Tag: town criers

Story of the week: World Town Crier Championship in Chester


There’s a man who stands in the middle of Chester each day in tights and shouts at people.

But don’t worry. For David Mitchell, the Town Crier of Chester, it’s just a job.

“I booked a town crier to wake my bride to be on our wedding day. He had to cancel, so I hired the outfit and did it myself. When his job subsequently came up, I applied,” explains ex-teacher David, whose book For Crying Out Loud! will be published by Avenue Books in September.

“It’s an unusual job interview, whereby candidate and panel stand on either sides of the River Dee.”

This year David is inviting 40 more town criers from places as diverse as Bromsgrove and Baltimore to the historic Roman city of Chester.

He will be hosting the 2010 Chester World Town Crier Tournament [pictured above], the event reaching a rallying-call crescendo after three rounds with the final on June 19 in the Town Hall Square.

Festival season

The event also kicks off Chestival, a month-long arts festival running until July 14.

Amongst the Regency frilly-frocked competitors, look out for Martin Wood, the town crier of Shrewsbury, who at 7ft 2in is the world’s tallest crier.

Check out, too, the vocal delivery of the in-form favourite for the title, Judy Campbell from Australia.

Judy is the first woman to win the Australian National Championship and the only woman to be placed in the top three at the 1997 World Championships.

For David, bringing the tournament to Chester reflects the close historical links between the city and the art of crying.

“Chester is the only place in the world to retain a regular proclamation at a fixed point at a fixed time (the Cross, at noon, Tuesday to Saturday, May-August) and has done so since 1553.”

Historically town criers have provided a cornerstone of community life.

William the Conqueror is credited with importing their trademark call of ‘Oyez’ (it means ‘listen up’ in French) but bell-totting criers also appeared in the Bayeux Tapestry and there are references in The Old Testament in (Book of Proverbs, Chapter 8, verses 1-3).

New shoots

Far from a dying art, town crying is today enjoying something of a renaissance thanks to its tourist appeal.

There are currently around 200 town criers across the UK alone.

The Chestival programme also brings the Chester Mystery Plays (June 17-20), a Midsummer Watch Parade (June 18-20) and Fireworks concerts (June 25-26) to the city.

You can’t miss the events. Chester’s very own town crier will be shouting about them from the rooftops.

“Town crying is a historic form of communication,” says David.

“Chester lends the perfect historic setting to a world-class event.”

Oyez to that.

What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.

This story was first published in Hotline magazine in 2010.

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Story of the week: Town criers compete for glory in Chester


Liz Woolnough was hoping for a double celebration.

On the day she was celebrating her 30th birthday, she drove from her home in Lancashire to the historic town of Chester where, bathed in sunlight by the River Dee, she was to compete in the inaugural World Ladies Town Crier Tournament [pictured above].

There, locked in vocal combat, she hoped to strike a blow as the world’s youngest town crier to challenge the old guard of town crying head on — and go home with the gong.

“I like nothing more than dressing up and being a bit theatrical,” says Liz, who fronts a pub covers band and cites Joni Mitchell, Prince and The Darkness amongst influences on her vocal style.

“I’m not a rock-chick town crier, but I have been blessed with big lungs and a deep voice.”

Long tradition

Historically town criers have provided a cornerstone of community life.

William the Conqueror is credited with importing their trademark call of ‘Oyez’ (it means ‘listen up’ in French) but bell-totting criers also appeared in the Bayeux Tapestry and are cited by The Old Testament in The Book of Proverbs.

Far from a dying art, however, town crying is today enjoying something of a renaissance thanks to its tourist appeal. There are currently around 300 town criers across the UK, their numbers swollen by a slew of young recruits such as Liz.

The man championing a more forward-looking groundswell is David Mitchell, secretary of The Loyal Company of Town Criers, Chester’s working crier and organiser of the tournament.

“In the early 20th century town crying was a dying art as many criers never returned from the war,” says Mitchell, an ex-teacher, who swapped classrooms for walking the streets of Chester in £2,000 worth of frilly garb.

