Karen Crow : Lincoln’s Town Crier

It was a delight and an eye opener to listen to Karen Crow talk about her role as Lincoln’s Town Crier. As she stood in front of us all, she was dressed to impress in her traditional and formal regalia which consisted of a floor length Lincoln green overcoat with yellow piping, a yellowbelly waistcoat, a long black skirt and a tricorne hat adorned with feathers. In one hand she held a bell which is rung to attract people’s attention, and in the other, a wooden staff however, it is undoubtedly her booming voice which attracts the most attention.

The history of the town crier or bellman can be traced back to medieval times as two bellmen actually appear in the Bayeaux Tapestry. The town crier would ring his bell to attract everyone’s attention and then announce his important proclamations, edicts, laws and news to the gathered crowd. Having read out his message, the town crier would then attach it to the door post of the local inn, therby ‘posting a notice’, and giving reason to why newspapers were often later called ‘The Post’.

Karen’s journey on the road to being a town crier started at the age of 13 when she entered a public speaking competition and won a cup. She successfully re-entered this competition every year moving from the junior section and into the senior section until she became British champion at the age of 17. When she moved to Lincoln, Karen became a member of the Lincoln Shakespeare Company who regularly performed outside so, her booming voice was put to good use particularly when competing with the Cathedral bells; it was during this time that she saw the advert for a town crier thirteen years ago. Needless to say Karen applied for the job however, to proove herself, she had to write and then speak a home made ‘ditty’ at the Lincoln Sausage and Potato Festival. The four other candidates stood no chance against her and she was soon declared the winner and, in recognition of her success, it was her duty that very evening to announce the arrival of every guest at the Sausage Ball.

Karen’s first ‘official’ job was in the May of that year at the Mayor making ceremony. On this occasion, the Mayor is ‘married’ to the City of Lincoln for a year so, the Town Crier stands outside the Guildhall and meets and greets everyone attending the ceremonial ‘wedding’. At the end of the ceremony, Karen rings her bell and declares to all and sundry the name of the new Mayor. She has performed this role every year ever since but, in addition to this assignment, twice a year, as official town crier, Karen also announces the names of those who have become hereditary and honourary freemen of the City. Dressed in her strikingly splendid outfit, she leads the procession through the streets of Lincoln and proclaims to all, that these few are now entitled to walk through the city with their swords drawn and, urinate in public without fear of arrest!!.

November is a busy month for Karen as she has to lead the Remembrance Parade to the war memorial on the Saturday, and again to the Remembrance Service in the Cathedral on the Sunday. Whilst both of these occasions are rightfully solemn and sombre, on the 17th, the mood lifts as this is the occasion when the Christmas lights are officially turned on. Although it is not Karen’s job to ‘flick the switch’ (this is usually assigned to a celebrity) it is her job to announce who the celebrity is to those in attendance and lead the countdown. When not undertaking ‘official’ duties as Lincoln Town Crier, Karen performs unofficial private and corporate jobs which includes opening book festivals, fetes, shops and displays, participating in adverts, handing out leaflets and appearing at charity events. On each occasion, she will write a very personalised ditty/lyric/rhyming and amusing composition which she will enunciate very clearly and coherently to all those around. In her ‘spare time’, we are fortunate that she chooses to tell the likes of us about her role and give us brilliant examples of how she does it.

About Nadia Dawson

Retired primary headteacher now working at Lincoln University
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