Hinrichson’s Music Book vol. VII (1952) 170-183


A Short Historical Study

By Lyndesay G. Langwill, Hon. F.T.C.L.

Annotations, [in brackets thus], by James Merryweather and {in brackets thus} by Chris Gutteridge, April 2006

Early History
Royal Waits
Municipal Waits
Minstrels and Waits

Some Notable Waits
Pay and Privileges

Waits’ Music
Wait Tunes
Dismissal of the Waits
Unofficial Waits
Index of Places

Each year as Christmas approaches we hear the strains of street musicians, but few of us realize the origin of this custom. We can trace the history of the Waits through seven centuries, and in so doing we arc afforded many sidelights on the manners and customs of the past.


First let us consider the origin of the word, for which a score of variations in orthography can be cited. Originally a noun from the Anglo-Saxon wacian, to watch or guard, the word became altered by the Normans to gaite (Fr. guet), although it is not certain that the noun form may not be an adoption from the Teutonic (O.H.G., Wachta; German, Wacht). The word ‘waits’ gave rise to two curious errors — one, that the word did not occur in the singular, and, the other, that the performers took their name from their instruments. Both errors are found in Dr Busby’s Dictionery of Music (2nd Edit., 1806), s.v. ” ‘Wayghtes or Waits’: This noun formerly signified hautboys; and, which is remarkable, has no singular number. From the instruments its signification was, after a time, transferred to the performers themselves, who, being in the habit of parading the streets by night with their music, occasioned the name to be applied generally to all musicians who followed a similar practice. Hence those persons who annually at the approach of Christmas salute us with their nocturnal concerts were, and are to this day, called ‘wayghtes’.” [Even Bridge, back in 1928, argued against this. Evidence is that wait-pipe(s) was often abbreviated to wait(s) and that it was a name for the shawm derived from the name of its player(s). I think we are happy with this now, but the argument should be revisited formally once again before we decide we are certain. There are some useful references to follow up below under EARLY HISTORY]

The survival of occupational names such as Gait, Wait(e), Wakeman serves to indicate the use of such word-forms in the singular. The lists of Freemen of York (Surtees Society, 1896-1900) record between 1272 and 1759 no fewer than 101 entries referring to persons of the name of Wayt(e), Wakeman, Waite or Wate, one of these Rogerus Wayte, admitted in 1363, being described as ‘piper’. Among 91 musicians and ‘mynstrills’ admitted Freemen during the same five centuries we note: in 1565, ‘Johannes Bawderstone, waite’; in 1629, ‘Thomas Girdler, waite’; in 1679, ‘Nathan Harrison, musition’, who, in 1721 (on the admission of his two sons), is described as ‘waite’.


It is clear that originally waits were night watchmen in palaces, castles, camps and walled towns, who ‘piped watch’ upon a musical instrument at stated hours, for changing the guard, in case of alarm, or merely to awaken certain persons at appointed hours by soft music at their chamber doors. [This matter is under review with major contributions from Richard Rastall]

One of the earliest references to waits occurs in a treatise De Naturis Rerum, by Alexander Neckham, Abbot of Cirencester, who died in the early part of the thirteenth century: “Assint etiam excubiae vigiles (veytes) cornibus suis strepitum et clangorem facientes”, i.e., Let there also be on guard watchmen (waytes) making a loud noise upon their horns.

[Everybody quotes Neckham. Several of us have checked and cannot find this passage. See separate discussion devoted to the Neckham passage.]

Tenure of land by wait-service was common, actual service being commuted into a money payment known as wait-fee. Sandys in his Christmas Tide records Temp. Henry III (1216-1272) Simon le Wayte who held a virgate of land at Rockingham, Northants, on the tenure of being castle-wayte or watch. Blount in his Ancient Tenures of Land records a similar instance of wayte-fee in connection with the manor of Narborough, Norfolk, in 1558: and also with the manor of Buxton (near Aylsham) where: a quarterly payment of l5s. was levied for wayte-fee at the castle of Norwich. In Cornwall those holding land on tenure of keeping watch at the castle gate of Launceston were under the jurisdiction of a special court called Curia Vigiliae, Curia de Gayte or Waytern-fee Court of which many records are preserved in the Public Record Office.

