The annual feva Town Criers’ Competition, that explosion of finely-controlled yelling that traditionally shatters the peace of our tranquil Market Place each first Sunday of the festival was as usual sponsored by Bowers Funeral Services and once again generated enough noise to stir most of their former customers up from their eternal resting-places.
The Criers themselves, or in the case of Otley’s Terry Ford, the Bellman, were as usual arrayed like Glam Rock stars, in ruffs, breeches and buckled shoes, tricorn hats and every shade of eighteenth century frock-coat imaginable, as they vigorously clacked their bells of office for us. The only exception was Vic Watson of Huddersfield who, for some reason, wore a kilt of Heritage of Scotland tartan which I, as a compatriot of that fine West Riding town, failed to understand.
The first to perform was the magnificent Roger Hewitt, our local crier, who is not allowed to formally compete (because he’d have home ground advantage) but who sets the benchmark for all other ‘home cries’, as the opening performances of each crier are called, which talk up their home towns. Roger illuminated many features of our town including “Mother Shipton, who could see the future, and Blind Jack, who couldn’t see anything at all.”
Each ‘home cry’ was introduced by a standard cry of “Oh yay, oh yay, oh yay (spelled oyez, of course): God Save the Queen,” But the variety of delivery was immense. Otley’s Terry was first up. The volume of his opening cry was deafening, threatening to shatter the windows of the world’s oldest Chemist Shop, whereas the next crier, Peter Stemmer of Darlington, chose to emulate the Beatles and sing his “oh yays.” Hilary McGrath of Garstang’s variation on this theme was a rising, questioning almost existential “oh yay” whilst Eliza Mowe, of Barnoldswick extended the length of her “ohs” and “yays” well beyond the lung capacity of a normal human being. It was a relief to return to David Jackson of Malton and Norton, who rendered a polite, almost soothing series of “oh yays” to return us to tranquility.
These home cries were educational. Did you know that the stones for the foundations of the Houses of Parliament were quarried in Otley’s Chevin? That that town was once voted the 7th best place to live in the UK? “Why?” That Garstang was the world’s first free trade town? Or that locals call Barnoldswick ‘Barlick’? Or that Huddersfield Town are in the Premier League? (I knew that, but I just like typing it.)
Each crier returned to do a challenge, set two weeks previously by the splendid organiser and mistress of ceremonies Michelle Whittleton, entitled “Knaresborough in Winter.”
Whilst the four-person judging panel was deliberating, audience members were allowed to perform their own ‘oh yays” with medals awarded to Christine and Maisie (aged 6).
Results were: Best Dressed, Terry of Otley, Runner-up, Vic of Huddersfield and Best Crier, Eliza of Barnoldswick.
Oh yay. For the first time in several years, a victory for a woman crier!