History

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Beverley Minstrels' Guild

In a book entitled “The Mediaeval Stage” by E. K. Chambers (1903), there’s some information on the Beverley Guild, apparently the first written record of its existence and function:

“An order of the Governors of the city (1555) recites an old custom ‘since Athelstan’ of the choice by minstrels between Trent and Tweed of aldermen of their fraternities during Rogation days, and renews orders for the ‘fraternity of our Lady of the read arke in Beverley.’ The statutes deal with the employment of minstrels in Beverley, and with their ‘castells’ at the Rogation-day procession. A new member must be ‘mynstrell to some man of honour or worship or waits of some towne corporate or other ancient town or else of such honestye and conyng as shalbe thought laudable and pleasant to the hearers.’ It is claimed that such are excluded from the ‘Kyng’s acts where they speake of vacabonds and valiant beggers.’ “

Kay Brainerd Slocum, on pages 261-2 of Early Music History Vol 14 (1995). states:

“An embryonic musicians’ protective organisation may have been formed before 1380 in Beverley, an important meeting-place for minstrels. Fourteenth century stone carvings in the Minster and St. Mary’s Church depicting musicians playing many different instruments indicate the importance of this assembly….. These records relate that minstrels, abiding by ‘a very auncient custome oute of the memories of dyves aiges of men’, came to Beverley on the rogation days, and ‘then and therechose yearly one alderman of the mynstralls with stewards and deputies authorised to take names and to receive customable dueties of the bretherin of the sade mynstralle fraternytie’. The alderman was further directed to ‘correcte amende execute and continue all such laudable ordynances and statutes as the have heretofore ever used for the honestie and profit of there science and art musicall to be only exercised to the honour of God and the conforte of man’.”

Rogation Day is three days before Ascension Day, traditionally a day for processions to bless the growing crops and mark the parish bounds.

See also The Minstrels’ Pillar in St. Mary’s Church, Beverley - a Tudor portrait of the York waites? Photographs of the Minstrels' Pillar at St Mary's Church, Beverley by James Merryweather.



'Medieval Beverley: Local Government', A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6: The borough and liberties of Beverley (1989)



Beverley Waits

Waits and minstrels first appear in Beverley records in 1409 - 10. Spiculatores, histriones, minstrelli, mimi, mynstrells and waits were all terms applied to the town musicians. They had badges from 1433. (Diana Jutson Wyatt, Performance and Ceremonial in Beverley before 1642, PhD, university of York, 1983, p. lxxix).

The town arms represent the situation of Beverley near water by wavy bars and the supposed derivation of the name by a beaver. (fn. 94) The arms and tinctures were recorded in 1584 (fn. 95) and those were evidently the usual arms by the 18th century, when they were used on the market cross and in the guildhall. The arms have, however, been quartered with others: or, an eagle displayed azure. The eagle, probably for John the Evangelist, the patron saint of the minster, may have appeared on the 16th-century town seal and the quartered arms were seen on another seal in 1584-5; (fn. 96) they were used later on a seal and on the waits' and mayor's chains. It was probably from the Beverley arms that the eagle was taken as a device by the former East Riding county council.
('Arms, Seals, Insignia and Plate', A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6: The borough and liberties of Beverley (1989), pp. 195-197.)

The Beverley Corporation Minute Books are unbroken from 1575 - 1821. They have been transscribed and edited by J. Dennett in YAS Series LXXXIV.


Corporation Minute Book 1597 - 1660.

I examined this book but could find no references although I believe there should be material on waits there.


Corporation Minute Book 1659 - 1707.

3 Jan 1661.

'Ordered the same day that each of the waits to have xd to them and 18s to buy coats this year as formally they used to have and that they put the town's badge upon them as usual'.

17th Oct 1661.   'Ordered the same day that Paul Pashmore from Hansford(?) be appointed the office of a wait within this town in place of Samuel Newton deceased and to have for his paines yearly as the said Samuel Newton formerly had'.

30th Oct 1662.   'Ordered the same day that Peter Rysom is admitted one of the waytes of this town and to have the ordinary salary as the other waytes have provided he give bond with surety for payment of 5 pounds (byt) 50s at Xmas next and 50s at ? next insuring for his freedom of this town and to have his burgayge only upon his giving bond accordingly ..(?)'