The early Romances serve to show that the word referred to the performer, thus, in Kyng Alysaunder (fourteenth century), “When theo table was y-drawe, Theo Wayte gan a pipe blawe”. This Tafelmusik in course of performance is portrayed on the fifteenth century Braunche brass in St. Margaret’s Church, King’s Lynn, and serves to link the musical watchmen with the musicians attached to the houses of the nobility. The Romance of Sir Eglamour (1440) states “Grete lordys were at the Assent; Waytys blewe, to mete they wente”. In the Promptorium Parvulorum of 1440 wayte is glossed as ‘explorator foris‘, ‘speculator foris‘ without any musical connotation, but a Nominale of the fifteenth century glosses ‘colomaula‘ (i.e. calamus-aulos, hence calamaula) as ‘wayte pype’, showing clearly that the performer gave his name to the instrument and not vice versa. In 1510 we find ‘tibicen’ defined as ‘a wayte’; in 1530 Palsgrave gives “Wayte, an instrument, hauboys”, and in 1556 Withal, with less accuracy, gives in his Dictionary “The trumpet or waytes, tuba”. Butler in his Principles of Music (1636) clearly regards Waits as being ‘Hobois’ (oboes), and such a definition is confirmed by Minsheu (1617) and by R. Sherwood’s English-French Dictionary appended to Cotgrave (1650).


Stow tells us that Henry III in 1253 established watchmen (waytes) in London. Edward III (1327-77) had three ‘Wayghtes’ in the Royal Band of nineteen ‘mynstrells’. Henry VI (1422-61) in 1445 had “xii menistrealx, one le Gaite”. As regards Edward IV (1461-83) a full account of his household establishment in the Liber Niger Domus Regis, specifies “Minstrelles thirteene . . . whereof some be trompets, some with the shalmes and smalle-pypes” . . . and, “A wayte, that nightely from Mychelmas to Shreve Thorsdaye pipethe watche within this courte fowere tymes; in the somere nightes iij tymes, and makethe Bon Gayte at every chambere doare, and offyce, as well for feare of pyckeres and pillers” (i.e. thieves). “Andrew Newman, the Waite” was one of 42 musicians of Henry VIII in 1526. Charles I (1625-49) had twenty-five Waits in his band of fifty-eight performers.

[Also see separate discussion of previous quotation of the wayte text from the Liber Niger which are fraught with differences.]


The custom of municipalities appointing official Waits may be said to date from the fifteenth century, and the records of English boroughs and, to a lesser extent, Scottish burghs provide a rich store of information concerning their Waits: As yet no comprehensive study of the Waits has appeared, but those of certain cities and towns have received attention, notably those of Norwich, by George A. Stephen, and of Dublin by W. H. Grattan Flood (see Bibliography).


It is not always easy to distinguish Waits from Minstrels since their duties were often the same, but there was for centuries hostility between the Waits-trained musicians who served an apprenticeship, were accorded official status, badges of office, livery and emoluments — and the common Minstrels — itinerant players of very varied capabilities and some little better than rogues and vagabonds. Of the latter Alexander Barclay in his Ship of Fools (1508) writes:

“That by no means can they abide or dwell
Within their houses, but out they need must go
More wildly wandering than either buck or doe,
Some with their harps, another with his lute,
Another with his bagpipe or a foolish flute”.

Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun states that in 1698 there were 100,000 wandering mendicants in Scotland, and many of these were doubtless {doubtless?} minstrels of a sort. If England’s vagrant musicians were numerous in proportion, it was but natural that competent musicians in the pay of Royalty, of the nobility, or of municipalities should resent any derogation of their calling. W. Chappell in his valuable Popular Music of the Olden Time remarks: “After the Act of the 39th year of Elizabeth which rendered all minstrels wandering abroad liable to punishment as ‘rogues, vagabonds and sturdy beggars’, all itinerant musicians were obliged to wear cloaks and badges with the arms of some nobleman, gentleman, or corporate body, to denote in whose service they were engaged, being thereby excepted from the operation of the Act.”

