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Puddock Wull
Town Crier of Prestonpans, Scotland 1812

As the early nineteenth century villagers of Prestonpans went about their daily business in the narrow twisting main street, they paused to take a break from their various tasks when they heard the booming of the town drum coming towards them in the distance.

Puddock Wull, the drummer, hobbled through the dirty puddles on the cobbled street supported on his wooden crutches. He was followed by his usual retinue of children. As he hopped along banging his big drum, he bellowed at the top of his voice, “Come aa! Come aa and see!”

Wull had inherited his civic position from his father, Old Hunter, who had been forced to resign from the jobs of bellringer, town crier and drummer as advancing years meant he was no longer able to hold the drumsticks. Wull, like his father, was also the village cobbler and, with his keen ear for an advertising slogan, Puddock claimed that he was “the best disseminator of news, that ever stood in a pair of leather shoes.”

If a concert, auction or big event was to be held in Prestonpans, Wull’s services were invariably requested to advertise the event. His usual procedure was to proclaim the news at the west end of the village, Followed by urchins, the drummer would set off by way of Tranent and make his way via Cockenzie and Preston Links where he would re-enter the village at the east end. As well as a very loud voice, Wull had a strange sense of humour, which would sometimes manifest itself in his proclamations.

On one occasion he must have had a brush with the law in Haddington, as after the unhappy event he stood dressed in his finest garments beating his drum in front of the Prestonpans tavern. Bellowing at the top of his voice he announced, “Lost! Lost! Lost! Lost at Haddington the other day! A lawyer’s conscience! A jailor’s benevolence! And the sympathy of a policeman! Somewhere between the Nungate Brig and the Westport Toll I fancy, and the finder is sure to be rewarded1”

The drummer had a first-class physique and handsome features, but his muscular appearance was marred by misshapen legs, making it impossible to walk without the aid of wooden crutches. Because of his awkward gait the village urchins nicknamed him Puddock Wull, declaring that he seemed to hop along the street like a frog. Indeed, like many creatures ungainly on land, Wull was a natural in the water. The drummer was the first to plunge into the water to assist the crews of fishing boats in difficulty along the rocky coast of Haddingtonshire. Puddock Wull would swim without fear in the most dangerous spots and the villagers claimed, “There was nae droonin o Wull!”

In the 1830’s cholera was the cause of 10,650 deaths in Scotland. When the terrible scourge hit Prestonpans the courageous drummer, who had an iron constitution, helped the unfortunate victims by entering houses where even the doctors would not venture.

Although a few town criers followed in his footsteps – Geordie Muir with his kettledrum, Davie Storie with his bell, and Robbie Smith – none of them could measure up to the daring drummer who rescued fishermen from the sea and defied even cholera at Prestonpans.

By George Robinson, adapted by Bruce Bedell, Town Crier of Sault St. Marie, and Ontario, Canada.

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