On Saturday the 4th August 2018 The Town Crier Championships of the Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers was held in Windsor.
After a year of planning the day had finally arrived. I was worried that the heatwave would cause problems for the 40 or so criers from across the UK (and a couple from Australia) who had agreed to join me in Windsor town centre for competition. The BBC predicted 31degrees centigrade and we were to compete in the sun trap of the south facing lawn in front of the Salisbury Tower.
Nicola and I arrived at the Guildhall at 9.00am to find half a dozen fully dressed criers already waiting to get in. We rang the bell… and waited… and rang again… and waited… and waited… and rang again. After 3 minutes I pulled out my mobile phone and called Andrew Scott, the head of civics. He told me to wait 20 seconds and exactly 20 seconds later the door opened and there was Andrew. Seeing him there calmed some of my nervousness.
We hauled bags of prizes and equipment through the door, went upstairs and rushed around preparing the room as much as possible before allowing the criers in. As I was pouring out the first cup of coffee, Nicola went through the bag I had packed and let me know I had forgotten to bring all the scoring sheets. Arghh! She took some money from my wallet and headed off to find a taxicab so she could go and fetch the essential paperwork for me.
Criers were arriving thick and fast now. I was still in my work clothes and the Mayor would be here any minute. I hadn’t had a chance to get round to the competition venue, so just had to take Andrew’s word that it would all be fine. My nerves were shredding at a rapid rate.
The Mayor and Mayoress, Cllr Paul Lion and his wife Laura arrived and Paul gave a speech of welcome to the criers in the council chamber. In return the Mayor was presented with a charter scroll commemorating the event.
Nicola returned with the missing paperwork and as is traditional we drew names for the running order of the day. Nobody wants to go first so a huge comiseratory cheer greeted the name of the crier drawn for position one.
We had to stop the draw for a moment as the Guards marched past and I assured the criers they would shortly be able to see the Guards as they marched back to the barracks in half an hour or so.
At a quarter past eleven we assembled outside the Guildhall and as the Soldiers marched past the criers removed their hats in a show of respect.
Then we paraded along the high street with the Mayor and Mayoress to the front over to the competition venue.
Beneath the walls of Windsor Castle we stood with the Mayor for some photographs and then it was on to the competition itself. I introduced the event to the large crowd of onlookers and we began. Each crier competed in two rounds of crying, being judged on their diction, inflection, clarity and volume. Our four judges, were:
- Alison Singleton – The Mayor’s Secretary
- Debbie Raven- CEO of Thames Hospice
- Len Nash – Museum Volunteer
- Leslie Grout – Local Author
Nicola (my wife) coordinated the Judges and made sure the scores they gave were properly recorded and tallied up.
My host/compere duties meant I was standing in the sun for most of the event and as the heat increased I become more and more thankful that I had ditched my usual woolen coat and black tricorn for a silk waistcoat and shirtsleeves combines with a white pith helmet.
Once each competing crier had performed we had a special extra cry from Calne’s “Junior Crier” who called out what would be happening next. He was louder than many of the competitors and would have ranked well had he been old enough to officially compete.
Lunch included a mild panic that there wasn’t enough cottage pie to go around, but in the end everyone got fed. Then it was back out into the blazing furnace of the afternoon for Round two.
The team of Nicola, Andrew Scott and his wife, along with Jatinder and Mike from the Events team and the Ambassador Volunteers were doing stirling work to keep things running smoothly. All I had to do was go to the front and announce each crier. In round one they had been extolling the delights of their hometowns but in round two the topic was ‘A Celebration’, leaving the criers free to cry on a broad range of subjects. The actual content of the cry was not being judged, but they had to keep to a maximum of 125 words and always end with ‘God Save the Queen’.
After two hours of cries everyone had performed and the scores were added up. Admiral Sir James Perowne the Constable and Governor of the Castle kindly presented the prizes to the winning competitors.
The Overall Winner of the event was Christian Ashdown, the Town Crier for Haslemere in Surrey.
A huge thank you to both the Council and the Royal Household for allowing us to stage the National Championships in Windsor. It was a great day for the attending town criers and we hope the onlookers enjoyed it too.
Photographs by Katie Henwood