Did know that a Town Crier called Tommy Sanderson was also known as “The Poet Laureate of Sunderland”? I bet you didn’t!
In 1895, Tommy lived a “life of continuous peculiarities” in a house covered in corrugated iron called Metal Hall. An obituary succinctly declared: “There was mental, moral and social peculiarities about the Bellman that almost defied analysis”.
And I doubt you’ve ever heard of Town Crier James Berry, who in Norwich in 1836, proclaimed an intriguing summary of his duties in rhyme: “Sometimes I cry of birds and beasts of prey…And little urchins who lost their way…Sometimes of naughty wives who’ve left their spouses…And gone to live in other people’s houses..”
In Stockport, 1883, a Bellman sold the “naughty wife” of grinder William Caton, to Samuel Sidebotham, Mr Caton’s “blithesome shop mate”. Sidebotham successfully bid a gallon of beer for the poor woman. In 1849, Mrs Kay, wife of a Barnards Castle Inn Keeper, was suspected of “conjugal infidelity”. Issuing an invitation via the Town Crier, Mr Kay invited the entire town to a bonfire party. All his wife’s clothes and possessions were burned and later, an effigy of Mrs Kay was left outside the house of her lover, a Mr Hopper.
David Hume, Town Crier in Selkirk, often lost his memory: He “could never remember the end of an announcement from the beginning”. Once, forgetting the word “carrots”, he described them to the crowd as “lang reed things, thick at yae end and thin at tother!”
And just a few more stories to make your mouth water: A Bellman in Perthshire, described as a “true steadfast liegeman of King Alcohol”, advertised a meeting of the Total Abstinence Society, despite himself being in a “far advanced state of Total Intoxication”
And there was Francis George, who retired in 1895 as Crier in Liverpool, after a sixty year career. He often looked after lost and “strayed” children, finding their parents and families. It’s said that Mr George helped over 130,000 children during his long career. And in 1903, The Manchester Evening News reported that a Bellman in Norwich, Mr Childerhouse, had “cried” a total of 19,030, 70 words in HIS long 46 year career.
David Mitchell’s “The Word On The Street” is intricately researched. It’s beautifully written and it booms (!) with the history of Criers and Bellmen, giving a tasty fIavour of our country’s past. It’s fun, enlightening and whether interested in history, literature, or lives of characters involved in a memorable way of life, you’ll enjoy. You can dip in and out; discover juicy details in every chapter. Or pretend it’s a novel and read as such. The choice is yours.
David’s been Town Crier in Chester since 1998. He’s a familiar figure at The Cross in his Regency costume, where at midday in summer, he “cries” to Cestrians and tourists, who revel in his humour, information, and the sight and sound of a time-honoured tradition.
“The Word On the Street” is, as Norwich Town Crier James Berry would no doubt have had it: “a veritable treat!” You can purchase it directly from the man himself here. £12 inc P&P.