First published in October 2019
For many, George Carpenter will have been the town crier for longer than they’ve been alive. After half a century in the role he is as much a part of Wotton-under-Edge as the clock tower or the war memorial. As he recalls, the role didn’t come about overnight.
“When I first became crier, I was taking part in a production of Robin Hood with the Wotton Amateur Dramatics Society,” recalls George. “I was one of the merry men. During rehearsals the organisers asked me if I’d like to go out and advertise the show.”
George subsequently began going out on weekends to help promote the activities of different organisations across the town. “Scouts, Guides, the schools, whoever had anything on… I’d go out on a Saturday morning and give them a bit of a boost with an advert for what they were doing, and that’s how it started off.
“I found out that the town trust had the old town crier’s hat and coat, which Mr Lewis Allen, the previous town crier, used to wear.” The crier’s hat and coat were in the care of Oliver Mills, then resident on Church Street. “I went to Oliver and asked if I could use the uniform. He said ‘Of course you can’t.’”
Undeterred, George kept going back on subsequent Friday afternoons or Saturday mornings, armed with the same request. “Eventually, he told me that I might as well hang on to it, as it looked as though I was going to be Wotton’s next town crier.”
Since then George has represented Wotton at countless events, locally, nationally and sometimes much further afield. “I was wanted for fetes, remembrance events, everything like that… I was very busy in that time. I did some weddings as well – usually when the bride and groom didn’t know anything about it. I’d be tucked away in the pews down at the corner of the church, and I would step out as the photographs were being taken and greet the two families, wish them all the best for the future.”
As well as town happenings, George also officiated at different events with some of the local firms. “If we had the lower lieutenant of the county down to visit at Renishaw, I’d walk around with them and if they had something to say I’d introduce them.”
“I did the World Wine Fair in Bristol for five years, starting in 1978. I used to go down and introduce the mayor because they never had a crier there.” Here, George would greet whichever dignitaries turned up and escort the mayor through the crowds with his coach and horses. “That was big – especially the year when they covered Venice, because they actually built a replica bridge across the harbour.”
George balanced his duties as town crier around his work as a carpenter, and devoted much of his spare time to heralding events nationwide. “I used to get home at 5 o’clock on the Friday and take off up to Blackpool for a competition which would be on the Saturday. Then it’d be home Sunday and back to work on the Monday. I spent a lot of my own money on representing the town, but I enjoyed what I was doing.”
In his time as town crier, George’s duties have been manifold, taking him as far afield as Halifax and Nova Scotia. “When the Women’s Institute heard that I was going to Canada, they presented me with a cloak from Cam Mills – they didn’t want me to get cold.” George was heavily associated in the twinning ceremony with Beaumont-le-Roger, when the charter was signed. “There was no crier in Beaumont, but I went out there with the mayor and a coachload of people who wanted to go. It was quite an elaborate affair.” On one occasion George was part of an event with British Airways, who wanted him to greet 13 jumbo jets. “They took me out to the pod as they called it and when they pulled up to the steps and opened the door and say: ‘On behalf of British Airways I would like to welcome you to Great Britain and wish you a wonderful time.’”
Although the years are starting to catch up with George, nothing has diminished his enthusiasm for representing the Wotton community. “I hope to be out like I always am for St George’s Day, and I’m also out on the first Saturday in December – that’s when Wotton has the day they close the streets and have the stalls out then. I usually escort Father Christmas up the street to the grotto and talk with the different stallholders, so that’s been a success.”