Photo: James Shrubb, Town Crier and Doreen Waters (both mentioned in Christmas Past in Essex ISBN #978 0 7524 4463 5)
In days of old, when few people could read and write, the appearance of the Town Crier was a cause for much excitement. He would appear in a brightly colored outfit, white stockings, three cornered hat and ringing his bell to assemble an audience. He would unroll the proclamation with pomp and ceremony, read it aloud and nail it on the door of the local inn.
Town Criers were protected by the reigning monarch. Interfering with his duties or heckling while he was giving his address was considered an act of treason.
In addition to his duties as a reader of proclamations, the Crier was often called upon to keep the peace. See the following excerpt from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Town_crier
“In 1620, there was a fight at the cross between the butchers and the bakers where the 'Cryer brake his Mace in peeces Amonge them'. In 1607, one public notice read by George Tunnall, the bellman, forbade tipping rubbish in the river. In 1715, a local man recorded that the 'Belman at the Cross ... Reads publicly a proclamation in the Mayor's name, commanding all persons in the City to be of peaceable and civil behaviour, not to walk around the Streets or Rows at unreasonable hours of night'.”