oyez, oyez, oyez!

You don’t see them anymore or hear them anymore. They’ve been replaced by newspapers, television, radio, internet, or any other of the countless ways that we rely upon in order to feed our appetite for news. At one time though, the Town Crier held a pretty important position. I guess he can be viewed as one of the first “newscasters".

It’s believed that the origin of the Town Crier can trace its roots back to Ancient Greece when they were called heralds. In order to communicate with the masses, the Greek government would set forth said herald when events were deemed newsworthy or noteworthy. Usually these included proclamations of war, proposals of truce, or that an armistice had been declared.

The most famous of these heralds was a Greek warrior who went by the name of Stentor (hence the origin of the word stentorian). Legend had it that Stentor’s lungs were so powerful that his voice was as loud as that of 50 men. He was used to make announcements during the Trojan War.

But enough about the Greeks, when I think about Town Criers my mind immediately goes to England. It’s believed that the use of Town Criers dates back to the times of the Norman Conquest when most of the citizenry was illiterate and had to have the news read to them.

The folks appointed as Town Criers were usually upstanding or respected members of the community. First of all, they had to be able to read and write and a loud voice was considered a bonus. They were often bedecked in their finest clothes when the occasion warranted the reading of the news. Often a husband and wife were chosen, the wife would ring the customary bell thereby serving notice to the masses that breaking news was about to occur, the husband then would report the events of the day.

A Couple of Tidbits

Okay, we’ve probably all used or at least heard of the term “Don’t shoot the messenger”. One school of thought is that the origin can be traced to the Town Crier. In most cases, the Crier was appointed by some sort of royalty and thereby was afforded a degree of royal protection. If one was to indeed, “Shoot the messenger” over something they disagreed with, one would surely incur the wrath of the local authorities and face stiff penalties. I guess the Town Crier, if they had a motto, might be “Hey, I don’t make the news, I only report it.”

We’ve all probably heard of newspapers with the word “Post” in the title. The Washington Post, the New York Post and the Saturday Evening Post all come immediately to mind. You can thank the Town Crier for that. It seems that after reading their proclamations to the assembled masses, they would then nail it to a doorpost, usually at an inn or tavern. Anybody then desiring to read it would head down to the “post” to keep abreast of daily matters.

Each proclamation ended with the words “God Save The Queen!”

I guess one can still see Town Criers at such things as Renaissance Festivals and the like but for the most part, they’ve vanished from everyday life. Just another little bit of history that the modern world has swallowed up I guess.

Town" cri`er (?), n.

A town officer who makes proclamations to the people; the public crier of a town.


© Webster 1913.

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