Sussex leads nation in number of women town criers
Bognor Regis follows Arundel and Hastings with an all-‘Oyeing’, all-bell-ringing lady crier.
Now hear this! Let the good people of Bognor Regis know that the lady in the tricorn hat and ringing the bell is not for whispering.
That’s the message from Bognor’s latest town crier Jane Smith, 54, who joins Arundel crier Angela Standing and Victoria Bartholomew (who shares the role with husband Jon in Hastings) – to prove women have a voice in one of our nation’s cherished traditions.
The traditional role of town crier once combined the work of newsreader and community police officer. Now a ceremonial role and tourist attraction linked to the local mayoral office, 21st century town criers, decked out in their hats, gold-braided regalia and signature bell, brighten up the high street and public events.
Jane’s appointment could almost be called a bit of a stitch-up. She was employed by Bognor Regis Town Council as seamstress with a special remit to ensure the precious town crier’s attire fitted appointees like a glove.
As Jane explained, when the role became vacant with a drought of applications, she decided to step into the crier’s shoes to keep one of Bognor’s showcase traditions marching on.
“I’ve always enjoyed performing – I have been acting and singing since childhood – as well as dressing up, so this was my perfect role,” said Jane. She’s also recently joined Chichester Rock Choir – the perfect place to fine-tune her vocal chords for her other job.
“My family love it when I’m on a ‘voice rest’ day,” said Jane, who has five children and two grandchildren.
Purple and red regalia are the colours of town criers up and down the land – and as fate would have it, Bognor’s code is purple – which happens to be Jane’s favourite colour.
C4S can reveal it was Worthing’s crier Bob Smytherman who first told us about Jane’s appointment.
So thank you Bob! – proof if needed that town criers still spread vital news.
The addition of the town crest and insignia of the Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers was her own suggestion, with an extra crest on the proclamation roll.
You’re likely to hear Jane at future town events before you see her all dressed up and ready to o-ye the news – but keep your eyes and ears peeled anyway for a walking, bell-ringing and loud note of history.
Now hear this! Latest news from Sussex’s bellow of criers.
Jon Bartholomew emailed to say: “I’m now the reigning UK champion town crier and Victoria and I won best dressed couple at the same competition.”
Congratulations, Jon! You may have a bit of competition from Jane next year.
Angela Standing is a familiar figure at Arundel events.
She tells me, “I’m looking forward to Apple Orchard Day on 21st October. It’s at Herington’s Field and Orchard in Fitzalan Road.”
Jon Borthwick is still town crier in Peacehaven and tells me he was also appointed to Lewes last April, so he is being kept busy.
In Burgess Hill, Neil Batsford has retired after more than two decades in the post, and there is currently no plan to replace him. We wish him well in his retirement. Peter White is town crier of Seaford and current Champion of Sussex. He’s celebrating 40 years in post. Find him on Youtube.
Christian Ashdown, of the Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers, said Jane follows in the footsteps of the first female crier in England, Mary Ann Blaker.
“Mary took over from her husband Albert in 1914 in Chertsey, Surrey when he went off to serve at the start of World War One,” said Christian, who is Haslemere’s town crier.
Her appointment made global headlines, with the Surrey Herald declaring “the unprecedented instance of a woman publicly ‘crying’ in England was, like many other things in these times, due to war”.
The Daily Mirror reported that Mrs Blaker “fulfilled her duties most successfully, her voice being quite audible at a distance of fifty yards”.
And newspapers in the US carried the story with the headline: “First Woman Town Crier in England”.
Town criers – what are they on about?
• A town crier bellowed news and proclamations. The message was then nailed to an inn doorpost – giving newspapers the term ‘post’.
• The town crier would patrol the streets after dark, shoving ne’er-do-wells in the local lock-up or dragging them to the stocks.
• Criers also attended public hangings to announce why felons were destined for the rope.
• The call of a crier, ‘Oyez’ (pronounced Oh Yay), comes from the French ouïr (to listen), and means ‘hear ye’.
• Town criers were protected in the name of the monarch, so their abuse would equate to treason.
• They appear in the Bayeaux Tapestry depicting William the Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066.
• A group of town criers is called a ‘bellow’.