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Best loved Town Criers of Chester

A trip down memory lane

How much do you know about town criers?

Elaborately dressed, vocal and easy to spot, town criers are the essence of a city and go centuries back.

Once the only means of communication with the people of the town since many people could not read or write, the town criers of Chester go way back to 1553 when the unnamed crier was paid 13d for ‘ridunge the Banes’ for the Chester Mystery Plays.

Proclamations, local bylaws, market days and adverts were all proclaimed by a bellman or crier in the early days. Many of them only left their mark on the Chester historical records occasionally, with many of our city’s town criers carrying out their duties without leaving any record.

But luckily, current town crier David Mitchell has provided some of the historical information for this article, and we are able to take a look back at some of those who held the post in years gone by.

Crier John Jeffery had held the office of Chester Bellman for 23 years, until failing health caused him to resign in 1897 at the age of 79. He died in December 1903 and was at that time described as the ‘last of the city’s bellmen’.

As David Mitchell says, in 1903, it was quite reasonable to think that John Jeffery would indeed prove to be the last bellman, but few could have foreseen the tourism-inspired bell-ringer revival which happened in Chester and elsewhere in the latter half of the 20th century.

The role of town crier was revived in Chester on October 18, 1978, when Tom Clarkson took up the post.

Tom was a regular figure in the city centre until spring 1981 when his post ended. There is much speculation about what happened to him when he disappeared afterwards. Some say he went off on an expedition to Canada and reportedly walked across America in his full town crier regalia but not much was heard of him after that.

Larger than life character Mike Chittenden replaced Tom as Chester town crier in April 1981 and many have fond memories of him ringing his bell throughout the city centre and officially opening various establishments in Chester until his resignation in 1991.

After that, David Maguire was appointed Chester Town Crier on or about July 15, 1992, and resigned in December 1997.

Chester’s current town crier David Mitchell was appointed Chester City Bellman in 1997, exactly 100 years after John Jeffery’s resignation, and in a joint appointment with his wife Julie, was jointly appointed Chester’s Town Crier in 1998.

“Having held the post for 17 years it seems likely that I am the longest serving appointee, but as the historic records are incomplete, we cannot be sure,” said David.

“Chester residents do not always realise that the midday proclamations that happen here in Chester in the summer months are one of Chester’s unique attractions. Other places have town criers, of course, but Chester is the only place to have retained the tradition of regular proclamations from a fixed point; the High Cross,” he added.

David has written a book about the history of Chester town criers, called For Crying Out Loud! The Story of the Town Crier and Bellman, Past and Present.

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