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Lichfield Waits


A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990)
Certain aspects of the festivities, such as the [Bower] procession, the morris dancing, and the bower itself may have derived from earlier folk customs. In 1698 Celia Fiennes referred to the occasion as the Green Bower; the main attractions were then the dressing of the dozeners' pageants (which she called 'babys') with garlands, and the procession to Greenhill. Besides the bailiffs' bower there were then smaller ones in which fruit and sweetmeats were sold. In the 1730s or 1740s Richard Wilkes, the antiquary, noted how people flocked from the neighbouring villages to see 'this gaudy show'; each ward had its own mawkin (doll) or a posy of flowers carried in the procession, with the city drummers providing music.
The bishop's minstrels played at the Whitsuntide inspection of the watch at Greenhill in 1421, and in 1449 histriones (either minstrels or dramatic performers) from Lichfield entertained Sir William Vernon, possibly when he was visiting his manor of Wall. A fiddler was enrolled as a member of St. Mary's guild in 1488-9. Minstrels played for the shoemakers' company at their feasts in the later 16th century. The Lichfield waits were mentioned in 1572 when they travelled to Wollaton Hall (Notts.) to play for the Willoughby family. Praised by visitors who heard them at the Swan in 1634, the waits then wore the badge of Robert Devereux, earl of Essex, who held a life interest in Lichfield manor. Trumpeters and drummers played at the feasts of the smiths' company in the late 17th century and in the later 1730s, and drummers played at the Greenhill Bower festivities in the earlier 18th century.
It seems that supporters of parliament against Charles I achieved prominence under the patronage of Robert Devereux, earl of Essex (d. 1646). From 1604 Essex held a lease of Lichfield manor for life, and the Lichfield waits wore his badge.



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