Edward IV granted his Minstrels a Charter in 1469, and James I in 1604 granted a Charter of Incorporation to the Society of Minstrels in London, and thus instituted the Worshipful Company of Musicians.


A wide variety of duties devolved upon the Waits. They were asked to assist at medieval plays, as in 1511, when a minstrel and three Waits of Cambridge assisted at a presentation of “The Holy Martyr St. George” at Bassingbourn, Cambs. Or again, as at Newcastle in 1567, when the incorporated companies performed a miracle play on Corpus Christi day, the Corporation paid 2s. “to the waites, for playeinge befor the players” (i.e. actors).

In 1544 on 6th May the English forces took possession of Edinburgh, and in Cambridge the news was the reason of a procession and great rejoicings: “Payd to the wayts for goyng abowte the Towne with Mr Mayor when Edenboroughe in Scotland was wonne, iijs iiijd.”

The Waits took up a station on the route and played on the occasion of royal visits. Holinshed records the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Norwich in 1578: “Then hir maiestie drew neere the gates of the citie called Saint Stephan’s gates . . . at this gate the waits of the citie were placed with lowd musicke, who cheerfullie and melodiouslie welcomed hir maiestie into the citie.”

The Waits met and serenaded visitors of note on arrival, e.g. at Cambridge, as Pepys relates in 1667, he was met by the Town Music. “But, Lord! what sad music they made”, is his comment.

{Although it has no bearing on Langwill’s argument, it is interesting to note that the Cambridge Waits actually played at Pepys’ departure, not his arrival as Langwill claims. Here is the relevant entry:

9 October 1667 Up, and got ready and eat our breakfast and then took coach; and the poor, as they did yesterday, did stand at the coach to have something given them, as they do to all great persons, and I did give them something; and the town musique did also come and play; but Lord, what sad music they made – however, I was pleased with them, being all of us in very good humour….

On the same visit, whilst staying at Brampton, Pepys records a visit from Huntingdon Waits, who obviously thought the three mile walk each way worth the effort for the chance of extracting a gratuity from him:

11 October 1667 ….. But before we went out, the Huntington music came to me and played, and it was better then that of Cambridge.}

At Bath, on the other hand, the next year, he records “By and by comes music to play to me, extraordinary good as ever I heard at London, almost or anywhere.” John Wood, a century later, in his Description of Bath (1769) states: “The customs that particularly relate to the Strangers begin with welcoming them to the city, first by a Peal of the Abbey Bells: and, in the next place, by the Voice and Musick of the City Waits . . . the Waits seldom miss their fee of a Crown, Half-a-Guinea, or a Guinea, according to the Rank of the People they salute.” This account is almost verbatim that given in Goldsmith’s Life of Richard Nash (1762). The waits of Scarborough in the eighteenth century went their rounds from Martinmas Eve to Christmas when the inhabitants were asked for donations which were booked in. musical characters; a semibreve stood for 5s., a minim for 2s. 6d., a crochet for 1s., and a quaver for 6d.

In constant demand for weddings and social functions, the Waits were frequently mentioned in seventeenth-century drama, e.g. by Beaumont and Fletcher, and Shirley. More rarely they assisted the choristers in the service of the Church, as at St. James’s Church, Bristol, in 1583, when the waytes were paid 2s. 6d. on Candlemas day and night; at Chester in 1591, 1666 and 1668; at York Minster in 1623; and at Christ Church, Dublin, c. 1620.

Five Norwich Waits in 1589 achieved unique distinction when they accompanied Sir Francis Drake to Cadiz. “Three new howboyes and one treble recorder” and a ‘saquebut’ were supplied for their use. Kemp, the Morris Dancer, in his Nine Daies Wonder (1600), describes the Norwich Waits thus: “Fewe citties in our Realme have the like, none better”.


