Oyez oyez oyez! Calling the world’s town criers

Did you know today is International Town Criers Day?

If you’re in Chester or London then a town crier has probably already proclaimed that. Otherwise, like me, you’re probably intrigued and befuddled.

"Town criers? They still exist?" you ask.

Yes they do, but not as prevalent as centuries ago. In fact, the only regular Town Crier in the entire world* can be found in Chester [Tuesday to Saturday at midday in the town square].

I only found out about this special day by conducting a google search while searching for July blog post ideas. Yes I am that creatively bankrupt.

Self-deprecation aside it’s fascinating such a day exists. Before social media there was TV news; before TV news there was radio news and newsreels; before radio news and newsreels there was newspapers; and (you’ll be glad to hear this) before newspapers there were town criers.

Town criers – also known as bellmen – would stand in the city square and begin their cries with "Oyez oyez oyez" [pronounced as "oh yay"] which means "Hear ye" in Ye Olde English. Then they would launch into their cry with important announcements such as bylaws, the latest news and any other important information.

They then finished their cry with "God save the King/Queen" depending whoever was on the throne at the time, before attaching their message to the door post of the local inn. Hence the reason why newspapers are commonly referred to as "the post".

This was a very important duty considering much of the population was illiterate during medieval England.

Alongside their news presenting duties they were also tasked with peacekeeping, assisted in any hangings and dampened any fires before the curfew.

They were also paid by the cry – between 2d and 4d per cry. An early example of freelance public speaking there.

Attacking a town crier was viewed as a treasonous act – especially useful when any tax hikes or unwelcomed laws were announced.

Town criers were also common in other countries such as India, much of Europe and Canada. Their existence shrank once newspapers became common and as literacy rates rocketed.

Here endth the quick history lesson.

Personally I think it’s great that Chester still has its own town crier. Learning about historic traditions opens our eyes to how far we have progressed as a society.

It also adds a certain charm to a city. For Chester – a lovely, classically designed English city that I visited when I lived in Manchester – it adds to the medieval architecture and quintessentially English vibe.

Comparing town criers to how we breathe and consume information nowadays, I sometimes wonder where we went right and where we went wrong, especially in these interesting times.

* At a minimum, the United Kingdom

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