Town Criers were an essential source of information when most people could not read or write. Chester’s current town crier, David Mitchell, tells Victoria Robinson how “town criers were the original local newspapers”.
“We can trace town criers back to the 17th century in Chester, but they must have existed much earlier than that,” says Chester’s current town crier David Mitchell. “Tasks included announcing local regulations, goods for sale, and helping reunite owners with lost possessions, horses and even children.” In fact, town criers were an essential source of information when most people could not read or write.
David cuts a dashing figure in his Regency costume. “This era was a particularly elegant period for men’s dress, which explains its continued popularity. Bright colours help them stand out in a crowd.” He rings a bell and calls out “Oyez!” to announce his proclamation.
David had a romantic start to his job. “I first became a town crier on my wedding day. I booked the previous crier to wake my bride with an early morning alarm call beneath her bedroom window. Unfortunately he double-booked, so I hired his spare outfit and literally stepped into the breeches!” Three years later the post became vacant so David applied.
“The interview was like any other, just 30 minutes of questions and answers. The only difference was that the interviewers sat on one side of the River Dee and I stood on the other.” Public marriage proposals are now a regular part of his job, and he is proud to boast a 100 per cent success rate.
The job soon became a family affair. “My wife, Julie, initially accompanied me as my costumed escort, but she saw me having such a good time that she became one too.” They are believed to be the world’s first husband and wife town crier partnership.
Julie Mitchell, also Town Crier of Chester and Knutsford, is a talented historical costume maker whose crier liveries have won awards across the world.
Their nine-year-old son Spencer is also learning the family trade. He was appointed Apprentice Town Crier of Chester in an official ceremony by the Lord Mayor, and often takes part on Saturdays and during school holidays.
David says the best thing about the job is its sheer variety. “In a typical month I might deliver a ‘Criergram’, lead a parade, officiate at a golden wedding celebration or act as Master of Ceremonies at a dinner. In summer I open fêtes and launch helium balloons; in winter I switch on Christmas lights, lead Santa parades and make after dinner speeches.”
Sometimes the job requires more risk. “I once leapt off a city centre tower on a zip wire in the company of a radio presenter, and I appeared in the film 24 Hour Party People with comedian Steve Coogan. The most important thing, however, is giving visitors a warm (and loud) welcome to my city.” Crowds of 200 or more people often gather at the Cross to listen to him. “I think that’s why Chester City Council choose such good-looking people for the job!”
A yearly highlight is the Loyal Company of Town Criers British Championship, and in 2008 the family swept the board. David is currently British Champion, People’s Champion and Best Dressed Town Crier. Julie won Highest Ranking Female Crier, and Spencer is officially Best Dressed Escort. “It’s a wonderful job,” says David. “You never know when the next delightful encounter is going to happen.”
>Tel: (01244) 311736 or visit www.chestertowncriers.com
For information about Chester; Tel: (01244) 402111 or www.visitchester.com