There was no rule as to the number of the Waits, but from four to six was usual, with nine in London. In Scotland frequently only a bag-piper and a drummer were employed [Important. We must find out more about them], {See Alan Radford’s collection of data on Scottish bagpiping Waits in the History section of the Waits Website.} but from 1607 Edinburgh had five Waits [and them too].


The Waits’ livery was distinctive and colourful, as the following list shows:

  • Alnwick: Coats of blue broadcloth faced with yellow cloth and trimmed ‘with silver lace, the buttons having on them the Town Arms. Attached to the sleeve was the Town’s badge of silver with St. Michael killing the dragon. The vest was yellow and trimmed like the coat. Breeches were of yellow plush and the hat was trimmed with cockade and silver lace. (c. 1769.)
  • Cambridge: Woollen cloth of blood colour (1494).
  • Coventry: Coats of stammell collo’d (i.e. coarse red) cloth (1613).
  • Doncaster: Cloaks of scarlet-coloured cloth (1708).
  • Dublin: Livery cloaks, the cloth to be blue or watchett colour with the city cognizance (1599).
  • Edinburgh: Grey cloaks with black and white lace.
  • Haddington: Grey-plaided garb, the coat having single collar, broad lapels, large black buttons and trimming of black braid; long waist-coat, short knee-breeches, black leggings, and with cockades on the hats.
  • Hexham: A red coat and the cognizance of the Lord of the Manor (1665).
  • Leicester: Orange or tawney, and later scarlet, gowns, edged with silver lace, and later gold lace (1524).
  • London: Blue gowns, red sleeves, and red cap (1575).
  • Morpeth: Green coats and drab knee breeches, each bearing on his right arm a silver badge of the Corporation Arms (c. 1632).
  • Norwich: Cloaks of blue stammell cloth.
  • Pontefract: “Coates of blew cloth and fac’d with white taffity as formerly” (1657).
  • Shrewsbury: Coats of broadcloth of the colour of orange tawny (1580).
  • Stamford: Cocked hats and scarlet cloaks embroidered with gold lace (until 1835).
  • York: Scarlet gowns and gold-laced hats and a ‘pinked’ cap for the principal wait.


In imitation of the badges worn by retainers of great noblemen, some waits wore an embroidered badge on the sleeves of their gowns or cloaks. Usually, however, a silver collar, badge (‘escutcheon’ or ‘cognizance’) and chain were provided by the municipality on adequate sureties [At Beverley in 1577 each Wait stood bond for the others for re-delivery of the chain.] being furnished by each Wait, and happily quite a number of these badges survive. Those of Bristol (1683), Beverley (1550), Wakefield (1688), Stamford (1691), and Norwich (c. 1550) are illustrated in Professor Bridge’s lecture (see Bibliography). Other badges which survive are those of Leicester (1695), King’s Lynn (1640) {Actually 1512 (2) 1513 (1) and c1603 (2) King’s Lynn Hall Books. See the cognizances section of this website.} [see Pl. 2-4] and a very inferior badge of St. George’s, St. Pancras and St. Giles Waits dated 1801. Three or four beautiful silver Waits chains, believed to date from 1476, are comprised in Exeter City regalia. [See Merryweather essay on the York cognizances]


Originally the Waits played wind instruments as being best suited for use in the open air. Ox-horns and similar non-musical instruments [I’m not sure we have any concrete evidence of this, do we?] {Seems pure conjecture to me.} were replaced by the favourite instrument, the shawm or early oboe, termed wayte-pipe or simply ‘wayte’. Banners were hung from trumpets and shawms, and constant [occasional] reference is made to these. At Norwich banners “made of whyte and red damaske” were used for the waits’ shawms. The use of cornetts and sackbuts (trombones) is recorded in London in 1559-69. Among payments to or on behalf of the Waits at Cambridge in 1562, the Chamberlain records: “Payde for an instrument called a bumbarde . . . xls.” English references to the bombard (German, Pommer), the bass shawm, are very rare.

