THE TOWN CRIER
"O Yez! O Yez! O yez! The burgesses, craftsmen, and whole inhabitants of the Royal Burgh of Linlithgow are hereby warned and summoned to attend my Lord Provost, Bailies and Council at the ringing of the bells on Tuesday 18th day of June, curt for the purpose of riding the Town's Marches and liberties according to the use and custom of the ancient and honourable burgh, and that, in their best carriage, equipage, apparel and array, and also attend all diets of court held and appointed on that day by my Lord Provost and Bailies, and that under penalty of one hundred pounds Scots each. God save the Queen and my Lord Provost."
For centuries, a Linlithgow Burgh official has been charged with the duty of proclaiming the ancient Crying of the Marches, printed above. To this day, the town still retains the position of a Town Crier - one of the very few places in Scotland which possess such an official. However, the actual, official position of Town Crier of the Royal and Ancient Burgh of Linlithgow does not seem to go back too far in history. The book “Linlithgow Marches, An Illustrated History”, published by the Deacons Court in 1981, states that an early twentieth century Town Crier was called Samuel Weir. In fact, as can be seen from this receipt, paid by the Burgh of Linlithgow in 1908, Sam Weir was the partly self-employed Town Drummer and Billposter. In this case, he received the sum of two shillings for announcing, by tuck of drum, that the water supply was to be turned off throughout the town.
It would appear, from additional research in the Burgh Accounts, that Sam Weir did receive a small retainer from the Burgh Council and could be called upon to make any announcement required by the authorities: especially the death of a monarch and the accession of a replacement. He also was required to make all the appropriate proclamations on Marches Day. In addition, however, he could charge personally for any service rendered for any private Linlithgow inhabitant such as announcing a funeral, a shop sale or a cattle auction. As a humble burgh official, Sam Weir was not allocated any special place in the Marches procession. He is not mentioned, for example, in the order of proceedings for the Marches of 1901, held on Tuesday 18th June in that year: the year in which, it would appear, Sam Weir began his duties. By the early twentieth century, the position of Town Drummer was perhaps losing its significance.
In the days before newspapers, radio and television, the Town Drummer had been a vital organ of mass communication throughout the burgh. However, with the advent of the mass media (The Linlithgowshire Gazette dates from 1893) there was less need for a town official and the role gradually became a purely ceremonial one. The town drum was still carried by the later twentieth century Town Criers but gradually fell out of use. It is now kept in the Linlithgow Museum. It bears the scars, and the inscribed information, that it was carried to the Peninsular Wars and used under the command of General Ferrier of the Scotch Brigade.
Before the days of the Town Drummer, it was the Town Bellman who made similar proclamations and announcements. There is written evidence of such an official operating in Linlithgow in the late 15 century. Thus it can be claimed that, while the actual position of Town Crier has been in existence for less than 100 years, Linlithgow has had the position of an official ‘proclaimer of information’ for many centuries. The distinctive mock-Medieval dress still worn by the official, now appointed by the Deacons’ Court, is testimony to the long lineage of the office: the knee breeches, red stockings; black velvet jacket; silver-buckled shoes and the feathered bonnet.