The Doncaster Waites, A brief History

The following account is an edited version of my research into the Doncaster Waites. I have included the main entries but have filtered out a lot of the smaller records like births and deaths, annual payments etc. to save space. If any body would like a copy of the unedited version then please contact [email protected].
(Most of the extracts have come from the Doncaster Archives where documents perused so far include: – The Corporation Courtiers (minute books), Court records, Chancellors accounts, Mayors poor account and Parish Registers. There are still lots to go through and of course the later the dates the more cross references there are. Needless to say if anybody comes across any references to the Doncaster Waites I would be most interested to know.


1457 Great Court Of Richard, Duke Of York, held at Doncaster 4th Oct. 36 Henry VI
  Allan Pyper and William Pyper are elected Pipers or Waytes.
  This is the earliest reference to the Doncaster Waites, to date!
  Corroborated in Instruments and their Music in the Middle Ages by T.J.McGee, “Allan Pyper and William Pyper were elected ‘Pipers or Wayts’ in 1457”

1578-9 Pd to the waytes for their gowns, 26s. 8d.
From: Notes and Queries (1907), W.C.B. quoting from Doncaster Corporation account book.
  The first reference to their clothing

1581 It. pd. to the waites of the town the 8th of December xls (40s)

1585 The Xth day of December 1585
  The day above said it was agreed by Mr Maior his bretheren and the Counsell of the town concerning the common waites that they shal be ffour in company and to partners in all respects in Waites and duties and to be allowed xiiis iiiid for a coyt to the forth man and that the said waites shall begin their watyes immediately after the Quene’s Majesties watyes doth leave and so continue until the Fastens Even (20th Feb).
  Erased (and also it is agreed that the saud waites shall play about the town every night between eight and nine of the clock as they do in other places)
  And further it was agreed that the said waites shall not receive at any wedding for their wage above two shillings and eight pence and to divide the same indifferantly amongst them.
  By looking at the above entry it can be interpreted that in 1578 there were only two Waites. I have no idea who the “Quene’s Majesties watyes” were. The inference is that they were official waytes appointed by the crown as opposed to the corporation?

1591 2nd Jan, To the waits of Doncaster, being four of them, 3s (Belvoir Castle)

1592 14th July. Buried, Michael Hardye, one of the waits

1594 20th Aug. Robert Gryce………….”one of the waites of this town be displaced from the said office,”…….for suing to the Queens bench instead of to the Mayor’s bench to bind to the peace William Clarke and William Battye his servant.
  20th december, …and to the waytes xls

1608 3rd Dec. Itm. paid the waytes for their wages, £4.0.0

1611 16th June, Item. given this day to four men, the waits of Doncaster who came to the gates and played ther upon instruments and it was my Lords commandment. 5s (Clifford papers. Skipton or Londesbora?)

1612 9th May, To the Waits of Doncaster 3s (Naworth Castle, Howard 28)

1612-1613 From REED
  CUMBERLAND & WESTMORLAND: From the Accounts of Howard of Naworth, 1612-1613
  “To ye wates of doncaster iij s”

1614 Paid to 3 of the waites for their wages £3.0.0.

1615 November. Paid to fower of the wates for theire yeares wages £3.15.0

1615-1616 From REED
  From Trinity College Steward’s Book 2, 1615-1616
  “to doncaster waites by the Vicemasters appointment ij s”

1616 November. Paid to the waites for theire yeares wages due the last of November £4.0s.0d

1617 Item it is ordered and agreed that there shal be in this towne fower common waytes and all of them to be partners in all waytes and duties. And that they shall from henceforth have yearly allowed them of the corporation 4L towards bying them livery coates of stamell and that they shall yearlie provide and wear their coates orderly every Sabath and festival day. And that they, nay any of them shall goe oute of the towne within Christmas or any other tyme above three days without lycence first obteyned of the maior and that they and evey of them shall beginne their waties the Mundaye after Michaelmas day every year and continue the same until Shrove tuesdaye following apon payne to forfett for any the offences for everytime 10s And that they shall not directly or indirectly guide or conduct strangers from House to House to play at mens Houses. Provided if they misdemean themselves in respect towards the maior, alderman and burgesses that then they shall loose their whole wages.