Thomas Morley, however, in dedicating his Consort Lessons to the Lord Mayor and Aldermen in 1599, praises the London Waits and writes his ‘Lessons’ mainly for strings: treble lute, pandora, cittern, bass viol, flute and treble flute. John Hooker (1525-1601), the town clerk historian of Exeter, left a valuable MS. Description of the Citie of Exeter, in which he gives the composition of the Waits’ Band in 1575 as “A Doble Curtall, a Lyserden, Two Tenor Hoyboyes, a Treble Hoyboyes, a Cornet, a sett or case of ffower Recorders”. This requires some explanation. The Double Curtall was the early bassoon and replaced the bombard. The Lyserden is thought to have been the tenor of the cornett family, to which the ‘Cornet’ belonged. The spelling ‘hoyboyes’ reveals the influence of the French origin of the word – hautbois – which occurs first in English in the mid-sixteenth century. Robert Laneham tells us that ‘hautboiz’ were among the instruments employed for the entertainment of Queen Elizabeth at Kenilworth in 1575. The four Recorders were very probably: a set of four different sizes in a case such as may still be seen in several Continental Museums. [Slightly old-fashioned view, but more or less sound.]

The records of the Court of Aldermen of London state:

1559. The Chamberlain to buy one of the City Waits a Sackbut.
1569. The Waits to be paid far a set of Recorders and six Cornets.
1597. The Chamberlain shall presently buy and provide the several instruments called a double saggbutt, a single saggbutt and a curtal far the musicians at the charge of the city.

In 1602 the Exeter Waits agreed to buy a set of ‘vyalls’ (vials), and at Chester in 1590 ‘howboies, recorders, cornets and violens’ were in use. Liverpool employed a bag-piper as wait in 1571. [Henry Halewood. See Merryweather article.]

During the eighteenth century horns, clarinets and bassoons were adopted. Often the waits appear to have been competent musicians, capable of doubling on more than one wind instrument or on a stringed instrument as well.


The English Waits had their counterpart in the Stadtpfeifereien of Germany, and, just as the German guilds furnished many excellent musicians — J. S. Bach was the Son of a Stadtpfeifer [and, it seems, quite strongly associated with stadtpfeifer himself – watch developments at the Bach Family page in the history section of this site] — so among English Waits of repute we note: John Ravenscroft (died c. 1745), a Wait of Tower Hamlets who wrote many hornpipe tunes [We are working on him. See the music section of www.waits.org.uk]; John Banister, born in 1630, son and pupil of one of the Waits of St. Giles, London; Thomas Farmer, Mus. Bac. (Cantab.) in 1684, one of the Waits of London; Ferdinando Gibbons, a Lincoln Wait, and his famous brother Orlando are believed to have been sans of William Gibbons (1540-1595) who in 1567 was admitted one of the waits of Cambridge with the annual fee of 40s.


The Waits in mast towns were allowed a nominal wage and were entitled to accept gratuities from private individuals far playing at weddings and other functions. At Canterbury in 1498 the Waits received £1 each per annum. At Exeter in 1602 the four waits received £10 yearly wages and their accustomed livery. A curious privilege allowed one of the Waits, with consent of his fellows, to keep at his sale cast two boys trained in music to join with the Waits. The normal procedure was far each Wait to be entitled to have an apprentice. As at Leicester in 1581, the Waits were usually obliged to play every night and morning, both winter and summer, and not to go outside the town to play except at fairs and weddings and then only by licence of the Mayor. It was further frequently resolved by the Council that no strangers – Waits, minstrels or other musicians whatsoever – be allowed to play within the town.

Waits received wages of such trifling amount that they must have had other employment. In Edinburgh in 1679, the wage was £5 per annum, and in 1696, Malcolm McGibbone, the ‘double curtle’ (bassoon) player of “the good town’s waits”, was authorised by the Town Council “to keep a schooll witl1in the town to teach that sort of musick and be allowed to play to gentlemen at seasonable tymes”. [There is a need for a comprehensive study of waits’ wages and means of earning a decent living.]


