As we’re doing a performance for Wakefield Historical Society in a couple of months, I thought I should do some homework. Attached is my revised and expanded history of the Wakefield Waits, from 1556 when their duties were specified until 1826 when they were abolished, to replace the current entry in “Historical Records”.
Alan Radford, Leeds Waits

Revised History of Wakefield Waits

Wakefield Waits

Quarter Sessions Records of the West Riding of Yorkshire (October 1724).

Description includes petition of “one of Wakefield Waits” re harassment by attorney.

“Many particulars of the Wakefield Waits are given in W. S. Banks’s ‘Walks in Yorkshire’ “, 1871 (Reliquary, xii, 117-118).

From “Walks in Yorkshire – Wakefield and its Neighbourhood” by W S Banks (1871), pp 81-88.

Submitted by Dr. Alan Radford

The Town Hall [in 1871] contains a few memorials of older Wakefield, as the Constables’ accounts from 1715, and two or three “Waits” badges. One of the latter, dated 1688, is engraved. They are of silver, and about five inches by four in size, with loops [top and bottom] to fasten them by. The wearers were not called Waits because they sang at Christmas, as is the case in our own day. They were the town’s night watchmen, who chanted the hours and half hours, and made known the sort of weather throughout the time they were on duty, as – “half past two o’clock and a fine and frosty morning.”*

* I do not know the origin of the Waits, unless this entry in the Parish Register records it:-
Memorandum, that the Waits of this town of Wakefield began their watch upon the 17th day of October, in the year of Lord God 1670. Their names are as followeth:-
        Wm. Shaw}
        Tho. Shaw} “Fratres in Unum”
        Thomas Watson}
“Began their watch” may only refer to the commencement of that year’s patrolling. Down to about 1810 the waits were three in number. These, and one deputy constable, sufficed in those years for the preservation of the peace. In 1812 a regular “watch” was established, but the three Waits are mentioned as late as 1826, when a town’s meeting resolved to discontinue clothing them, so as to save £35 per year [but below it says this was resolved in 1813].

Some extracts from the Corporation accounts relating to the Waits:

1745-6 £ s d
Oct 5 Waites 0 7 6
Nov ? Waits clothes &c. 17 17 4
March 15 Waits shoes 0 13 6
Nov Waites and Ino. Leek (deputy) 0 10 0
John Leake shoes 0 5 6
Waits and Leeke’s hats 0 12 0
Waits and beadle’s stockings 0 16 0
March 19 yards fine green cloth for
Wates at 8s. per yard 7 12 0
Waits close making and Leakes 2 2 0
Oct 22 By 3 silver badges for Waits 0 7 6
By a silver badge for John Leek 0 2 6
May 5 Ordered that the expense of
clothing the Waites and Bedall
not to exceed the sum of £16
for future years.
May 22 Resolved – No more money or
clothing be allowed to the

From the above accounts we can calculate the cost of equipping an 18th century Wakefield Wait. Note that it is unusual to find records of provision of any item other than a livery coat and badge, so until the early nineteenth century the Waits of Wakefield were very fortunate.

£ s d
Livery (1755) 2 8 6
Hat 0 3 0
Stockings 0 4 0
Shoes 0 4 6
Badge 0 2 6
Total 3 2 6

4th February 2020 – from Alan Radford

The Leeds Waits having taken a booking from Wakefield Historical Society, I really needed to find out more about the Wakefield Waits than we currently have on the website.

The Manor of Wakefield dates back to the Conquest, and includes not only the present Wakefield MDC area but also extends far to the west to encompass Huddersfield and Halifax! There is a Wakefield Borough charter dating back to 1307 but the borough seems to have fallen into oblivion about 1580 when its assets and functions were divided between the Manor and the town burgesses. Did the town have another charter, perhaps from the Lord of the Manor rather than from the Crown? Anyway, the town burgesses largely dealt with the town of Wakefield and the Manor Court Leet with the rest of the manor. It does seem odd that at various times the Wakefield Waits had different masters, with payments in 17th and 19th centuries in the records of the Parish Church/Vestry and in the 18th century from the Town Accounts.

However, I found the two volumes of J W Walker’s “The History of Wakefield” in the Brotherton Library to be a useful source. In addition to the information we already have from the book by W S Banks [designated so below], Walker has the following.

There is a reference to three watchmen (described as waits), one from each ward of the town, enforcing the curfew, but nothing to indicate a musical role. I would not expect a small provincial town like Wakefield to have the first musical waits in England!

“Itm. A payne is sett that the waytes of the towne goe everye mornynge aswell frydaies and sundaies as other dayes in payne of every tyme not so doynge. Xij d.”

The waits were the night watchmen who kept the hours, they were three in number, and it was not until 1826 that they were superseded by a police force.

Each wait wore a silver badge of office, for which he had to find a surety to deliver it up. Three of these badges were in the possession of the Corporation in 1871, one of which was dated 1688.

There are line drawings in the book of two of the badges, the one dated 1688 (which is now in private ownership) and the broken one now in Wakefield Museum.

Four badges were made at a cost of 2s. 6d. each, three for the Waits and one for the Beadle.

The livery of the Waits was green. In 1756 19 yds. of fine green cloth at 8s./yd. Three suits for the Waits cost £17-17-4, and this expense was incurred annually between 1756 and 1766, when it was ordered that clothing for the Waits and Beadle should not exceed 16 for future years.

The Vestry resolved that no more money or clothing be allowed to the Waits.

In the early 19th century John Houlden, musician, musical instrument seller and Town Wait had a shop off Northgate.