1626 17th Oct, Given to the Musick by Mr Maiors appointment 5s 0d
  30th November. Pd to the waytes for their yeares wages in toto £4.0s.od.

1629 30th November. pd to the Wheats theare wadges £4.0s.0d.

1632-33 26th October. pd. to the wayts for their years wages £4l
  22nd December. Paid to the waytes for playing to the Scollers, 5s.
From: Notes and Queries (1907), W.C.B. quoting from Doncaster Corporation account book.

1636 5th December. Pd to Will Leacock and his fellows for their years wages £4.0.0

1639 17th May, in consideration the corporation is now much indebted and so not able to continue so large contributions………..the Waites pr ann xxs a peece. the beadles xls ann a peece and to give over begging or else be discharged.

1642 24th Nov. pd the waites their wages £4

1653 Sept.     Trumpeter for his labour at the proclaiming his Highness the Lord Protector 0 5 0
  To the town Waits 0 5 0
  To the Ringers 0 6 8
  (abstacts from Misc Accounts 1651-59)

1667 2nd February, pd ye Waytes their salary by order     02.00.00

1670 22nd December, item to ye whaites their salary by order     03.00.00
  From now on the Waites are generally paid £3 or £4 a year apparently depending on their numbers, with one off payments of 5s for individual gigs! By the late 17th century their number appears to have settled at 3. They also began to receive a more elaborate wardrobe.

1708 Jan,     the Towns waites their sallary     03.00.00
  4th Nov, Order that the chamberlin do buy at the corporations charge three cloaks of scarlet coloured cloth for the waits or musick of the corporation: but that at the decease or departure of any of the said waits out of this town the cloaks shall be left to the use of the corporation.

1712 25th June, 3 Hatts for ye Waits     01.01.01
  Silver lace and setting on     00.13.10
  The accounts are now more detailed and a regular season of events can be charted including bonfire night and oak apple day
  22nd Oct, Musick at the Kings Coronation     00.05.00
  Order of procession for the proclamtion of the King
First came the constables, followed by the town waites (the latter in striking costumes, with laced hats) playing on their instruments, then followed………………………………..
  5th Nov, Musick     00.05.00

1725 28th May, pd the Musick 28 & 29 may by Mayors order     00.10.00
  18th July, Ordered that the Town Waits have new scarlet clothes provided for them against the next election of a Mayor.

1727 27th May, pd Musick Kings birthday     00.05.00
  19th June. Ordered. (proclamation of King George II)
  Ordered that the procession when the King is Proclaimed be in the manner following. first the constables 2 by 2, then the Town Waites in their cloakes and laced hats, then the capital burgesses 3 by 3 then 2 banners…………….. then the Gentleman; all to be on horseback but the constables.
  2nd Oct. Ordered. (Coronation of KG II)
  …….meet at 3 o clock at the Town Hall and go from there to the corporation house with the constables and town Waits before them.
  1st Nov, Musick on ye Kings birthday by Mr Mayors order     00.10.00

1749 11th April, Ordered that Mr Newbold be employed to get Mr Bonnington a new or second hand bass viol and that 20s be deducted out of his salary every year till the money be paid.
  15th April, the waits played for the official opening of the mansion house (?) DMH
  This is the first reference to instruments that I have come across so far.
  At this time Doncaster had become a very fashionable venue for the aristocracy, horseracing being the main attraction. Away from the Town moor racetrack the town provided balls, banquets and gambling to entertain the visitors. The Mansion house was never intended as a house, its prime function being that of entertainment. It contains a large ballroom, kitchens and various smaller reception rooms. It was further extended in 1806. A prominent feature in each of the large rooms is the musician’s gallery. No doubt occupied by the Waites on many occasions. see the Waits’ Galleries page.