We have very little information as to the music played by the Waits. Dunbar, the Scots poet, complained that the Edinburgh Waits could play only two tunes, “Into June”, and “The Day Daws”, now called “Scots whahae”. An old Northumbrian saying concerned the piper of Hexham who had only three tunes: “The first was lang unkenned, the second naebody kenned, and the third he didna ken hissel”.

Ned Ward in his London Spy derides the London Waits, calling them “tooters of the town [Derides? He called them “… the topping tooters of the town”, which sounds to me like approval.] {Actually, it was Ned’s guide in the story who called them topping, and I suspect it was meant to be ironic. Ned himself is very deriding about them, but in their defence, they are encumbered with several layers of garments and blankets, have frozen fingers, and doubtless (oops) bellies filled with warming alcohol.}; and have gowns, silver chains, and salaries for playing Lilla Bullera to my Lord Mayor’s horse through the City”.

As has been shown, however, the Waits as a class were very far from incompetent. Morley in 1599 termed the London Waits excellent and expert musicians.


If little is known about the music of the Waits, quite a number of Wait Tunes have survived:

  • Bristol Waits: In Apollo’s Banquet, 1669.
  • Chester Waits: In Walsh’s Compleat Country Dancing Master.
  • Colchester Waits: In Apollo’s Banquet, 1669.
  • London Waits: Called The Waits, by Jeremiah Savile, in The Dancing Master, 1665, and Apollo’s Banquet, 1669.
  • LONDON WAITS: Past three a’c!ock, and a cold, frosty morning; Past three a’c!ock, good morrow, masters all     [The Dancing Master 1665]     [Apollo’s Banquet 1669]
  • London Waits (Tower Hamlets): A Hornpipe, by John Ravenscroft, one of the Waits.
  • Oxford Waits: A Gavotte (quoted by Bridge).
  • Stamford Waits: In a British Museum MS., c. 1690.
  • Warrington Waits: In J. Walsh’s Dancing Master, 1718 (quoted by Bridge).
  • Worksop Waits: In Musical MSS. No. 610, British Museum, c. 1600 (quoted by Bridge).
  • York Waits: A Hornpipe, printed in a broadside (quoted by Bridge).

[Both Langwill and Bridge presume that tunes with the word wait(s) in the title were waits’ signatures. This is not necessarily the case and we should not jump to the same conclusion. It might be true of some, but all of them? All lions have a tail, but not all animals with tails are lions. We need a detailed study of all waits-associated tunes to discover which might have been played by waits, which were songs about waits, which were written by waits and which just have the word in the title.

It would also be interesting to clarify the development of the Christmas carol Past Three O’clock from the Playford tune The Waits (1665) or London Waits (1690). Similar waits’ night watch cries occur in other sources, so it must be real. The dance tune includes a passage of the same shape as the words. So, was Wm. Chappell, who applied the words to the tune in 1861 familiar with the cry and thus able to quote it from first hand experience? The one we know today is a conflation of this and its composer Woodward’s own version (1924).]


The Municipal Reform Act of 1835 led to the disbanding of the Waits in nearly every case, but, as at Exeter and elsewhere, financial stringency arising from the Napoleonic Wars had led to the Waits’ dismissal in 1815. The custom of playing in the streets during Advent and Christmastide survived the abolition of the Waits. At York, for example, Daniel Hardman, one of two pensioned Waits, continued his profession in a band he had founded in 1833. [The Hardman story is often told incorrectly because of missing data. Once I’d “killed him off” properly, it changed and became clearer. See York Music and its Update. Bridge has the abolition of the London waits in 1914, the beginning of the Great War. True? Why did they stay on? If they did, were they truly municipal waits in the pre-1835 sense?] {see footnote in Alan Radford’s collection of data on the City of London Waits in the history section of this site.}