“But since I organised the first ever world tournament in mainland UK in 2001, Chester has led the town crying revival.”

Today he and his town-crying wife deliver a daily proclamation at noon from The Cross, the focal point of Chester’s community spirit since the Middle Ages.

But can The Loyal Company really drag town crying into the age of the iPod?

Michael Wood, the town crier of East Riding, Yorkshire and reigning male champion, thinks so. “We’re trying to open things up and move away from the Toby Jug stereotype,” he says.

“Town crying has been stigmatised as the preserve of old men in tights and weekend warriors with too much time on their hands.”

Stage fright

On the day of the competition, Liz draws nervously on a cigarette as time for her debut cry approaches.

Dressed in a tricorn hat, a jabou (cravat) and purple livery (uniform), she takes the stage and delivers her first four-minute, 125-word cry based around the theme of ‘A Woman’s Place’.

The crowd applauds enthusiastically but Liz looks worried, all the more so after a strong performance from July Campbell, the official crier for Murray River Paddle Steamers in Australia.

The second round, a self-scripted cry on the theme ‘Men!’, goes better.

But it’s Caroline Robinson of Palmerston North, New Zealand, who really catches the judges’ eyes with her rhyming couplets and hammed-up style. The judges just aren’t ready, it seems, for a rock n’ roll crier.

Liz may be going home empty-handed but she remains sanguine. “I may not have won but I’ve learnt a lot,” she says.

“Besides,” she laughs, “One of the old boys came up to commiserate me afterwards and said, ‘It’s lovely to see a bit of totty around the place at last’.”

Oyez to that.

What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.

This article was first published in the Weekend FT in 2004.

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Oyez: World Town Crier Tournament in Chester


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What is the collective noun for a room full of town criers?

A call maybe? “An annoyance,” chips in Darren McCubbin, the fast-talking crier of the Shire of Wellington, Australia. “That’s what I’d call them.”

Darren was one of 24 town criers, gathered from ten countries, who competed in Chester last week for World Town Crier Tournament.

Story time

I joined them at Chester’s Mill Hotel one evening after one of the tournament rounds for a series of after-dinner stories, yarns and legends to show off the criers’ skills as orators and storytellers.

Returning to Chester was Chris Whyman of Kingston, Canada, to defend his crown as the reigning-champion crier.

The former actor and single father to two boys has been working as a crier, or bellman as they were alternatively known, for some 30 years and today travels the world as a tourism champion for his home town.

“It started as a bit of street theatre to release my inner thespian,” smiles Chris, tucking into dinner in his finest livery, or costume, designed in the flamboyant 18th-century-heyday style, complete with a jaunty tricorne hat. He adds:

“The secret of being a successful town crier is to integrate some of the history and folklore, and then develop the character in your own style.”

The world of town criers is rich in history – and Chester a natural home of the tournament. The first historical records shows a Tudor town crier working in the city in 1558, announcing performances of the mystery plays that year.

The last town crier of Chester died in 1903 but the tradition was revived 100 years later as a tourism initiative. David Mitchell and his wife, Julie, are the current incumbents of the title.

Fresh blood

But while the traditions and strict etiquette of the criers are upheld by the Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers, the fraternity needs fresh blood and younger people to join the profession as the older criers hang up their handbells for the last time.

Dressed as a cyberpunk crier with a purple goatee beard and a series of piercings, former bank note technician turned town crier of Kidsgrove, near Nantwich, Devlin Hobson [pictured above], cuts a charismatic swathe through the room.

“I’m trying to keep the heritage of the town crier from history while giving the community of criers a contemporary twist,” he says, flashing the tattoo across his knuckles.

The message reads: “See you on the other side.”

On the night it’s Ken Knowles, the town crier of Lichfield, Staffordshire, who takes the after-dinner-speaking round. His sketch as a crier with a penchant for a wee whisky had the crowd on its feet in a standing ovation.

“We’re a family of criers,” says Darren, sinking his beer. “An annoyance but the world is also a better place for us.”

Did you see this year’s tournament? Post your comments below.

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The Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers

World Town Crier Tournament