A town crier is a person employed to make public announcements in the streets or marketplace of a town. Criers often dress elaborately, by a tradition dating to the 18th century, in a red and gold coat, white breeches, black boots and a tricorne hat.
In May 2014 I showed some photos I had taken at a town criers' parade in Tiverton, Devon.
Town criers usually carry a handbell to attract people's attention, as they shout the words "Oyez, Oyez, Oyez!" before making their announcements. The word "Oyez" means "hear ye," which is a call for silence and attention. Oyez derives from the Anglo-Norman word for listen (modern French, oyez, infinitive, ouïr, but largely replaced by the verb écouter). The proclamations book in Chester from the early 19th century records this as" O Yes, O Yes!"
The Goddess Wiki tells us that in Medieval England, town criers were the chief means of news communication with the townspeople, since many were illiterate in a period before moveable type was invented. Royal proclamations, local bylaws, market days, adverts, even selling loaves of sugar were all proclaimed by a bellman or crier throughout the centuries—at Christmas 1798, the Chester Canal Co. sold some sugar damaged in their packet boat and this was to be advertised by the bellman.
The crier also escorted the destitute to the workhouse, installed minor criminals in the stocks and administered floggings. During public hangings he read out why the person was being hanged, and helped to cut him or her down. In addition to their official duties town criers would be paid by local tradesmen to advertise their wares. Chester records of 1540 show fees due to the bellman.
In 1620, there was a fight at the Chester cross between the butchers and the bakers where the 'Cryer brake his Mace in peeces Amonge them'. In 1607, one public notice read by George Tunnall, the bellman, forbade tipping rubbish in the river. In 1715, a local man recorded that the 'Belman at the Cross ... Reads publicly a proclamation in the Mayor's name, commanding all persons in the City to be of peaceable and civil behaviour, not to walk around the Streets or Rows at unreasonable hours of night'. Chester once had a crier, a day bellman and a night bellman but in 1734, John Posnitt took over as 'Day and Night Bellman'.
A 1701 will of the vicar at Waverton stated that notice was to be given 'by the Belman to the People of Chester, of the time when, and the place where my Corpse is to be buried'.
Salmon fishing season was also closed by the bellman.
The term "Posting A Notice" comes from the act of the town crier, who having read his message to the townspeople, would attach it to the door post of the local inn. Some newspapers took the name "The Post" for this reason. Liverpool still has a Daily Post newspaper.
Town criers were protected by law, as they sometimes brought bad news such as tax increases. Anything done by the town crier was done in the name of the ruling monarch and harming a town crier was considered to be treason.