2nd Dec 1669.   'Ordered the same day that John Poskit musician be sworn a burgess of this town he paying for his fine five pounds in manner and forme following: that is to pay forty shillings at or before Candlemas day next and the other three pounds to be paid yearly every year for the terme of 3 years at Xmas time the first payment to be paid at 25 of December 1670.

And it is further ordered that the said John Poskit is chosen one of the waits of this towne and to have paid him yearly eighteen shillings in the month of December as the other wates usually have the first payment made this month between it and Xmas next with his payment of 18s to be allowed in partial payment of the said 40s and to give his owne bond for 20s more at Candlemas and also as to the subsequent 3 years payment each yearly salary of ? to be alowed as part of the said 3 pounds at which time the corporations badge of silver is delivered to him in trust'.

8th day of October 1674.   'Ordered the same day that John Heward musician be sworne a Burgess of the towne and corporation provided he and John Ryton serve a bond of 4 pounds to pay 40s 25 Dec next and that he give his owne bond for payment of 20s ? at 25 Dec untill 3 more be paid the first payment of the said 3 pounds to be made on 25th Dec 1675'.

'Ordered the same day that the 2 chains and cognizances belonging to the towne and used by the present waits be repaired by the charge of the corporation and delivered to them to be used by them ? and repaired from time to time from henceforth and that another chaine be bought for the 3rd waite and that the waites for the time being doo bring them in yearly at the first meeting of the new mayor to be to be ? by the chamber. The said chaine to be bought upon the corpration approving the price thereof'.

'Ordered the same day that John Heward above mentioned is sworn one of the towns waits provided he give such bond for payment of the 5 pounds as is above expressed: and then he to be invested in his said office and to have 18s annually as the other waits have'.

9th May 1677.   'Ordered the same day that John Hewart and the sone and another servant of Mr Smith musician be admitted waites for the towne provided they be approved for their skill in musicke and to each for the first year ? of ? cloth for a cloake and yearly afterwards at Xmas time 20s a piece so long as the ? of them ? in ? ? ? office'.

27 Aug 1677.   ' Ordered the same day that John Swongton, John Hewart and Robert Martin are chosen to be the town's waits and each of them so to continue during the townes pleasure, and to have each of them cloth and lace for a cloak for the year, and from and after the ? of the year each of them to have paid 20s yearly at Christmas tyme so long as he shall continue in the said office and so to begin their evening watch on the first day of October and their morning watch to begin on the 25th October and end on the last of February yearly'.

3rd Oct 1678.   'Ordered the same day that James Sponton of Stokesley musician be sworn a burgess and goodman of this towne and corporation he giving his own bonde to pay 5 pounds (byt) 50s therof at Candlemas next and the other at Candlemas 1679'.

'Ordered the same day that the said James Sponton and John Risome and John Hewart are hereby elected together waits of this towne and to begin their morning watch yearly on the 25th October and to continue until the last day of February ? next following, and to have each of them 20s yearly paid at Christmas during their continuance in their said office. The first payment to said Sponton which will be due the next Xmas to be allowed in the payment of the first 50s as above and the next Xmas after to be allowed in the last 50s payment as above and also Hewarts first payment to be allowed in part his owing the towne at which time one of the towns silver chains and one silver cognizance was delivered unto the said John Risome and another chain and another cognzance delivered unto the said John Hewart'.

4th Oct 1683.   'Ordered the same day one of the waits chaines to be repaired and another made'.

1st Feb. 1691.   'Ordered the same day the townes waites to have 3s for their musicke on 1st Jan last at the eating of venison given by Sir Michael Warton'.

25th Nov. 1695.   'Ordered the same day that the townes waits and every one of them doe continue their office as formerly provided they doe agree to go hand in hand and each of them to receive and take their respective proportions as well of what they have collected or are to collect within this town as also of what sallary they are to receive of this towne and corporation: which if they or any of them shall refuse to conforme then their said office to be void and their respective badges and chaines to be delivered in to the chamber and ? now any of them to have any salary paid ? ? at which tyme the said waits have now delivered their said chaines and badges and refuse to affirm this order, the said badges and chains ? in a ????'.

the ? to be entered at the next meeting.

9 Nov. 1696.   'Ordered the same day that John Hewart, James Borthus and John Rysome be re-admitted the townes waits and to have again chaines and badges ? ? and each of them to have 20s yearly paid unto them for their ? ? sallaries'.


