Historical Sketch on Town Crier
Town criers could well be described as “historical newscasters”. It is known that the tradition was started in ancient Greece, when heralds were used to announce the severing of relationships which would lead to an official proclamation of war. The herald would also be used to bear proposals of truce or armistice.
The origin of the word “stentorian” has been attributed to the Greek warrior Stentor, who played a part in the Trojan war and whose voice was said to be as powerful as the voices of 50 other men. The first use of criers in the British Isles was said to date back to Norman times, when the cry “oyez, oyez, oyez”, (old French for “hear ye”) was used to draw the attention of the mostly illiterate public to matters of importance.
As town criers enjoyed royal protection, the command “don’t shoot the messenger” had very real significance. In the capital city of Edinburgh, one of the last known town criers was George Pratt – about the year 1784 – who was noted for his pompous delivery in discharging his duties. George had a high opinion of the importance and dignity of his situation as a public officer. They persecuted him with the cry of “quack, quack!” – a monosyllable which was particularly offensive to his ears. This cry was sometimes varied into “swallow’s nest”, a phrase which he also abominated, as it made an allusion to a personal deformity – a large wen that grew beneath his chin.