“Oyez, Oyez, Oyez”…this is the all-too familiar voice of the towncrier or bellman.
“Oyez…” is an Anglo-Saxon word for “Hear Ye” or “Listen”. It is the trademark of a town crier or a bellman calling people to attention and to listen. I did a bit of research on the net and found that this is a very old and ancient tradition dating back to Greek and Roman times. In England, the first recorded use of the towncrier was in 1066 after the Battle of Hastings when the King used the towncrier to annouce his victories and proclamations across the land.
I was at Oxford Street yesterday evening when I saw this most interesting character. What was he doing dressed up like something from a history page? Well, he was calling passers-by to detour into the House of Fraser. What is the House of Fraser? It is a big department store along Oxford Street. I was coming out of the store when I heard him, first, before I actually spotted him. Although he was wearing a bright red jacket I couldn’t see him at first and that is because there were so many people walking past blocking his face. I could still hear the bell and his voice.
In the days before newspapers were the apple in anyone’s eye these guys carried or rather announced the news – good and bad but perhaps mostly good otherwise they would not be around for long. In fact the towncriers became so important as ‘newsmen’ in those days that they were protected by the monarchy. If a towncrier was harmed in anyway it would be tantamount to treason. Nowadays, towncriers are used symbolically more than anything. The colourful costumes date back to the 17th Century. They are a vital reminder of the good old days and a strong and everlasting link to great traditions of the British Isles. It’s good to know that companies such as House of Fraser help to preserve the good traditions of the past – bravo! From another perspective, hiring towncriers creates jobs for people with these skills.
In fact, I think that the first printing press invented by William Caxton in 1476 mainstreamed the newspaper. If this is not the case then I stand corrected. Another thing I learnt yesterday was that Italy is considered the birthplace of newspapers.
There are quite a few websites that have really great information on towncriers and bellmen. Check out: http://www.englishtowncrier.co.uk; http://www.stcatherinestowncrier.com; http://www.crewkernetown.org; and http://www.cardifftowncrier.co.uk