1759 3rd Nov, the Music-3 men 2 days & nights playing at Mi Mayors Feast     3 3 0
  As can be seen from the above entry Mr Mayors feasts were not small events, vast quantities of food and drink were consumed.

1760 18th April, Ordered that the Fidlers for the future shall be allowed yearly by the corporation five pounds each.
  19th Aug, Ordered that David Richards be discharged as one of the town waits or fiddlers and be paid by the corporation Steward after the rate of 2s 6d by the week. by Quarterly payment.
  As can be seen from the above the Waites of this period seem to have been primarily fiddle players.

1761 5th Nov, Towns Music on Papists Conspiracy     0 5 0
  An interesting slant on bonfire night and our modern celebration!

1763 13th March, Ordered that Mr Miller the organist if he will undertake to instuct the corporation band of music to play upon the Hautboy and bassoon the corporation will be at the expense of the instruments.
  The Corporation obviously decides to make the Waites a bit more fashionable in both appearance and sound!
  Ordered, That the Corporation Band of musick be immediatly cloathed in the proper and usual livery and from henceforth to be cloathed every three years.
  20th June a bill from the Corporation accounts.
    London 1763
  Mr Edward Miller Bot of Caleb Gedney
  June 20th £ s d
  A bassoon & Crook 5 5 0
  A Reed case for Ditto 0 3 6
  Six Reeds For Ditto 0 9 0
  Two plain Hoboys 2 12 0
  Two Reed Cases for ditto 0 6 0
  Twelve Reeds for ditto 0 12 0
  A Book of Instructions, HObiy 0 1 6
  A Scale for the Bassoon 0 1 6
  9 10 6
  6th July, paid to Edward Miller £9 10 6
  paid to Mr Henry Heaton, carrier of Fisher Gate for the carriage of the instruments from London £0 1 0

Records from now on are fairly regular recording annual salaries, purchase of hats and cloth and appointment of Waites generally on the decease of a current incumbent.

Corporation band of musick be added to the number and receive the same yearly allowance as the corporation pays or allows to the rest and be paid and new cloathed when the rest are.

1781 25th Jan, Ordered that the waits salary of £15 a year shall be augmented to £20 a year to commence from Christmas last and in consideration thereof the alderman are to be extricated from the usual quarterly donations made to them.
  Evidence of another source of income

1811 13th January, Buried, Thomas Eyre, Waite to Corporation.
  22nd February, Ordered that Mr Wragg be and he is approved as a proper person to be appointed one of the Waites and that the Corporation will not allow their going about playing in the streets of the said Borough in the nights, and that a compensation shall be made adequate to what has been by them collected for playing in the said streets. And that the Salaries of the Waites shall be augmented to twenty five a piece per annum, to commence from the first day of January last and to be paid by four quarterly payment.
  The above entries arose possibly from “the Angel incident”. According to a Victorian historian, Mr. Eyre died in “the act of grasping a bottle in the Angel Inn”. His and his colleague’s antics on that night so “appalled” the corporation that the above order was made. Mr. Wragg, obviously a pillar of the church, may have been appointed to bring them back to the straight and narrow!

1817 December, That Mr Wragg shall be engaged to teach the singers and to attend the singing himself at an annual salary of 20 guineas……….. that two men singers be engaged to assist in the singing at a salary of 3 g’s each and also that a number of children be selected to assist in the singing at a salary of 1g each, number not to exceed 20
(From the records of the Doncaster Vestry meetings)
  (Mr Wragg was a music dealer and teacher with a shop in frenchgate.)

1829 1st Oct, b. John Savage,aged 59

1831 4th March, b. Benjamin Clough aged 27
  17th Nov, Mr Tyas intimated that he should move that the present Waits be discontinued after 6 months notice. Mr William Sheardown seconded by Mr Mandell moved that the vacancies which have occurred by the death of two of the three Waits be supplied. Opposed by Mr Joseph Smith. When put to the vote lost by 2 for 16.

