Chester Waits

As quoted in Christopher Marsh’s book, “Music and Society in Early Modern England”
(Cambridge University Press, 2013. ISBN 1107610249, 9781107610248.)


1588: The city treasure paid for the waits’ livery “for xviii yeards of Collored broade Cloth att vii s iiii d the yearde Viz for three of the eldest waytte men x yeardes for iii gownes, iii yeardes for towe Coate Clothes for towe of the Yonger Wayttmen.”

1590: The waits played shawms, recorders, cornetts and violins.

1650: Waits each paid 10s per annum

1660s: The waits were “playing morneing and evening in the streets of the Citty as was anciently used by the waytes.”

Items on the Waits of Chester

from “Paying the Piper: Music in pre-1642 Cheshire” by Elizabeth Baldwin unless otherwise stated


Bridge places the earliest Chester waits at 1484-5. Town Waits and their Tunes, Bridge J Royal Music Assn.1927; 54: 63-92


Chester’s second watch was linked to the Midsummer fair, which until 1506 was under the jurisdiction of the abbot of St. Werburgh’s. It developed into a great carnivalesque parade, more popular and enduring than the Corpus Christi and Whitsun plays. Each guild was required to provide an armed escort, and its members attended the mayor in their gowns on St. John’s Eve, where they were summoned by the crier to process in an established sequence from the Northgate round the other town gates, ending at the common hall. Repeated orders by the guilds reflected a reluctance of members to attend and to dress appropriately. In the later 16th century the show was primarily a carnivalesque celebration of the town and its hierarchy, Chester’s equivalent of London’s lord mayor’s show, involving groups of armed men escorting the sheriffs, leavelookers, and mayor, together with the city’s drummer and ensign, the waits, morris dancers, and men to keep the companies in their due order.
From: ‘Leisure and culture: Plays, sports and customs before 1700’, A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 part 2: The City of Chester: Culture, Buildings, Institutions (2005), pp. 247-255.
URL:   Date accessed: 12 May 2011.

During the mayoralty of Henry Gee (1539-40), he wrote down for the first time the duties of the Chester Waits “because that no certen of ordre Owres not tymes hath heretofore beyn especially lemytted vnto theym”. This document stated that the waits were “for the worship and pleasure of the Citie” and specified that they should henceforth observe “suche circuite placys and Owres as hath beyn accustomed in tymes past”. It requires them to play “euery sonday, monday tuysday thursday and saturday” in the evening, and “euery monday thursday & saturday in the morning”, weather and sickness permitting.

The State Papers of Henry VIII include this entry: 1540-1, “To the Waytes or Mynstrelles At Chester ij s.”

The Chester waits travelled widely, as in 1544 they were paid viijd for playing at Ludlow. They also played for the guilds such as the Smiths in 1544, in 1577: “to the wayte men on the election day xijd to them when Tho Kemp made his diner xijd.” and “Tho locker dinner to weytes xijd.”, and the Shoemakers in 1581: “Item giuen to the waitmen upon Martins evine xvjd.”

In 1584 the Chester waits were in Coventry and were paid 5s.

On 5 January 1595-96 the Chester waits were paid xijd by Sir Richard Shuttleworth for playing at Gawthorpe Hall.

In 1609 Thomas Williams was jailed for failing to fulfil his duties as a wait. On release, he resumed his duties, but subsequently defaulted and threatened to burn his gown.

The city waits performed the music at official and private events and gave public recitals; some also taught music and dancing. Their rivals locally were the minstrels licensed by the Dutton family, and there was a fracas between the two in 1610. (From: ‘Early modern Chester 1550-1762: Economy and society, 1550-1642’, A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 (i): The City of Chester: General History and Topography (2003), pp. 102-09.) .

In 1613 when the waits abandoned the city, records show that, in addition to their weekly duties above, they normally also played for the Shrovetide festivities (“item geven the weattemen the same day iijd”), the Midsummer Show for accompanying the sherrifs in the procession (“citty wayts xijd”) and the St George’s Day race (“Item Paid to the waytmen playinge vpon Sct Georges day 00-01-00”).

When the waits left the city in 1613, another musician named George Cally petitioned to be appointed wait: “George Callie Musitian exhibiteth his Peticon Deseringe the he and his fellow Musitians may be admitted waytes of this Cittie in steede of the Waytes now absent fyndinge Instrumentes of his owne Charg to performe the service which is deferred to be graunted vntill it may be vnderstoode what are become of the ould waytes.”. The city had little option but to accept the offer.

In 1620 they also entertained visiting dignitaries, as the Lord Deputy in 1632 “paid to the wayetmen by mr maiors appointment for playing when the lord deputy Came in and the day after at the bankett ijs vjd”.

Also in 1620 is evidence of hire by private citizens as, after drinking with John Blymson at premises in Northgate Street, when the bell of St. Peter’s church rang for prayer, the waits left “to plaie att a gentleman’s chamber”.

In 1591, 1666 and 1668 they supported the cathedral choristers. World Military Bands website.


In 1591 the familial nature of waits is illustrated by a reference made to the sons of the waits who will inherit their instruments “when they will have served out their yeres as Apprentices to the said exercise”.


The livery of the waits according to the Treasurer’s Account Rolls (1588-89): “Item to mr. ffletcher draper the xjth of december for xviij yeardes of sadd nerve Collored broade Cloth att vijs iiijd the yeard Viz for three of the eldest waytte men x yeardes for iij gownes iij yerdes for towe Coate Clothes for towe of the Yonger Wayttmen.” so their livery was of a dark, striped cloth.

