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Sunday, July 14, 2024
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Exhibition celebrates 40 years of Shrewsbury Town Crier Martin Wood

At 7ft 2”, Shrewsbury’s Martin Wood is the World’s Tallest Town Crier – he’s also among the longest serving celebrating 40 years in the role.

Martin Wood is celebrating 40 years in the role as Shrewsbury Town Crier. Photo: My Shrewsbury.
Martin Wood is celebrating 40 years in the role as Shrewsbury Town Crier. Photo: My Shrewsbury.

To mark his outstanding contribution to the town, a new portrait of Martin by Jacob Gourley will take pride of place in a special 40th anniversary exhibition opening at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery this June 1st – 24th. 

The portrait has been acquired by the Friends of SM&AG and will now become part of the museum’s permanent collection, so that future young visitors to the town can marvel at Shrewsbury’s ‘Big Friendly Giant’. 

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Martin’s high profile in the town has led to some unusual roles. He was asked to double for Hollywood actor Edward Scott in the 1984 filming of A Christmas Carol in Shrewsbury – and has also served as an official body double for the Harry Potter character Hagrid. 

The new exhibition ‘Martin Wood – The Shrewsbury Town Crier for 40 Years’ has been curated by editor Katy Rink of My Shrewsbury magazine and Maggie Love, of Shrewsbury Summer Season and is sponsored by Shrewsbury Town Council and the Friends of SM&AG. 

It will tell the story of the role of Town Crier, looking at previous incumbents in the role – and includes some sinister artefacts connected with Martin’s forebears, including a formidable ‘scold’s bridle’, also known as a ‘brank’. It was the job of the Shrewsbury Town crier to accompany nagging wives on a tour of The Square, wearing the fearsome object which depresses the tongue to silence them. 

Researchers from Shropshire Archives have also helped unearth information about town criers of the past, who were also known as ‘bellmen’ – confirming that it was the crier’s job to bolt shut the famous ‘shuts and passages’ of mediaeval Shrewsbury every evening, to keep out vagabonds. The role also included cleaning gutters, strewing rushes and flowers in the election house, taking care of carpets and cushions, as well as issuing proclamations, of course. 

The exhibition also looks at the role of Town Crier in the modern world and the more recent tradition of Town Crier Competitions. Martin was placed fifth in the World Town Crier Tournament in Chester in 2014, he was Champion Town Crier of Wales and the Marches for seven years and voted ‘the Criers’ Crier’ by his peers at the World Championships in Canada in 1999.

There have been times when Martin’s ‘old skills’ have been needed, however – such as helping to evacuate the Shrewsbury Flower Show in 2023 following a security threat. Or when he was asked to use his massive voice to warn local people of dangers following a large earth tremor in April 1990! 

“I wanted to tell the story of town criers through history, but also look at the role they occupy today – and how they have come to serve their communities, becoming part of the fabric and colour of local life. It’s a fascinating evolution of an historic role,” Katy said.

“Martin has become a modern media hero and a superb marketing asset for our town. His presence at any local event always creates a buzz and attracts the local press, from the Christmas lights-switch on, to civic events, Remembrance Sunday, Shrewsbury Flower Show, or small community fetes, school nativities – you name it! He’s been on TV countless times and has even appeared in a Japanese tourist guide book.”

A special Facebook group has been created to gather messages and testimonials for Martin, some of which will also appear in the exhibition. 

And there’s a plan to ‘surprise’ Martin on stage at Shrewsbury Food Festival too in the town centre park, The Quarry on Sunday, June 30th (head for the main stage around 11am – if you have tickets!). 

“Martin lost his wife Sue last year, who was known as Mrs Crier and went everywhere with him, supporting him from her wheelchair – Martin has had a tough time, but he has battled on and is determined to continue to serve Shrewsbury as long as he is able. 

“We wanted to do something to show him how much Shrewsbury values him – we’re also holding ‘Meet the Crier’ events where visitors to the museum can take a selfie with Martin and collect his autograph. He’s our local celebrity!”

Martin, 66, said of his role: “I love it so much – I couldn’t envisage doing anything else. No two days are ever the same. I’m very, very honoured to be Shrewsbury’s town crier. I love everything about the town – its buildings, streets and wonderful history is something we should all be proud of. If I can get that message out to as many people as possible, I will continue to do it. If people want me there, I’ll be there!”

Maggie Love, Creative Consultant, Shrewsbury Town Guide and local historian, added: “I am delighted that my dear friend and colleague and I have shared many years of events and special occasions.  Whether it is a parade or an event to welcome special guests, Martin will ring his bell and spontaneously call to order everything. His understanding of etiquette and tradition and supreme delivery are a pleasure to behold.”

Martin Wood – The Shrewsbury Town Crier For 40 Years – opens on June 1st at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery and runs until Sunday, June 23rd. Admission is free.

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