Town Crier Contest
Town Criers in Calne
Many British traditions had their purpose in the past and that purpose may have dwindled in importance, but the traditions persist, often as competitions. And so it is with Town Criers.
On Saturday 15th July 2023 Calne was host to the Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers’ Championship. Why Calne? Because the last winner was Mark Wylie, Calne’s Town Crier and the last winner gets to host the next Championship. Which is great, but the host can’t compete.
How do they compete? Like so many other traditional areas of life, the internal rules and etiquette are invisible to the outsider. However, Calne Wordfest was asked to supply one of the judges and I was privileged to take that role. So, now I know a little more.
Each of the competitors, in this event 29 of them, gets 2 opportunities to show their ability. Each “cry” begins with the Crier walking in a ceremonial manner to the front of the assembly, bowing and doffing their hat to the Mayor and the assembled audience, before beginning with the ringing of a bell and a call of “Oyez Oyez Oyez”, of course. They then, and I’m not sure what verb to use here, so I’ll settle for… deliver their cry. At volume. The aim is to be heard all over the town square or the market place, outside. Because of the weather, this contest was in the Town Hall. And was loud!
In the morning of the competition each Crier announced the virtues of their home town in 125 words or less. And they came from all over, including Nova Scotia, Bermuda and Australia. And I thought it was just a British tradition.
The second round saw the Criers announce their cries on a given theme, in this case it was “Cry Me a River”, selected to represent the concern of our current Mayor with the state of the Marden and other rivers.
Each cry comes to an end with a raising of the Crier’s hat and “God save the King”, although one Crier, perhaps inevitably, remained in the pre-Carolinian era.
Each cry is assessed, by two judges operating independently, on Diction, Inflection, Clarity and, yes, Volume. The winner on this occasion was Terry Ford from Otley.
So much for the basics. What else? Well, you probably have a picture in your mind of a Dickensian style Town Crier. A stout gentleman in a tricorn hat and a red frock coat over a waistcoat and knee britches. Well, not all of them were stout and not all of them were gentlemen. I am referring here to gender, not behaviour. And although they were all resplendent in their costumes, there was a much greater variety than you might expect, but they were all in their finery, including a few tricorns adorned with feathers. Definitely not of the modern period,
Oh, and the consorts. Several of the Criers were accompanied by a Consort, also dressed appropriately. They each paraded alongside their partner and stood loyally at their side as the cry was delivered.
There was also a best dressed prize for both Crier and Consort,
But I think what struck me most was the companionship that existed among the competitors. These were old friends from previous meetings, exchanging references to incidents at previous events in the close way that only people with such a shared interest can.
Long may it continue.