The statute of 1644 banning organs in churches led to the enlistment of the services of small groups of amateur musicians, and thus was kept alive the practice of music in rural England throughout two centuries, until the introduction of the harmonium. Thomas Hardy has dealt with the nineteenth-century period of such church music in Under the Greenwood Tree, and Canon Galpin has recorded in a delightful article in The Antiquary (1906) his researches in the Winterborne Valley in Dorset where the church band of Winterborne Abbas was not superseded until about 1896. The small bands consisted of violin, flute, or oboe, clarinet, bassoon and ‘cello or double bass, sometimes with a serpent, but there was no fixed number of instruments, and the players read {and elaborated on} the voice parts. The ‘band’ sat in the West Gallery or at the West End of the nave, and was under the direction of the Parish Clerk. Although there are many amusing anecdotes about these enthusiasts, the only full account of them, and that for one county, is Canon MacDermott’s Sussex Church Music in the Past. The same author has also written a general account in The Old Church Gallery Minstrels (S.P.C.K., London, 1948). From their custom of playing during Advent and at Christmas these little groups became known as Waits, and so even to-day we have music – much of it sadly debased – from musicians in the streets. Only those of the older generation understand the designation Waits, which has survived seven centuries. {For more, and more accurate information on West Gallery music, visit the West Gallery Music Association website www.wgma.org.uk}

References have been found to a Wait or Waits in the following towns. In most cases, the writer has stated the date of the earliest reference traced by him. This list is not claimed as being exhaustive, and doubtless could be enlarged as a result of further search, especially in the Household Accounts of royalty, nobility and gentry-fascinating documents from the publication of which we derive so much of our knowledge of the manners and customs of the past.

The writer will be glad to supply references to sources in any particular case, and to receive information about any possible additions to the list.

  • Aberdeen c. 1500
  • Alnwick 1648
  • Bath 1569
  • Beverley, Yorks. 1423
  • Berwick-on-Tweed
  • Bristol 1585
  • Bury St. Edmunds 1539
  • Cambridge 1511
  • Canterbury 1492
  • Carlisle 1611
  • Chester 1484
  • Cockermouth c. 1550
  • Colchester 1469
  • Coventry 1423
  • Darlington 1457
  • Dartford 1494
  • Daventry 1671
  • Doncaster 1457
  • Dublin 1561
  • Durham 1617
  • Dover 1492
  • Edinburgh 1607
  • Elland 1591
  • Exeter 1362
  • Grantham 1608
  • Haddington c. 1780
  • Halifax 1591
  • Hereford 1601
  • Hexham 1665
  • Irvine 1618
  • Jedburgh 1764
  • Kingston-on-Hull 1429
  • King’s Lynn 1536 {The earliest reference has now been traced to 1362. See King’s Lynn History section of this site.}
  • Kirkcudbright 1601
  • Lanark 1567
  • Leeds 1550
  • Leicester 1524
  • Lincoln 1541
  • LinIithgow 1664
  • Liverpool 1571
  • London 1481
    Southwark 1581
    St. Giles
    Tower Hamlets
  • Maidenhead c. 1450
  • Maidstone 1492
  • Manchester 1562
  • Morpeth 18th cent.
  • Newark 1590
  • Newcastle-on-Tyne 1549
  • Newmarket 1622
  • North Shields c. 1788
  • Northampton 1493
  • Norwich 1408
  • Nottingham 1536
  • Oxford
  • Penrith 1612
  • Plymouth 17th cent.
  • Pontefract 1586
  • Retford 1622
  • Ripon 1612
  • Rochester 1640
  • Salisbury 1409
  • Sandwich 1492
  • Scarborough 18th cent.
  • Shrewsbury 1437
  • Southampton 1433
  • Stamford 1674
  • Stockton 18th cent.
  • Sunderland 18th cent.
  • Thirsk c. 1550
  • Wakefield 1612
  • Warrington
  • Whitehaven
  • Workington 1612
  • Yarmouth 1657
  • York 1369
  • [See the fuller list on this site]


Over two hundred books and numerous short articles have been consulted in the preparation of this survey, and only some of the more informative sources are given here.

