Honiton's town crier has had plenty to shout about over the years
- Credit: Honiton museum
Our current town crier is Dave Retter, who began in the role 25 years ago.
For the first time in July 1996, Dave proclaimed the opening of Honiton Fair and led the Hot Penny ceremony. He followed in the footsteps of three generations of the Lake family who were town criers for a total of 92 years.
Dave’s other responsibility is as Honiton’s mace bearer. That duty entails accompanying the mayor at all civic occasions at home and abroad.
A town crier or bellman is the person appointed by town officials to make public announcements in the streets. Since medieval England when the majority of the population could not read or write, a cry was the most effective way of spreading news, Royal proclamations, local bylaws, tax increases, market days and promoting local events to the people of the town.
Accompanied by the ringing of a large hand bell to attract attention, the town crier begins his cry with these words - Oyez, oyez, oyez!”. Oyez’ comes from the French ouïr and means “Hear ye”. A cry will always end with the words, ‘God save the King’ or ‘God save the Queen’.
Part of a town crier’s original role was to patrol the streets after dark, act as peacekeeper, arrest criminals, put them in the stocks and make sure that fires were damped down for the night. Town criers were protected by law. Every cry was done in the name of the monarch, so to do harm to a town crier was an act of treason.
The key qualifications of the role of a town crier were the ability to read, a loud voice and an air of authority. They would be paid for each proclamation they made. In the 18th century the rate was between 2d and 4d per cry.
During the war years, apart from the silencing of the bell, a feature in the Honiton Fair opening ceremony was that the town crier was put in gaol at 11.55 and released when the clock chimed noon.
He declared the opening of the fair and claimed the flagon of cider which it was said, “King Stephen decreed should reward his labours.”
I think it’s likely that Dave has been underpaid for 25 years.