Hear Yea, Hear Yea!
Andrew Welch: Town Crier
by Elizabeth Szekeres
printed in Volume 7, Number 2
Summer 2011 issue of Sideroads
of Caledon & Erin
Becoming a Town Crier may not be something you would undertake lightly, but for Andrew Welch, it has become, you might say, something of a calling.
Welch, who lives in Alton, has an extensive resume. A facilitator, software designer, singer, actor, environmentalist, and all around amazingly creative guy, he has performed with theatre companies around the province, conducted mountaineering leadership development courses for high-powered corporate executives, and traveled the world.
During the Christmas season of 2010, Welch, with his striking baritone voice had just finished performing a stirring reading of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, when a friend said: “You know, Andrew, with that voice, you should be a Town Crier!”
Indeed, his voice is impressive and substantial, and with his actor’s sensibility, stage presence, and perfect elocution, it was a fitting suggestion. Add to those talents the fact that Welch is also an accomplished humorist and writer; it seemed all to be a no-brainer, a perfect fit for a semi-retired guy who is not the slightest bit ready for a rocking chair.
So, he set about researching the ‘job’, designing and building a uniform fit for such an occasional occupation, and applying to the Town of Caledon for an appointment to a position which, as of this writing, has not yet been created - although Andrew has already performed (albeit with a temporary uniform!) several times at various events in and around Caledon.
"It's just so much fun," he said, thoroughly relishing opportunities to make people take notice and chuckle at his wry turns of phrase.
Town Criers have been employed for centuries. They are officially appointed by a royal court or, today, by municipal town or city councils, to make public announcements in the streets or in public places. In medieval times, when most citizens were unable to read or write, town criers were often the only reliable source of news.
Criers these days most often assume elaborate period dress. There are colorful robes dripping with ceremonial gilt braid, breeches or hose with buckled shoes, and a tricorne hat. They carry a brass hand bell to attract public attention, calling out “Oyez, Oyez, Oyez!” as they invite members of the public to hear their proclamation. These days, they are often employed at events such as fairs, or public openings of note.
“A good town crier,” said Welch, “is an excellent way to get people to stop, pay attention and receive important messages.”
Once officially appointed, a crier can become a member of a Guild of Town Criers. In this province, the Ontario Guild of Town Criers maintains a database of members who can perform Cries for business openings, weddings, charity fundraising events, fairs, and the like. Since there are considerable performance and writing skills required, there are regional, national and international competitions for Town Criers. Friendly, good natured criers compete for awards. Style, dress, humour, presentation, engaging alliteration, and creativity are all areas on which Criers are judged.
Not only does Welch enjoy wordcraft, but he also enjoys using his amazingly dramatic voice. Said Welch, “Simply yelling out announcements is not going to do it. You have to be able to enunciate, and time your words so that they are both accurately heard, and received with the intended inflection to keep the listeners engaged and interested.”
It’s not for the wages that people want to be a Town Crier. They might receive a few paying gigs a year, but the fee they are paid is more in the honorarium range than an actual living wage. And, the costs involved in becoming an established Crier are not insubstantial. Criers pay for their own uniform, professional memberships, and travel costs to competitions. The most prestigious international Town Crier’s competition, The World Championships, was recently held in Chester, England.
A Town Crier’s uniform, often based on a historical military uniform or period costume, is remarkably costly. Unlike stage costumes, which are temporary and viewed from a distance, the Town Crier’s apparel needs to be permanent, be wearable in any season, and look great from any angle, close up and from a distance. Welch is currently constructing his own, based on a Louisbourg frock coat design he researched with the help of Peter Twist from Orangeville, a military heritage expert who has consulted for the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series.
Welch’s uniform, currently substantially on the way to completion, will be of hunter green wool cashmere, (green to celebrate the Town of Caledon), and decorated with red lapels and a gold braid design of numerous ‘leaves.’ Applying just the gold braid on his uniform, he explained, takes about one hour for each leaf in the design. By the time the uniform, which also includes knee high hand made leather boots, is completed, it will have taken hundreds of hours of work, and a materials cost of approximately $1,000 – all for basically just the fun of being a Town Crier.
After meeting with Mayor Marolyn Morrison and making a presentation to Council in regards to a Town Crier appointment, Welch is now waiting to apply for the position. On May 17th, 2011, Caledon Town Council passed a motion to set up a Request for Proposal, to accept applications for the position of Town Crier. As of press deadline, the RFP process had not been initiated.
In becoming a Town Crier, Andrew may well have truly found his calling, but he may have to wait a while yet, before he can officially give us the news.