Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! It's a bellow of criers!
Bellowing Town Criers from across Southern England finally went head-to-head at full voice in Wareham after the annual competition to find the best was disrupted for two years by the pandemic.
Twelve town criers from Seaford, Arundel, Bognor Regis, Swanage, Honiton, Melksham, Frome, Bridport, Dorchester, Haslemere and Warwick and Hatherleigh Manor, came along on Saturday 9th July to test their vocal cords.
Although today the role of a Town Crier is more ceremonial, in the past it was their job to patrol the streets after dark, act as peace keepers and arrest people and take them to the stocks. In fact to harm a town crier was also an act of treason!
However, the Crier still figures large in many small towns up and down the land, and no more so than in Wareham where we have been blessed with a very dedicated Crier, Jacquie Hall, who helped organise and conduct this colourful event.
Given the antiquity of Wareham we have surely had town criers (or bellman) as far back as can be traced anywhere in Britain, back at least to earlier medieval times, as the two bellmen appearing in the Bayeaux Tapestry testify to. In fact the common cry of ‘Oyez’ used as a call for silence and attention from the Criers, descends from the Anglo-Norman ‘oyer’ (to hear) – basically ‘Listen Up!’ in today’s vernacular. In all periods though, the key requirements of the role have been the ability to read, a loud voice and an air of authority.
Certainly in Wareham the first two aspects were key factors on the day for the two judges, Rob and Kate Brailsford, who looked for volume, clarity, diction and inflection.
First of all, after the Procession of Criers / Escorts through Wareham to the performance area on the South Bank of the River Frome through the town, each competitor performed a Cry based on his or her own Home Town.
In the afternoon the Criers were asked to perform a Cry incorporating King Alfred as the theme.
Then, after a full day of cries, Rob and Kate Brailsford’s scores were assessed and it was Christian Ashdown of Haslemer who emerged victorious, being named this year’s Best Crier!
Coming in a respectable second and third were Michael Reddy of Warwick and Alistair Chisholm of Dorchester, respectively.
Finally, Maggs Parry chose the best dressed crier, escort and couple.
Everyone returned to the Town Hall where Councillor Malcolm Russell, Mayor of Wareham, presented the winners with their Trophies and Mementos. A memorable time was had by all!
Note that all photos on this page were taken by Sophia Lewis-Fry, Official Photographer for Wareham Town Council.