Beverley Corporation Minute Book (1709 - 1835)
(extrapolated from YAS Record Series Vol. CXXII)

19 December 1720.   William Smith, James Loftus and John Weddlell, the new waits, to have the usual salary of 20/- p.a. each, a cloak of blue cloth (not to exceed 6/6 per yard) and the badges and chains, the cloth to be bought of Mr. Wride and Mr. Bowman equally and Mr. Lambert to see them taken of: 10/- to be paid for mending and cleaning the chains.

1 Feb. 1762.   Ordered that John Leavens be discharged from the office of wait for his insolent behaviour to the gentlemen of the chamber.

15 February 1762.   On asking pardon for his behaviour, John Leavens restored to his place as wait.

14 October 1765.   Henry Ibbitson and Richard Hudson appointed Town Waits for the winter season at a salary of £2 10s p.a. to commence from September last.

15 Oct. 1781.   '3 waits appointed for the Winter season. Salary £2 10s to commence from September last'.

4 March 1782.   'John Leavens to have 2s per week for the rest of his life, he having served as a wait for upwards of 50 years'.

7 March 1785.   'The three waits to be dismissed for neglect of duty'.

5 Sept. 1785.   'Matthew Gibson, Wm. Rhodes, Edward Southern and Robert Whitehead chosen town waits at a yearly salary of 50s each: they to go round the toen in Winter "as in the manner and form formerly used" attend the mayor as necessary and play at the assembly when required for the usual price'.

1 Aug. 1808.   'George Wells, John Watson, John Armstrong and John White to be employed as musicians to attend Corporation processions, at a yearly salary of 2 gns. each. Each to have a cloak at the expense of the Corporation, such cloaks, hats and chains as they usually wear to be delivered to the City council at the conclusion of each procession'.

Pamela Radford (with some additional material supplied by Alan Radford)



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'Medieval Beverley: Local Government'
A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6: The borough and liberties of Beverley (1989)

Among the lesser officers the first to be appointed seem to have been the waits. In 1366-7 a Ralph Wayt was paid 10s. as his salary for half a year. The first firm identification comes from 1407-8, when two waits shared a fee of £1 6s. 8d. Two or three waits recur in the accounts until the middle of the century, with a joint salary of between £1 and £1 10s. In 1460-1 the waits were given 10s. for clothing at Christmas but no fee, and by the end of the century they had vanished from the accounts altogether. In the 1430s they were retained for the whole year but from 1443 for the winter months only, defined as extending from All Saints' Day or the feast of St. John in winter to the beginning of Lent. That may also have been the pattern earlier, with Ralph Wayt paid for only half a year and the 1423-4 waits paid extra when they proclaimed the Corpus Christi plays. The 15th-century waits were issued with livery collars and miniature silver-gilt shields bearing the town's arms.

The Corpus Christi plays were mentioned in 1377, and in 1390 were described as an ancient custom. There were then apparently 38 plays in the cycle. The late 15th-century list gives only 36, but it omits the metal-workers' play of the Crucifixion, mentioned in 1424 and 1475. Even if the metal-workers had given it up, it is difficult to believe that so crucial an episode had been dropped from the cycle altogether. The cycle was initially performed annually, and that still seems to have been the case in 1411. By the 1430s performances had become less frequent, and on St. Mark's Day 1436 the keepers ordered that the plays should be prepared for 1437. In 1457 the burgesses asked that the plays should be performed annually as they used to be. That may have been agreed, and there were recorded performances in 1459 and 1460-1, but it is likely that they again became less frequent. Some 15th-century guild ordinances, including the butchers' of 1467 and the tanners' of 1494, give two scales of annual charges depending on whether the play was performed or not. The plays were presented at six stations, five of them along the high street, the central spine of the town. They were North bar; the bull ring, at the north end of Saturday Market; Cross bridge; Fish Market; and near the minster, probably at the end of Highgate. The sixth station was at the beck. The texts of the plays do not survive, and there is only one extant properties list, for the hairers' play of Paradise. In 1423-4 a Dominican friar, Thomas Bynham, composed the banns which were proclaimed by the town waits on the eve of Ascension Day to publicize the forthcoming cycle.

The insignia consist of a large gilt mace and two serjeants' maces of silver; a gold chain for the mayor; a double and a single chain, comprising the former three waits' chains, and a snuff box, all of silver; and a silver-headed staff.

