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by David Rose
Guildford’s town crier and beadle David Peters has a choice of three bells to ring – all over 100 years old – when he is called to perform his time-honoured duties.
There’s what’s known as ‘the town bell’, a heavy bell indeed; that is technically the official bell for his duties to the borough of Guildford. It’s a bell that has been used by at least seven of his predecessors as it is engraved with their names. The first states: ‘T. Lovett, to 1845’. Timothy Lovett took up his post in 1820, stepping down in 1845.
Other names on the bell include David’s father (Arthur), grandfather (Jessie) and great-grandfather (Albany). Yes, town crying runs in the Peters family. They have held the post of Guildford’s town crier unbroken for 101 years.
Of his second bell, David says: “This one was presented to my great-grandfather in 1918 by the magazine John Bull. I think it was in recognition of some fundraising he did during the First World War and town crying as Guildford went about encouraging men to enlist in the services.”
He rarely uses this bell now as he dropped it in Guildford High Street a few years ago resulting in a chip being taken out of the rim. It is crudely engraved with details about it being presented to his great-grandfather by ‘John Bull Limited’. It is also stamped ’14’ that may refer to the musical note it makes.
“I was wearing white gloves at the time and the bell slipped out my hand,” he says. “Now, when I am ringing my bell I do not wear gloves, only when carrying my beadle stick in town processions.”
The third bell is the one David uses on most occasions. It is slightly smaller and lighter in weight that the other two – but just as loud.
“It is much lighter to carry around,’ says David, ‘I bought it in a junk shop in Horley. I don’t exactly know how old it is – it’s likely to be over 100 years. I think it might have been a school bell.”
David became Guildford’s town crier in 1990. He also holds the ancient post of beadle. An enactment in 1547 said that every parish in the land should appoint a beadle who had the right to enter ale houses on Sundays and other holy days at the time of divine service and fine all the people found drinking and eating, six pence. The beadle was allowed to keep tuppence of each fine while the rest was paid to the mayor who was supposed to distribute it to the poor.
It was both a means of paying the beadle and finding out who had not been attending church, or which masters were not ensuring that their servants or employees were at church.
When you see David at the head of one of the official processions in Guildford High Street, such as the mayor making each May, the Remembrance Sunday service and the recent royal proclamation to mark the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne, you will see him holding his beadle stick.
A much older stick, used by other members of the Peters family and their predecessors, is now on display in the Guildhall. He had his stick made about 10 years. It is a copy of the earlier one.
The object at the top of the stick is made of wood with a metal cross. He said: “It features a woolsack, the castle keep, with the top part that I believe represents the tower of the former Holy Trinity Church.”
His duties today add a touch of colour to ceremonial occasions. But one task which he doesn’t have to do is to administer public whippings on behalf of punishment dished out by the mayor.
Another of the beadle’s jobs was to guard the town and its mayor. He made nightly rounds crying out the state of the weather and the time, no doubt adding at the end the words “and all’s well.”