The peal of a bell is heard followed by the cry of “Oyez, oyez, oyez!” Everyone’s attention is captured by the man or woman about to speak. The Town Crier has something to announce.
Did you know? The word “oyez” is derived from Anglo-Norman French and means “hear ye” or “listen.”
From early times, Town Criers played a very important part in day-to-day life in towns and cities.
When people generally could not read or write, and especially before the invention and spread of the printing press, the Town Crier performed the vital task of communicating edicts from the monarch, local bylaws, market days, and trade advertisements.
Because Town Criers were sometimes the bearers of bad news (tax increases for example), they were protected by law. Anything done by the Town Crier was done in the name of the ruling monarch, and harming a Town Crier was considered treason. Whenever you use the expression “don’t shoot the messenger”, you’re invoking a time-honoured protection under law afforded to Town Criers.
Today, the practical need for the role has all but disappeared and the Town Crier has drifted into folklore, often represented as a plump man in a frock coat, three-point hat, with cherry cheeks, waving a bell.
However many cities around the world retain the role for ceremonial purposes and have maintained an unbroken line of Town Criers lasting centuries.
In Australia, the Ancient and Honourable Guild of Australian Town Criers is custodian of the tradition.
Strangely, Brisbane, Australia’s largest City Council, does not have an official Town Crier, and has at times called on the services of Town Criers from other cities for ceremonial duties, such as our very own Max Bissett from the Redland City Council, who has been at History Alive for the last three years. In fact, the Redland City Council is hosting the National Town Crier Championships in 2016 and has urged Brisbane City Council to officially appoint a Town Crier to represent Queensland’s capital.
A Town Crier will be doing their best to be heard over cannon and rifle fire, the clash of swords and the hum of historical life at History Alive 2016 at Fort Lytton National Park on 11 & 12 June, 2016.