Leighton-Linslade is on the hunt for a new Town Crier with much-loved Peter Hailes deciding it’s time to step down from the ceremonial role.
Peter, in his flamboyant attire, has been a familiar face at key local events since he first tried out for the voluntary role in 2000 when the town council decided they wanted to hold a Living History Day for the Millennium year and resurrect the role of Town Crier for the event too.
The 64-year-old recalled: “It was a competition they had for someone to be official Town Crier for the Living History Day. I was down the carnival in my role as retained firefighter. They didn’t have many entrants, so I was asked to give it a go. I was more than happy to give it a go, and happy when I won.
“I’ve always enjoyed public speaking and singing, I’ve got a bit of a voice.”
Peter, of Vandyke Road, did two more Living History Days in 2001 and 2002, before he willingly stepped aside when Martin Hallet, who had moved to the area after being Town Crier in St Albans, offered his services to the town council in 2003 and the role was given a higher profile.
But three years later Martin moved to North Wales, and Peter was asked if he’d want to come back.
“I said ‘yes’. It was a bigger role now, the official Town Crier. The council purchased a uniform where previously it had been hired.
“The first thing I did in the new outfit was the canal festival, which is my favourite. I also enjoy launching the new season at the narrow gauge railway in March.
“A really poignant moment was at the war memorial on Remembrance Day last year. I did a special cry written specifically for the 100 years anniversary of Armistice Day. This was read at 7pm by all of the town criers throughout Great Britain. It was a humbling thought that we were combining our voices throughout the land to remember the sacrifice given by so many during the first world war and beyond.”
On his decision to step down, Peter said he wouldn’t be instantly walking away.
He explained: “I’m happy to do this year’s commitments, but it would be good if they could get someone earmarked so I could give them an idea of what it entails and they’re not thrown in at the deep end.
“I’m used to it, but it was daunting when I first put on the outfit and walked around. I had no tuition, I went online and picked up a few tips.
“I do a different cry every year for quite a few events and try to make it topical and make it rhyme. I’ve got to be in the mood and get a little bit of inspiration and then it tends to flow.
“It’s something that’s very rewarding. It’s nice that everyone is friendly and coming up to you. It’s selfie city, everyone wants have a photo with you. You feel wanted and part of the community.”
Peter was a retained firefighter for 29 years before stepping down and on more one occasion he’s had to abandon a civic event for a 999 call – fortunately never in mid cry.
He said: “It was quite often that I would be down town on a Saturday morning for an event and then my pager would go off. I’d run down the fire station and take my cape off, it was like Superman in reverse and then off to fires!”
His role hasn’t just been confined to Leighton Linslade either, with other towns and villages also booking his services.
Other memorable moments have included attending the centenary year of the Scouting Association. “I went to Wing and that event was very moving,” he said. “Then there was an event in Stewkley when England were in the World Cup... and so no-one was there!”
As for the future, he’ll be keeping busy in his role as a volunteer fire cadet instructor, as a member of a vintage fire engine group based in Hemel Hempstead, and has 12 vintage motorcycles.
Leighton-Linslade Town Council’s Policy and Finance Committee was due to meet last night to discuss the need to recruit a new Town Crier.
The meeting was due to discuss setting guidance for the role so the new recruit represents the town appropriately and fixing a £300 budget for expenses to ensure they wouldn’t be out of pocket.
The council is also reviewing the outfit worn and has stated: “Whilst there is no ‘official’ Town Crier attire, most people associate the role with flamboyant lace ruffs, a tricorn hat and cape.
“We therefore have an option to continue with this style of garment or to be modern, for example, having a top hat and long coat.”
The council wants the new recruit to commit to a minimum of three years “giving a clear message that the council seeks to attract those who are serious in intent”.
> Peter’s annual events as Town Crier:
Pancake race day at Houghton Regis
First train of the season at Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway
May Day Fayre at Leighton Buzzard
The Wilkes Walk from All Saints Church Leighton Buzzard
Leighton Buzzard Carnival
Linslade Canal Festival
Leighton Buzzard Living History Day
Leighton Buzzard Christmas Shopping Weekend and Christmas Tree Festival
Various school fetes, shop opening events, the charter market and any other requests.
> Leighton and Linslade’s first ‘Cryer and Watchman’ was Holliday Hickenbottom, who was suceeded by John Stairs in 1831. Stairs’ descendants held office until the tradition died out in the 1930s, only to return at the start of this century.