1832 17th Feb, Unaminously resolved at a Court of Common Council “that the present Wait be dis continued and that £20 be given him in addition to the salary due the next quarter day.
  Mr James Duncan was summoned to the Town Hall, offered compensation for the loss of his office and accepted on the 4th April 1832 a gratuity of £20. He was the last of the Waits.
  His official dress caught the attention of Alexander Ray the commedian, by whom it was considered so great a curiosity that he induced Mr Duncan to make him a present of it.
  I can find no information on Alexander Ray, rumour has it that he used the Waites livery in his stage act? I like to think that in a props cupboard somewhere there may yet be an original Waite’s outfit!

1836 Waits abolished by the Municiple Corporations reform Act.

Excerpt from “A Musical Pilgrimage in Yorkshire” by J. Sutcliffe Smith (1928).

DONCASTER (pp. 175-177)

The Waits of Doncaster once formed an important part of the city life and pageantry; and with reference to the fact that they have long since disappeared, we read ‘But the age has grown more literal and mechanical’.

These Waits were the town-musicians, supported, protected, and clothed, by the Corporation; they were wanted on many occasions, sacred and secular, and were regularly honoured with their civic appellations, thus:

‘Baptized, June 2, 1622, Robert, son of John Lacie, musician, deceased.’

‘Buried, 1587, November 15, Richard Hood, musission.’

‘Buried 1658, September 7, James Pickman, muzitioner.’

‘Buried 1760, February 22, Mary, Wife of John Dixon, musician.’

Such records as the following are also interesting:

‘July 18, 1725. Ordered that the Town Waits have new scarlet clothes provided for them against the next election of a Mayor.’

‘April 18, 1760. Ordered, that the fiddlers for the future be allowed yearly by the Corporation, £5, each.’

‘May 13, 1763. Ordered, that if Mr. Miller the organist will undertake to instruct the band of music to play on the hautboy and bassoon, that the Corporation be at the expense of these instruments.’

This implied capabilities in Dr. Miller which but few organists possess in these days; but we read that Dr. Miller undertook these duties, was successful, and in recognition of his services, received the Freedom of the Borough.

On Guy Fawkes Day the Waits had a curious custom: they ascended the tower of the church and sounded the National Anthem from this elevatede position; for which they received the sum of one shilling and six pence.

The leader of the Waits about 1746-72 was William Hatfield; and no man knew better how to handle the violin than he. We further read of him,’His avocation suited his constitution; his instrument and his companions in the dreary months, heavy snow-storms and cheerless winds, were his delight; he was honoured and respected. His son Joseph also joined the Waits. Clever and skilful, attentive and obliging, the Hatfields earned the good opinion of patrons and friends.’

These Town Musicians appear to have reached the zenith of their popularity in Dr. Miller’s day, in the year 1803. The Mayor at that time was Ald. James Jackson. The following account was given of their appearance:

‘How proudly the tuneful band stood, attired in scarlet breeches, scarlet waistcoat, scarlet coat, large cocked hat, with silver lace three inches in breadth; the lapped coat rounded off, and long waistcoat; with silver buckles for the knees, and black gaiters and shoes. Mr. John Savage, Mr. Edward Wilson, Mr. Peter Campbell, and Mr. Thomas Eyre, assumed a dignified mien, and impressed the beholder with their civic importance.’

These Waits continued in this town after their dissolution in other places; and it has been recorded that they had headed processionsto St. George’s Church from time immemorial. The last member of Doncaster’s Corporate Musicians was James Duncan, below whose final payment Mr. Richard Dennison, the steward, wrote: ‘Here endeth the Waits of Doncaster’.

In 1855 an attempt was made to revive the Waits, and a body of players was got together; their instruments wer violin, harp, piccolo, cornet, and violoncello; and their conductor was Mr. George Preskitt. They were described as being ‘of a first-rate character’. But their life (as Waits) was short; and they are gone.

© Roger Offord