The town waits were provided with chains or collars. A shield-shaped badge displaying the town arms was evidently then, as later, suspended from each chain and the whole was usually called a shield in the 15th century. Two chains made of silver in 1424 were remade with some gold in 1433-4 and by 1440 there were three. They may have been refashioned again by 1452, when they were described as newly made, and in the 1460s each chain had some 40 links. The chains were repaired in 1502/3. The three chains were again recorded in 1577 but only two remained in 1674. It is not known whether a third chain ordered to be bought then or a new one directed to be made in 1683 were obtained. Two of the badges were apparently remade in the reigns of William III and George I and by the late 18th century there were once again three chains. They were sold in 1836. Two were restored to the town by C. F. Hotham in 1883 (fn. 49) and were joined to form a double collar, which was worn by the mayor in the late 19th century and later by the mayoress. The third chain was bought back by the corporation in 1910 and was later worn by the deputy mayor. Each chain has c. 40 links, alternately in the form of eagles and beavers, both of which also figure in the quartered coat of arms displayed on the pendant shield, 1? in. deep by 1¼ in. wide. The single, third chain may be that bought in the 17th or 18th century, for it differs from the others in the size of its links and in the less worn condition of the badge. The mayor's chain was subscribed for in 1862. An enamelled pendant bearing the same quartered coat of arms as the waits' badges was added in 1891. ['Arms, Seals, Insignia and Plate', A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6: The borough and liberties of Beverley (1989), pp. 195-197.]

The cultural life of the town may briefly have benefited from the presence of a printer, for Hugh Goes (fl. 1509) is said to have had a press in Highgate. The guild plays on Corpus Christi Day were discontinued, but especially in the second half of the century rewards were given by the town to many groups of travelling players. Performances were also given by the grammar school players, and the town's waits were often rewarded for their services. Entertainment was evidently provided on Shrove Tuesday by the watermen: the craft was fined in 1574-5 for not jousting ('justinge') in the beck as was customary.

Low church views were later fostered by the corporation with encouragement from the puritan Henry Hastings, earl of Huntingdon, Lord President of the Council in the North from 1572 to 1595. The corporation nominated the churchwardens at the minster and from 1581 the curate, and both of its appointees as curate in the last decades of the century, Thomas Whincop (1583-99) and William Crashaw (1599-1605), were puritans. Another institution governed by the corporation, the grammar school, was also to become a centre of puritanism. It may be significant that the appointment of Hastings coincided with the cessation of the Rogationtide festivities. As early as 1566 the presence of minstrels in parochial perambulations was forbidden by the Church authorities. Rewards were, however, regularly given to the town waits for playing before the governors on Cross Monday, and the celebrations in 1568 extended to other days in Rogationtide and also involved performances by the waits of York. The last such payment was made for Rogation Monday 1572.

How far literate habits were inculcated in the urban community by the schools is not revealed, but there was a collection of books at the grammar school, books could be bought at the Cross fair, and in the later 17th century there was a resident bookseller in the town. (fn. 79) Otherwise cultural activities were absent, unless the music provided by the town's waits be counted.
From c. 1730 Beverley was included in the circuit of the principal York theatrical company and by 1788 it was in the Richmond circuit. A playhouse was built in Walkergate in the 1750s and replaced successively by others in Register Square (now Cross Street) and Lairgate. In the 1760s the company usually spent four or five weeks at Beverley after York races in August and before the Hull season began in October and by 1788 it had a variable season in Beverley in April, May, and June. The season coincided with race week and on occasions the theatre was full to overflowing: John Courtney noted in 1803, after one of his frequent visits, that 'It was the fullest house that I ever saw. We got into the playhouse with the greatest difficulty but I got a good seat . . . They took I heard 43 pounds and turned away near 20'. It was probably such overcrowding that led to the building of the Lairgate theatre, which seated 632. Music was also well patronized and many musicians lived in the town, including the waits who were paid by the corporation.

In 1788 the corporation paid salaries to 19 officers. The mayor received £70 for his expenses and entertaining, the recorder and the town clerk 10 guineas each, and the last-mentioned officer a further 3 guineas as billet master. The macebearer and the town husband received £6 each, and the two serjeants at mace £5 each. The rest of the staff were paid from £1 to £3 a year; they comprised chamber clerk, market keeper, swineherd, cook, beadle, four waits, and keepers for Swine Moor wells, the shambles, and the fire engine in St. Mary's church.



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