportunities to represent your home town in friendly competitions with other criers. Guild fees are very low so you could join both guilds if you wish. There are other guilds in other countries too.
Joining a guild has the added benefit of ensuring no other crier strays on your patch without your consent. Both guilds in the UK have strict policies to ensure that doesn’t happen.
Get a Town Crier’s Livery
The clothing a town crier wears is their own choice, but most opt for a waistcoat, caped cloak, breeches, stockings and buckled shoes in the manner of a gentleman or soldier of the 1750s. To stand out even more, most criers have gold braid (known as military lace) all over their livery.
Not all criers choose this route. Many criers choose other historic periods for inspiration their liveries or even modern dress variations. You can find criers dressed as thirteenth century heralds, Tudor courtiers, Victorian railwaymen and even twentieth century fishmongers. However, since the point is to be more visible than others, the livery should stand out in a crowd. Feathered tricorn hats are worn by most criers to be seen from a distance. Some opt for bicorns or top hats instead. One thing you almost always see is feathers in a hat. Tradition has it that these remind us that criers can read and write and would originally have been quill pen feathers.
Town Crier liveries are not items you can buy off the shelf and many criers make their own liveries. There are companies that can help you with the clothing but the cost can be quite a problem for impoverished councils. It is worth putting in the effort though because all the Town Crier competitions seem to have a trophy awarded for “best dressed crier”.
Get a bell
An old fashioned school handbell is perfect for getting the attention of passers by. Make sure the handle is secure because you don’t want the bell to fly off the end and hit anybody.
Write your cry
Listen to other criers and you will find that all cries begin with ‘Oyez oyez oyez’ and end with ‘God save the Queen’. In between, most criers keep to between about 60 and 120 words either plain prose or rhyming couplets. Some even try to write in iambic pentameter! Nobody writes for criers. They write their own cries and so have nobody else to blame if they fluff their lines.
Pick your Spot
In agreement with your Mayor, local police and any other interested parties, decide on the spot where most cries should be delivered. Traditionally the town cross was the site where a Town Crier would usually stand, but in today’s world of fast cars, safety should be your first consideration. If there is a pedestrianised precinct in your town, this may be a great spot, but do check that you have permission to cry there. If you do, get out there and go make some noise
Remember to smile
If your home town attracts tourists you will soon be appearing in people’s holiday photographs. As town crier, you are considered to be , to some extent, ‘public property’. Accept requests for a photo with good grace, smile and be polite and let the visitors go home with wonderful memories of their visit to your hometown.
Look after your voice
It is easy to shout badly. Just screaming out at full volume is definitely to be avoided. It strains the vocal chords and harms the voice. Much better to project your voice if you can. Practice makes perfect, but try to project with a powerful voice at a medium volume and then increase airflow to do it at louder volumes. breath control is critical and some of the best criers take singing lessons. do not to do more than 3 or 4 full volume cries in a morning. If you do you will hear your voice begin to crack and sound horrible. The best way to stop this happening is to stay well hydrated. Keep drinking plenty of water to protect your throat. Throat sweets are good too, but alcohol makes the voice worse.
Read all about it.
Chester’s Town Crier David Mitchell has written 2 books on the subject. The first was For Crying Out Loud!: The Story of the Town Crier & Bellman, Past & Present.
The second, The Word on the Street was published in 2019. Both books are funny and well researched by a man who clearly loves his craft.