Due acknowledgment is made to the late Professor J. C. Bridge’s Town Waits and their Tunes (Proceedings of the Musical Association, 1927-28), and to the late Mr A. F. Hill’s The Waits (Handbook of the Worshipful Company of Musicians, 1915), the two main short studies which have as yet appeared.



  • Accounts of the Chamberlains of the City of Bath, 1568-1602 (Somerset Record Society, 1923). From 1602 in MS. only.


  • Borough Records, 1575-1821 (Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series, vol. 84, 1932).


  • Annals of Bristol in the 17th century, by John Latimer (1900). Transactions of Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 189091, vol. XV.


  • Annals of Cambridge, by Charles H. Cooper, 2 vols. (1840-42).


  • Canterbury in the Olden Time, by John Brent (1860).
  • Historical MSS. Commission, vol. XXXVII (1883).


  • Dissertation on the Pageants . . . at Coventry, by T. Sharp (1825).


  • Historical Notices of Doncaster, by C. W. Hatfield, 2 vols. (1868).


  • Journal of Proceedings of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, vol. XXXVI (September, 1906).
  • Dublin City Music, 1560-1780, by W. H. Grattan Flood.


  • Town Council Register. Musical Memoirs of Scotland, by Sir John Dalyell (1849).
  • “The Waits of Edinburgh”, by L. G. Langwill, in The Scotsman, 21st December, 1934.


  • Devon and Cornwall Record Society, Part III (1919).
  • Description of Exeter, by John Hooker (1525-1601).
  • History of the Exeter Guildhall, by H. Lloyd Parry (1936).
  • “The Waits of Exeter”, by L. G. Langwill, in Exeter Express and Echo, 10th December, 1938.

King’s Lynn:

  • Historical MSS. Commission, Report No. XI (1887).


  • Extracts from the Records of the Royal Burgh of Lanark, 11501722 (Glasgow, 1893).
  • “The Piper, Drummer and Bellman of Lanark in Olden Times”, by L. G. Langwill, in Hamilton Advertiser, 21st January, 1939.


  • Notices illustrative of the Drama in Leicester, by William Kelly (London, 1865).
  • “Waits Badges”, in The Reliquary (1871-72), p. 145.


  • Municipal Archives of Liverpool, by Sir James A. Picton (Liverpool, 1883-86).


  • Lord Mayor’s Pageants, by F. W. Fairholt (1843-44).
  • “The Waits”, by F. A. Hadland, in Musical News, July, August and September, 1915.


  • “The Waits of Newcastle-on-Tyne”, by Richard Welford (Transactions of Northumbrian Small Pipes Society, 1896,97).


  • “The Waits of Norwich” (Proceedings of the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society, vol. XXV, pp. 1-70).
  • Norwich Corporation Pageantry, by C. Muskett (1850).


  • Book of Entries of Pontefract Corporation, 1653-1726, edited by Richard Holmes (Pontefract, 1882).


  • History of Shrewsbury, by Owen and Blakeway, London (1825).


  • The Reliquary (1871-72), vol. XII.


  • Christmas Waits of Bygone York, by T. P. Cooper (1909).
  • Surtees Society: Freemen of York, vol. I (1896); vol. II (1900).
  • Extracts from York Records, by R. Davies (1843).
  • Camden Society: Life of Marmaduke Rawdon of York, by R. Davies (1863).
  • Surtees Society: Fabric Rolls of York Minster (1859).
  • Yorkshire in Olden Times, by Wm. Andrews (1890).


Chetham Society, vols. XXV, XLI, XLIII and XLVI. The House and Farm Accounts of the Shuttleworths of Gawthorpe Hall, Lancs. (1582-1621), referring to Waits of Pontefract, Elland, York, Halifax, Chester, Carlisle, Wakefield, Durham, Leeds and Manchester.

Musical News, July, August and September, 1915: “The Waits”, by F. A. Hadland.

Essex Archaeological Society Transactions, vol. XII. New Series (1913): “Household Expenses of Sir Thomas Barrington, 1622-44”, by Canon Galpin.

Notes & Queries.

Chambers’s Book of Days.