Manchester Waits

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


Elizabethan period: Waits received compulsory contributions from the townspeople, enforced by the court leet.

1588: Leading citizens said of the waits “it is a creditt to the towne to see theym well mayneteyned.”

1588 and 1603: Town residents were banned by the Corporation from hiring “foreign” pipers or minstrels to play at weddings.”

1620s: Still charged with discovering “dangers and mysedemeanors which maye happen to fale out in the night.”

Manchester Waits

“The custom of “Music at Weddings” is mentioned in the early records of cities and towns, and waits or town minstrels were appointed by the proper authorities to act as town officers and night watchmen. They had to attend at weddings to conduct the bride and bridegroom to and from church, and to play lively music, dances, &e., at and after the wedding dinner. In the ” Court Leet Records of the Manor of Manchester” will be found numerous orders of the Court regulating these officers, as also the wedding dinners, which were fixed at fourpence, afterwards raised to sixpence “the poll” or head. The town waists were often interfered with by strange minstrels and pipers, to discourage which the following order was made at the Court held 3rd October, 1588, 30th Elizabeth.- ” The jury doth give their consents that James Burton shall have the wayte-shipp wholly to himself, keeping such number for the service of the town as he hath at this instant. And forasmuch as they, being four in number, cannot be maintained sufficiently without reasonable allowance of every inhabitant of Manchester. And whereas at weddings strange pipers or other minstrels come and sometimes play before weddings to the church, sometimes at the wedding dinner, by reason whereof they draw to themselves some gains which ought to redound to the waytes of this town. Therefore, in consideration it is a credit to the town to see them well maintained, the jury order that no piper or minstrel shall be allowed to play at any wedding dinner, or before any wedding, within the town, to the prejudice of the waytes.”
Court Leet Records of the Manor of Manchester in the 16th century,” edited by John Halland,Esq, F.S.A., and published in the 63rd and 65th volumes of the Chetham Society, 1864-5,

R A Houston, “Bride Ales and Penny Weddings”, OUP 2014, ISBN 978 0 19 968087 0
In Elizabethan Manchester regulations protected the town waits from ‘strange pipers or other minstrels come and sometimes play before to the Church, sometimes at the wedding dinner.’

A History of the County of Lancashire: Volume 4 (1911)
The juries of the courts leet were constantly occupied with the sanitary conditions of the town. The water supply was regulated. (fn. 28) Offensive trades were checked. The streets were kept clear, householders being required to repair the pavements, and encroachments by steps, porches or horsing-stones forbidden. The markets and traders needed constant supervision; regrators and forestallers were punished, standards for weights and measures provided and enforced, improper qualities of provisions and goods noticed. The morals and amusements of the inhabitants received attention; rules were made for alehouses, for the residence of unmarried women in the town, for limiting the expenses of wedding-feasts; for stocks, dungeon, pillory and cucking stools; also for the public waits, the practice of archery, and the games of tip-cat and football.
Two waits were appointed in 1563; ibid. i, 83. They were to ‘do their duties in playing morning and evening together, according as others have been heretofore accustomed to do’; ibid. i, 115. There were four waits in all, and in 1588 and later it was found necessary to protect them from the competition of ‘strange pipers and other minstrels’ who came to play at weddings, &c.

Extracts from “Manchester Court Leet Records”

Richard Kirshow and Randall Legh were authorised to “exercise the office of common wait in the Towne of Manchester and so to continue from time to time doing his duty and using himself honestly as an honest man ought to do or else another to be put in his room and to gather their wages by the help of the constables or their deputies.
Legh is joined by Richard Wirrall “if they from time to time do their duties in playing morning and evening together according as others have been hereafter accustomed to do”
Randall Legh is made sole wait. “with one other to serve with him of his own servants upon a condition that the town is well served”
April 1577
“The jury doth request that all those who have withdrawn their good wills or such stipend money as they have been accustomed to give the waites, that they would the rather at our request extend their good wills to further their stipened and not to hinder it.
October 1600
a pain is laid of 2s against every one hindering the waits with other music and as it had been ordered that no other minstrels should play at weddings but the waits of the town it is now added that no inhabitants shall suffer any other minstrel to play at his house at wedding dinners, but only the waits under a penalty of 3s 4d
“the jury doth order that in regard the waits of this town have lately received a man skillful in music into their society and company and also that they have been secluded by foreign and other musicians at wedding dinners in this town from the favourable and friendly contribution which the inhabitants of this town their loveing friends, would willingly and liberally have imparted and bestowed upon them, in remedy whereof this jury doth now order that the said waits shall hereafter be received to play music at all and every wedding dinner in this town as aforesaid and the foreign musicians and all others be henceforth rejected and that no inn-keeper do admit any in contempt hereaf sub pena to every such innkeeper and alehouse keeper so affending 3s 4d
Oct 1606 -further complaints of intruding minstrels
5 Oct 1620 -Waits not walking abroad as they ought.-“Wereby they might discover many dangers and misdemeanours which may happen to fall out in the night”

This jury doth further order that they shall not henceforth be reputed as waits of this towne and not expect any pay or wages of any burgesses or inhabitants within the town of Manchester.

This jury doth order that whereas there hath been formerly allowed certain number of waits to go through the town in the dead time of the night wereby hath been prevented many dangers not only of night walkers and robberies but also great danger of fire discovered and prevented and other general benefits accruing thereby to many hereafter.
It is ordered that Henry Reignolds, Alexander Williamson, with some others assistants as waits aforesaid, shall according to former custom, serve this towne for their pains to ask and receive once every quarter the gifts and allowance of every inhabitant.
[Court Leet Records of the Manor of Manchester, ed. J P Earwaker (1887).]
On the Manchester celebrations for the restoration of the monarchy, 1661.
“After sermon from the church marched in their order the burrough reeve, constables, and the rest of the burgesses of this town not then in armes, accompanied by Sir Ralph Ashton Kt. and Bar. and divers meighbourring gentlemen of quality, together with the said Warden, Fellows of the said Colledg, and divers other ministers, with the town-musick playing before them upon loud instruments through the streets to the cross, and so farwards tto the conduit, officers and souldiers in their orders. The gentlemen and officers drunck his Majesties health in claret running forth at three streames of the said conduit, which was answered from the souldiery by a great volley of shot, and many great shouts, saying, ‘God save the King’. This being ended, the gentry and ministers went to dinner, attended with the officers and musick of the town, the auxilliaries dineing at the same place.”
Oct 1669-enjoined-according to ancient custom “to play through the town every Thursday in the evening”.