The younger ones mentioned were probably apprentices as an account of 1590-91 refers to “the weatemen & their Boyes”

In 1616-17 the sum of £1 16s was budgeted for fourteen and a half yards of cloth “to make the waytemen gownes and the boyes Cloakes.”

However, in 1625-26, gowns were provided for the four waitmen but no provision was made for any boys.


Regarding the instuments they played, in 1591 mention is made of “the howboies the Recorders the Cornetes and the violens” belonging to the wait Thomas Williams. In 1604, the inventory of the wait William Maddock includes a sackbut valued at 13s 4d, a double curtal at 10s, two cornetts valued at 10s and a tenor viol valued at 6s 8d. In 1613 the waits abandoned the city, taking with them “one double Curtayle wantinge a staple of brasse for a reede, and one tenor Cornett being the Citties instruments.”


William Mercer, waitman, 1577-1589
Thomas Williams, waitman, 1577-1591
Christopher Burton, waitman, 1580-1599
William Maddock, waitman, 1588-1604
William Maddock jr., waitman, 1588-89
William Williams, apprentice/waitman, 1590-1591
Henry Burton, apprentice/wait 1596-1597
Edward Pemberton, waitman, 1607-1609
Thomas Willard, waitman, 1609
Thomas Williams Jr.?, waitman, 1609-1625
George Calley, wait 1613-1615
John Bradley, apprentice, 1621
Banyster the waitman, 1626
George Watt, wait, 1666-72
Joseph Dunstan, wait, 1702
Thomas Lewis sen. ., wait, 1706-7
William Powell., wait, 1706-7
Mathew Trueman., wait, 1706-7
Thomas Lewis, jun., wait, 1706-7
James Bettily, wait, 1752


Chester Waits
This tune appears in Walsh’s Compleat Country Dancing Master (iii. 36.) published in 1726.

Later records extracted from on-line archives, from the Chester Assembly Books

Petition of George Calley, one of the City Waits, who asks the Mayor to discourage and suppress all the foreigners (non-freemen) who instruct in the faculty of dancing in the City – 1615-16

18th Aug 1624, Petition by the Ringers at St. Peter’s, asking for “your worship’s gratuitie”. Endorsed, an account of money paid to the Ringers of St. Peter’s and St. John’s, the waits of Chester and others.

14th December 1666, George Watt, musician, petitioned on behalf of his Company, the City’s Waits, that the City’s livery should be bestowed upon them. It was ordered that the Treasurers should give cloth for livery gowns to George Watt and to two others of the ancient waits and that they should wear these in the City and not elsewhere.

17th Dec., 1672, George Watt, musician, petitioned on behalf of himself and of the City’s waits that they might have the City’s livery and a yearly salary. It was ordered that there should be four City waits, that they should have liveries every three years and 10s. apiece every Christmas so long as they did not leave the City, and so long as they played in the streets morning and evening as had been the custom.

11th July, 1673, The Treasurers were ordered to pay Peter Edwards for silver badges which he had provided for the City’s Waits.

29th May, 1702, Petition of Joseph Dunstan, stating that he was born and bred in the City and serves as one of the City Waits or Musicians, desiring to be admitted to the freedom. Note of voting and order.

25 February 1706/7, Petition from Thomas Lewis, sen., William Powell, Mathew Trueman and Thomas Lewis, jun., city waits, for new cloaks, since it is customary for these to be provided every three years, and for an additional payment of 10s. for playing on special occasions.

25th Feb., 1706/7, Thomas Lewis, senior, William Powell, Thomas Lewis, junior, and Matthew Trueman, the City’s Waits, stated in a petition that by the usage of the City the Waits should have new cloaks at the City’s charge every three years, and that the Treasurers paid them 10s. for their playing on any extraordinary rejoicing day, besides their common salary. They had had their present cloaks above three years, and had not been paid anything for the last two rejoicing days. Consideration of this petition was respited until the next Assembly.

30th May, 1707, The City’s Waits were to have new cloaks once in every five years.

7th Aug., 1707, Thomas Lewis, junior, one of the City’s Waits, was to be admitted to the freedom gratis.

16th Sept., 1707, Mathew Trueman, one of the City’s Waits, was to be admitted gratis.

10th Jan., 1711/12, That the Waits of the City ought to attend the Mayor at such public times and occasions as they had usually attended, without any other allowance than their ancient salary of 40s. a year and cloaks once in every five years.

1752, It was ordered that at all future venison feasts there should be no money collected from the guests for the Mayor’s servants and attendants but instead the Treasurers should pay forty shillings to the cooks, and ten shillings amongst the waits more than the ten shillings that used to be paid to them.

1752, Consideration of the petition of James Bettily, musician, one of the City waits, for his freedom was respited till the next Assembly.

1765-66, The fees usually paid to the City waits and cooks at the Venison Feast were to be continued whether or not the feast was kept up by the succeeding Mayors.

1771-73, It was ordered that the City Waits be regulated by the Mayor and an allowance made out of the Treasury as he should think fit, not exceeding five shillings a day to each man, exclusive of the usual salary.

1774-75, The City Waits were to be regulated by the above committee and a salary for their attendance on the corporation was to be allowed out of the Treasury.

Compiled by Alan Radford

Two further records added to this page 10 February 2016:

CHESTER ZA/B/4/(305)
The City Waits were to be regulated by the above committee and a salary for their attendance on the corporation was to be allowed out of the Treasury.
Date: 1774-75
Held by: Cheshire Archives and Local Studies

CHESTER ZA/B/4/(288)
It was ordered that the City Waits be regulated by the Mayor and an allowance made out of the Treasury as he should think fit, not exceeding five shillings a day to each man, exclusive of the usual salary.
Date: 1771-73
Held by: Cheshire Archives and Local Studies