The Town Crier
Before press releases, media advisors and public service announcements (PSAs) newspapers and certainly well before the Internet there were town criers here and abroad. These officers of the court made public pronouncements as required by the court.
This form of public communication was intended for people who could not read or write. Topics ranged from proclamations, local bylaws, market days, and advertisements.
Criers often used bells, horns, drums or gongs to help draw attention and in some instances women rather than men performed that role.
With a tradition dating to the Medieval England they occasionally escorted people to the workhouses and minor criminals to stockades where they were to be flogged. On occasion they also read aloud the charges levied again a person about to be hanged in public.
Also known as bellmen (or bellwomen), responsibilities could also include other assorted services, such as gravedigger and poll bearing.
It is interesting to note that unlike today’s public information officer or publicist when they delivered unfavorable news, such as tax increases, they were protected by law.
Of course the advent of the printing press (moveable type) that led to a rise in literacy diminished the need for town criers. As a result, today’s town crier is more a symbol of bygone days.
They can be found at renaissance fairs, historical reenactments, and the like and, believe it or not, there are contests to see which town crier (like in yodeling competitions) is the loudest and/or the best.
It is interesting to note that the subject of town crier recently appeared in an Associated Press story.
BURLINGAME, Calif. (AP) -- The Northern California city of Burlingame hadn't had a town crier in more than a century but that changed this year after actor and property manager Richard Aptekar volunteered for the job.
Who knows? Maybe other towns and cities will also revive this human public service announcement format. We will keep you posted if we hear of its resurgence elsewhere.
To read the complete Associated Press article, click here.