Newport ‘s “town crier” or “bellman”
A new historic object has been loaned to Newport Heritage Centre.
This is a wooden plaque, which was displayed in ancient times above the door of the town crier’s house. It was originally given by Mrs Mary Bennett to Bill Goldsborough (Newport Urban District Council) and has been loaned to us by his daughter, Mrs Marjorie Cooper. The plaque has caused us to review what we know about town criers. For example, what did they do? Before people were literate, and were able to read newspapers, the town crier was the spokesman for the monarch, and he announced the news. Sometimes the proclamations were on behalf of monarchs and sometimes they were simply local byelaws, announcing, for example, the funerals of notable people or perhaps upcoming local events, such as Christmas or fairs. Offences against the person of the town crier were regarded as treason because he was the representative of the Crown. Interestingly, there is only one record of a female town crier, and that was in Whitchurch in 1793. We know what the Newport town crier wore. Firstly, because he have an image of him on the High Street dating to pre -1845; painted by HB Ziegler – an Royal Academician whose work Queen Adelaide promoted. Having relatives in Ludlow, he did several illustrations of Shropshire towns. Here he is with his proclamation text and his bell on Newport High Street. Secondly, we know what he wore because local men, Clement Barrow and / or TW Picken recall that the uniform was a blue frock coat, yellow breeches, a tall silk top hat (not a tri-corn hat) , and a brass armlet embossed with the town’s logo: three fishes. TW Picken also noted that in processions he would also carry a pole.(Our image is unfortunately only in black & white – does anyone know where the original is? The History Society would be very interested in copying a colour version) Both the proclaiming and the bill posting were done on the High Street. The picture shows the town crier opposite the Bell Inn and close to Bellman’s Yard. It is likely that Bellman’s Yard was the entrance from where he made his pronouncements – rather than where he lived – since Bellmans Yard was a very poor area to live. After the proclamation was made, his other task was to post the text on the wall or door of an inn; hence the expression “Posting a notice” and the reason why newspapers were sometimes called ‘The Post’. The proclamation was nailed or pasted. In Newport The Bell Inn seems to have been the place for the posting (25 High Street now Tempertons). The posting of notices was still going on at the turn of the 20th century. A photo printed in M. Miles from The Inns and Outs of Newport shows posters on a large board outside the Bell Inn. Many of us can still recall ‘billposters’ – they would have a small ladder, a bucket of paste and a long paste brush. There was quite an art in putting a large poster up in one go! We know some of the names of the Newport town criers, what they did and how much they were paid. In the 18th century they were paid between 2d and 4d for a proclamation (today 1-2p). They seem to have often doubled up doing general work such as sweeping the Newport town hall. At Christmas time in 1770, the clerk’s entry reads: “Dec 24 1770 [paid] the bellman 5/-”.(Today’s money 25p) Such a large sum, we can assume, was due to him getting perhaps a Christmas ‘box’ (a special Christmas bonus), and perhaps proclaiming at an unsocial hour – midnight. Something that happened in other parts of the country – not here- but worthy of note is that the town crier might announce Christmas day with a song! For example, in Bermondsey, the crier would sing: Good morning my pretty mistresses, arise, And make your puddings and your pies, And let your maids lie still, For they get up all the year round Very, very, much against their will. By the time we get to the 19th century
By the time we get to the 19th century, the first Newport town crier we know about is Charles Simpson. He was a clockmaker. In 1851 Bagshaw’s Directory he is listed as “ town crier” and he lived at 76 High Street (Middle Row). In the 19th century trade directories, the town criers tend to be identified not just as town crier but also by their trade. William Adderley in the 1860s is described as “town crier, bill poster and greengrocer”. He lived in St Mary Street. William Harris, the next town crier is described as “town crier and shop keeper”. as a “grocer He was the landlord of Harris Lodgings, and lived in Audley Road opposite Jones’ Fish & Chip shop. The last time the town crier’s post was listed in a trade directory was 1913 and this was William Harris. However, RG Pugh noted in the Feb.1951 Shropshire Magazine, that the last town crier was Edward (Teddy) Bennett. William Harris was Edward Bennett’s uncle, and the pair worked together in Harris’ grocer’s shop, and doing bill posting around the town. Perhaps after Mr Harris had given up the town crier’s post, Teddy Bennett simply continued with the job of bill posting, but he seems not to have been the ‘official town crier’. Teddy and Mary Bennett continued doing bill posting until the 2nd World War, and in fact several people can recall Mrs Bennett, walking round the town with her ladder and paste bucket. If any people have further reminiscences of The Bennetts or if they ever saw the plaque in place over their door in Audley Road, please get in touch with the History Society (ph 812174). The plaque is on display at the Heritage Centre, 3 High Street, every Saturday 10am -2pm. Please feel free to come and have a look at it. To bring the whole history right up to date, here is our town crier, Peter Taunton, last year at the Queen’s Jubilee celebration. Everything correct except the tricorn hat!
Newport History Society’s Archivist