Since Ancient Greek and Roman times, it has been
necessary to have a trusted person with a clear, loud voice to deliver news and
instructions to the population, many of whom could neither read nor write. However it was
not until the early Middle Ages, from the reign of William the Conqueror in England after
1066, that a more formal system of Town Criers was recognised.
Town Criers were appointed by the civil authorities, often the Mayor, to keep the citizens
informed of matters of national and local importance - anything from Royal events, wars,
executions and taxation down to lost dogs, and minor misdemeanours. Prior to the
introduction of a formal police force, the Town Crier, being a true, trusted Royalist, was
also often empowered to uphold the law. In fact, it was once a treasonable offence to
assault or interfere with a Town Crier in the execution of his duty. Often the role of
Town Crier was passed down from father to son for many generations, and it was seen as a
position of some standing in the community.
Apart from a loud voice, the tools of a Town Criers trade are the bell and scroll. The
bell is an obvious means of gaining the attention of a crowd, although occasionally a drum
or a horn may have been used. The scroll was a convenient way of ensuring that it was easy
to read straight along the lines of a text, by rolling the scroll as it is read. After the
proclamation had been read the scroll was often nailed to a post for the more literate
members of the populace to read at their leisure - hence the expression 'to post a
notice'. The Town Criers trademark call of "Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!" is derived from
the old French expression for "Listen!" or "Hear Ye!".
Traditionally, Town Criers finish their proclamations with "God Save The Queen! (or
With the advent of modern communications - newspapers, radio, TV and the internet, and the
almost 100% literacy rate of the population, you may be mistaken for thinking that the
Town Crier should have become a doomed species. But today there are about 200 Town Criers
in Britain, and more in other countries, particularly Australia, Canada and the U.S.A.
Town Criers are now in great demand for civic ceremonies, charity functions, tourism
events and commercial ventures, where their colourful costumes, imposing presence and
historical significance are greatly valued. There are also many friendly competitions to
find the 'best' Town Crier! However, most Town Criers will agree that they do the job
principally because they enjoy keeping an ancient tradition alive, and consider it an
honour and a privilege to serve their town and community.