Oyez, Oyez! York has a new town crier

New town crier Ben Fry proclaims the news on the steps of York's Mansion House. Photographs: Richard McDougall

A new era rang out in St Helen’s Square today as York welcomed its first town crier in years.

Looking resplendent in a new set of livery Ben Fry formally took up the role in a ceremony outside Mansion House today (Friday 10 May).

York’s civic party, including Lord Mayor of York Cllr Keith Orrell, Lady Mayoress Mrs Judith Orrell, Sheriff of York, Verna Campbell – who championed the return of the town crier – and Sheriff’s Consort, Prof Colin Campbell, presented Ben with the newly created livery and bell.

Ben made his first Proclamation in St Helen’s Square.

Mrs Campbell said:

  • We are very much looking forward to the return of the tolling bell and traditional cry in the city centre, but also to seeing how far these messages can travel.

    Ben’s ambition is to spread the news through social media channels as well as in person.

    We believe that this is the first time any city has had a town crier whose messages could potentially be shared contemporaneously with millions on Twitter and Facebook as well as those in the streets at the time of the proclamations!

Quick change

Hats off to the new man
Ben has also been involved in the creation of the new livery.

Forgoing the frills and lace introduced in the Georgian period he has opted for a more practical outfit so he can easily change in and out of when attending events in a dual capacity as town crier and Breakfast Show presenter for Minster FM.

He said:

  • The stockings and breeches will be saved for special civic occasions, but the people of York should expect to see my coat, hat and hear the distinctive clanging of the bell at a host of key events around the city.

Town crier history

Card image cap

In York, the Town Crier was traditionally called the Bellman, and before the days of newspapers, radio and TV, the role involved making civic announcements, as well as providing paid-for advertising for local businesses.

The call ‘Oyez! Oyez’ is the French for ‘listen’ or ‘hear ye’ – an instruction to separate these vocal announcements from other clamour and street noise, usually accompanied by the ringing of a bell.

The Town Crier will be ringing the bell used by the last bellman of York, kindly lent by Darrell Buttery for the event. It is made of bronze and in raised letters is inscribed RICHARD NAYLOR CITY BELLMAN YORK 1858 . A brand new bell is being made by Taylor’s Bell Foundry and when it is ready will be presented by them as a gift to the City.

The role of York’s Town Crier is voluntary, with the initial set-up costs being shared between York BID and York Civic Trust, and on-going coordination of the role by Make It York and City of York Council. Income generated by the role will fund its on-going costs, and any out of pocket expenses.