Kendall’s Town Crier
Speaker: Richard Matthews
Asby WI’s guest speaker, Kendal Town Crier, Richard Mathews, arrived at Asby village hall dressed in his full colourful livery. This included the hat with feathers which, as he told us, referred to one historic activity of a town crier. Criers were usually literate so the feathers represent the quill pens they would have used when writing letters for members of the public in the days when literacy was not universal. The livery itself dated back to the 17th-18th centuries.
Mr Mathews described how he had become the Kendal Town Crier after several years serving as a Toastmaster – he just “fell in love with the idea” of the job and the rest was history. He explained that the received wisdom was that such positions originated in about 1066 but he believed that criers, under various names, existed way back: in Greek and Roman times as heralds and announcers respectively, and more recently as night watchmen. Many words in general use in English come from the town criers’ world: stentorian – from a Roman announcer called Stentor; post/posted – from the custom of fixing to a post laws that the crier had just announced; and curfew – from ‘couvre feu’ called out by the night watchman for people to cover their fires as a safety precaution over night.
He listed the tools of the trade of the town crier – 1) Voice – obviously!; 2) Bell, horn or rattle to alert people to the fact an announcement was about to be made. His 6 inch bell had been specially made at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London at a cost of £300. This replaced a much larger, and heavier, bell previously used in Kendal. A trencher and wooden spoon were also known to have been used in former times. The call ‘Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!’ also signals an announcement and is Norman-French in origin. 3) Scroll – these days waterproofed! – from which all announcements are read. Mr Mathews was looking forward to reading his next proclamation outside Kendal Town Hall on 21 April, to recognise the Queen’s 90th birthday.
Kendal Town Crier has to perform 6 official regular duties in the town each year but may attend other functions of his own choice. He reminded members that he had been involved with Cumbria-Westmorland Federation of WIs during the WI centenary year in 2014-15 when he had attended the two handover events of the national centenary baton – at one of which the clapper from his bell flew off!, and also spent the day travelling across the Federation for the Let’s Connect functions. Asby members had been at this event in Crosby Ravensworth and it was there he had proclaimed the safe arrival of Princess Charlotte that very day.
June Sowerby gave the vote of thanks and, together with Valerie Cooper, was hostess for the evening. The competition for a bell was won by Rachel Forrest, second Susan Renshaw. The raffle prize was won by Pat Bevan.