09 March 2015

Town Crier

There was an interesting speaker at the Townswomen’s Guild (TG) the other week. It was Ken Knowles, Town Crier for Lichfield, one of our neighbouring cities. Ken was resplendent in his red outfit. He was a portly gent, just how I always pictured a town crier to be. When he arrived he walked into the room waving his big bell and shouting O-yez, O-yez. There was thunderous applause once we’d unplugged our ears.
(Ken Knowles)
Town criers used to be officers of the court who made public pronouncements as required. They could also make public announcements in the streets. Dating from the 28th century the criers dressed elaborately, in red or gold, with white breeches, black boots and a tricorne hat. They always carried a handbell in order to attract attention, and would cry O-yez, meaning ‘hear ye’ which was a call for silent attention.  

However, times do change and the need for town criers disappeared. However, local councils reinstated the position for ceremonial purposes which I can honestly say are wonderful to watch. My Dad and I used to pop over to Lichfield to see the Lichfield Bower which was always held on the Spring Bank Holiday.

Here’s a piece about it, found in Wikipedia.

The Origins of the bower go back many centuries to the time of Henry II (1145-1189). At that time England had no standing army and when the King needed troops to defend the realm he had to raise them by mustering all the able bodied men between the ages of 16 and 60 throughout the kingdom.
To enable him to do this Henry set up a Commission of Arraye (an early example of quango) which had every year to submit to the king, a return of all the men-at-arms available throughout the kingdom. To do this they ordered every city and town to hold a muster of fighting men on one day in the year and to send the figures in to the Commission of Arraye. These musters were known as the Courtes of Arraye, and in Lichfield the Courte if Arraye was always held on Whit Monday.
It was held at Greenhill, where a “Bower House” was erected and decorated with laurel and lilac. Here the men-at-arms mustered before the magistrates with their arms and armour and were regaled with free beef and wine. At the end of the day the magistrates sent a return of the numbers to the Commission of Arraye in London. As an example of this, in 1604 the report of the Commission contained the following: “Leichfield Town, able men 285; armed men 150; pioneers 50; high horses 50”.
At Lichfield someone must have decided that having got all the men-at-arms together it was a pity not to do something with them, and so they were paraded around the streets of the city. They were accompanied by the Lichfield Morris dancers with drum and tabor and by people from the churches carrying figures of saints garlanded with flowers. Whitsun being as important festival of the Church: these garlanded figures were known as “posies”.
After the Reformation, the figures of saints were replaced by the tableaux representing different trades, but the term “posie” was still used to describe them.
The introduction of gunpowder led to musketeers being included in the procession. When the procession halted outside the horses of the principal citizens, the musketeers would fire a volley over the house, whereupon the principal citizen was expected to offer cakes and ale to those in the procession.
This went on all day, until late in the evening the participants staggered into the Market Place to be dismissed by the Town Clerk.
By the time of James II the country has a standing army, famous regiments such as the Coldstream and Grenadier Guards and the Royal Scots were already in existence, and it was decided that the Commission of Arraye was no longer needed. So it was abolished in 1690 and Courts of Arraye ceased to exist throughout the country – except in Lichfield where the inhabitants decided that as they enjoyed Bower Day so much they would continue to observe it. And this they have done right up to this day.
Most of the ancient features of the Bower still survive – the Court of Arraye is held in the Guildhall, when the Mayor inspects the “men-at-arms” the procession through the streets includes the Morris Dancers and military bands, and the place of the posies has been taken by the tableaux mounted on lorries and trailers. But, as in the past, the principal feature of the Bower is a jolly good day out for all.

According to Ken there are now only fifteen criers in this country but they have a great time entering competitions for the best delivered speech. Our man had won several trophies, which he brought to show us.
(Ken, showing what went underneath the coat!)
(The daffodil display is actually a recent trophies he won) 

Ken gave the most interesting and riveting talk, with plenty of humour interspersed, and I shall definitely be inviting him to talk to the WI next year. 


  1. That must have been fascinating Valerie. Love his costume! Your comments came through. I have just been a bit slow moderating everyone as I didn't have much computer time this weekend.

  2. I really enjoyed hearing about this. We had town criers here in the colonies and probably beyond, We can still hear them in some recreations in historical areas. I know they are not criers, but I enjoyed the guards who take you on tours of the Tower of London.

  3. Fascinating post, Valerie! And I also found it very interesting because here in Philadelphia (because of our early American history), we also have gentlemen who dress as town criers in the historical district, where tours given to visitors.

    Love Ken's costume! And he sounded like such a great speaker!

    Thanks for sharing, dear lady!

    Have a terrific week!

    X to you and Joe

  4. An interesting sort of hobby, which is what I suppose it is these days. You will certainly always be recognised in town if you are the town crier!

  5. pretty cool...imagine getting your news that way....they have them at williamsburg and a couple of the historic spots along our coast where our nation began....

  6. Ron, history produced some great traditions, with outfits to match. It is interesting that you have town criers like ours... more for show than anything!

  7. How neat to see a real town crier. His cry, "O-yez" sounds like it would be remarkably similar to the Spanish for listen "Oye!"

  8. What a marvelous choice of speaker, Valerie. It must have been a very interesting visit. Love his costume!
    I'm sure they have them in Philadelphia on the tours. And another old town not too far from me had a contest a couple years ago. They probably use them for parades and such.

  9. Hi Mary, yes Ron said the criers were around in Philly. A lot or most of their work seems to be leading processions on celebration days, that and entering competitions. What a nice way to retire from the business world.


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