Friday, 26 March 2010

An education!

Honestly, why do I worry so much?! KS2 pupils at Northleach primary school yesterday [Thursday 25 March 2010] welcomed me with smiles, giggles in all the right places, and joyful cheers for the 'Shout' at the end of my talk.

All I know about the history of Town Crying is decidedly potted... Greek and Roman messengers ran the risk of being killed if they brought bad news. It was William the Conqueror after a busy day on the south coast in 1066 who realised he had to tell the people of England they'd been.. conquered.. So (largely in my imagination) he sent off his biggest toughest warriors around the towns and villages of England with the proclamation..."Oyez! Listen up you English peasants - you've been conquered and William is now your king! Which is one in the eye for Harold! Who isn't your king any more! God save the king!"

The hayday of town crying seems to have been in the 18th century. Hence the tendancy of town crier costumes to flaunt swooshy coats, flowery waistcoats, fountainous lace jabots [fancy neckties], big bright buckled shoes and the tricorne hat. Back in the day, the town crier - or bellman; logical?! - was often the only local person able to read and write. So he wasn't just a voice on legs, he was perhaps more educated than most of his neighbours. After reading the 'Shout' - everything from new taxes to market days to lost dogs - from his scroll, he'd nail the scroll to the church doorpost. Hence the phrase 'posting a notice'.

And, because of those announcements about tax rises and unpopular official information, a law had to be passed to protect town criers. It was made a treasonable offence to 'hinder or heckle' the town crier from going about his duties.

So - technically - I could have arrested the miserable miscreant who banged on their window and shouted at me while I was doing my duty in Northleach square last month. Technically I could have had them hauled off to the Tower of London and - it tickles me to think - I could have had their HEAD CHOPPED OFF.

The pupils loved that bit...

(And I haven't even seen the Alice In Wonderland film yet...)

There is no set, official style of costume for modern town criers. Incidentally, of the 200 town criers currently adding colour (and noise) to British towns and villages, barely 20 are women. Most of them go for the 18th century look. It can be charming. But it doesn't look right if you use modern (synthetic) fabrics. I'm hankering after setting a style for the 21st century. The Matrix coat springs to mind. Except it'll probably look daft on a 5ft nothing female who is, frankly, a trifle wide for my height... (A trifle? More like the whole damn cake!!!)

I have invited the pupils of Northleach primary school to come up with some designs for my new costume. Which I hope to have in time for my first ever town crying contest at Fairford this August.

Before then, on Northleach Charter Fayre Day, 26 June, I plan to hold a Mini Town Criers competition. Got to find a mini bell, though. My official one is too hefty for the children. I had a little brass ring-for-the-butler bell (from my grandmother's generation, I hasten to add...) and it would have done the job nicely. But yesterday the clapper fell off.

Such is life.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Well, jangle my bell!

From the Northleach Town Crier

Another Saturday morning looms when I should go out and 'Shout' in Northleach Square. In the pouring rain.

I confess, I'm a bit of a fair weather Town Crier. Call me Cowardly Crier but for some reason I'm averse to standing out there swallowing cold, damp air with cold water blasting into my face, trickling down my neck and drenching my costume cloak or coat - not to mention the heirloom Town Crier Tricorne.

We'll see. It is, after all, my Civic Duty. Stop sniggering. The tradition is that the Town Crier 'shouts' local news and information. This by the way means that Northleach residents are entitled to the FREE announcement of their notable events - eg your significant birthday, anniversary etc - and Northleach businesses and events will also get a free 'shout' within reason...

Next week I visit the school to explain what a Town Crier is to the youngsters. They have no concept of a world without mobile phones or the internet. I grew up thinking that one phone in the house - and an indoor toilet - were normal. Then I must try to explain that only two or three lifetimes before I was born, the main mode of transport was the horse - and electricity was a novelty, let alone the telephone!

Oh, by the way, with reference to my recent Saturday morning appearance, you might be amused to know that until not so long ago it was an Act of Treason to interfere with the Town Crier going about their duty. Be told.

More soon, with pictures.