The office of town crier still exists today and they were and are to be found in all North Devon towns. Around 1900 the most famous of these was Robert Martin known as the ‘Mounted Crier’ of Ilfracombe.
He rode through Ilfracombe ‘crying’ events and lost property – and made a fair amount of money over and above his normal fees by selling postcards of himself.
In September 1913, however, he was charged by the Ilfracombe police with ‘being drunk while in charge of a horse on the highway.’
PC Bedford had noticed him ‘swaying in the saddle’ and asked him to dismount ‘as he was not in a fit state to be in charge of the pony’.
A truculent Robert refused and Bedford, who had been joined by Sergeant Woolacott, had to manhandle him off his mount. They then escorted him home to his wife, with the constable saying when they arrived ‘Missus, if Robert comes out any more, I shall lock him up’. Robert drunkenly replied to the policemen ‘You have been trying to have me for a long time, and now you have got me.’
Summoned to court a few days later Robert conducted his own defence – not very well - claiming at one point ‘I dismounted like a man’ adding that the only drink he had taken that day was ‘a glass of soda and milk’, which was greeted with laughter in the court.
One police witness F Lord, when asked by the magistrates about the clarity of Robert’s ‘crying’ on the day in question answered that it was ‘not so well as usual. Towards the conclusion of his ‘crying’ his head gradually fell forward on to the horse’s mane, and he mumbled something nobody could understand.
Robert admitted this was true but blamed it on the fact that the message he had been paid to cry was written in pencil and he ‘could not read it very well’.
The magistrates lost little time in coming to their decision, they found Robert guilty and fined him £1 plus costs. A month later Robert filed for bankruptcy – and presumably lost his job as town crier.
I’m unsure what happened next but in 1915 a note appeared in the local papers that Corporal Robert Martin late town crier of Ilfracombe was serving with the army in France and had just been promoted to sergeant.
Given that he was then aged 44 he must have been serving in a non-combatant unit. Does anyone know what happened to him?