Southwold tradition kept alive
CIVIC pride is as much a part of Southwold as beach huts and boats.And one man who has kept the town's pride alive is the Town Crier, John Barber, who was appointed to the ancient role in 1974.
CIVIC pride is as much a part of Southwold as beach huts and boats.
And one man who has kept the town's pride alive is the Town Crier, John Barber, who was appointed to the ancient role in 1974.
Apart from a three-year break, he has rung in announcements and proclamations ever since, keeping alive the town's dignity and sense of history.
"When I was a boy we lived next door to the then Town Crier, so he must have been an influence. When the post became vacant I applied for the job," recalled Mr Barber.
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He now lives in Reydon, but he grew up the son of a fisherman, in a cottage in the heart of Southwold.
Several times each year he is called upon to be bellman for civic occasions. Last Sunday he led the procession for Mayor's Sunday. Next week he will ring in the Charter Fair, when Mayor and dignitaries all get a chance to play on the dodgems.
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At other times he has a bit of fun proclaiming 40th birthdays, or announcing events, for he is also available to hire for anyone who wants to get word about town.
A founder member of the Guild of Town Criers - and the Southwold and Reydon Corps of Drums - Mr Barber has travelled to America and been awarded honorary citizenship of Texas.
At one time he took part in annual championships for town criers, but recent fashions for dressing up "like Bonnie Prince Charlies" have put him off attending.
For despite the fun, and being able to make a joke out of a mistake, the role is one he takes seriously. As a military man, ceremony and uniform are to be respected. When dressed in top hat, long coat and gloves, he also wears his medals, awarded for Second World War service in Palestine.
"Southwold has always had a Crier," he said, demonstrating how the heavy bell is rung.
It is no school bell this one, with ball and chain. It has to be rung upside down so the ringer is jolted away from a catch to prevent it ringing accidentally. The smooth wooden handle has worn a groove where generations of criers have held it.
"In the old days, the crier would stop at special stations," explained Mr Barber.
"If something was urgent and he was running from one stop to another he didn't want it ringing all the time."
There were six stations in Southwold, although Mr Barber tends to go where the people are.
"If there's a message to deliver it's no good going to an empty street," he chuckled.
The Charter Fair (previously known as the Trinity Fair) opens on Thursday May 29 at noon, and continues till Sunday.