One of Chester’s most well-known voices will graduate in a subject exploring his vocal craft at a ceremony today (Friday, March 17) at Chester Cathedral.
The city’s Town Crier David Mitchell has been awarded a Masters by Research (MRes) with a distinction following his dissertation on The Word on the Streets to Shakespeare and Pepys: The Town Crier and Bellman in Early Modern Britain.
David researched how news and proclamations were spread and publicised by criers, bellmen and the like in early modern England.
David, 64, who is originally from Newhall in South Derbyshire, had previously researched and published a book on the history of the roles of criers and bellmen.
He said: “It was the first time anyone had ever written a history of these functionaries, who played an indispensable role in many aspects of daily life before the advent of print, and especially of newspapers. That experience was rewarding, but I had the sense that professional historians would know how to carry out this kind of research far more efficiently than I did.
“So my aim in embarking on the Masters by Research course was to learn the ways of academic historians.
“The outcome exceeded my expectations. The input from the course opened my eyes to various avenues of research, several of which I previously had no idea existed.”
Students on the Masters by Research in history course are required to identify a gap in the current knowledge and to begin to fill that gap by their own original research.
David added: “The research for my dissertation entailed a combination of work in specialist libraries, online research on specialist historical websites (especially Early English Books Online), and days spent in various archives around the country, as far afield as Beverley, London, Manchester, Northampton and Reading, as well as in Cheshire Archives and Local Studies in Duke Street, Chester.
“The original archival research was the most challenging because it meant learning how to decipher 17th-century handwriting. This initially was exceedingly difficult, but ultimately proved to be the most satisfying part of the research.
“The thrill of being able to handle original documents is hard to describe, but it happened every time.
“To give just one example, I was able to read how, in response to the dreadful destruction caused by the Great Fire of London, Chester Assembly resolved, at a meeting on January 17, 1671, that ‘all houses now erected or hereafter to bee erected in the Foregatestreet, Northgatestreet, Eastgatestreet, Watergatestreet and Bridgestreet of this Citty shall be covered with slate or tyle and not thatched’.
“Having made this decision, they had to communicate it to the inhabitants who were now required to comply.
“How could they do this without newspapers or a postal service? The same City Assembly Records reveal how the local bellman was pressed into service for this purpose: ‘It is further ordered that this order shall bee published throughe the City by the Citty Bellman within one fortnight next comeing’.”
David said he was motivated to study to find out how academic historians carry out research rather than for the qualification itself.
However, he said being awarded a distinction was an “immensely fulfilling experience” especially after being put off history as a child following “uninspired teaching”.
David is using his new knowledge in his role as an after dinner speaker where he has developed a new presentation called The Word on the Streets which explores oral announcements in history.