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London - Westminster

Westminster Waits

15 October 2009, From Alan Radford

The town waits certainly existed in Westminster as late as 1822, and they were elected by the Court of Burgesses of that city -_vide_ a magazine cutting of that date: "Christmas Waits - Charles Clapp, Benjamin Jackson, Denis Jelks, and Robert Prinset, were brought to Bow Street Office by O. Bond, the constable, charged with performing on several musical instruments in St. Martin's Lane, at half-past twelve o'clock this morning, by Mr. Munroe, the authorized principal Wait, appointed by the Court of Burgesses for the City and Liberty of Westminster, who alone considers himself entitled, by his appointment, to apply for Christmas boxes. He also urged that the prisoners, acting as Minstrels, came under the meaning of the Vagrant Act, alluded to in the 17th Geo. II.; however, on reference to the last Vagrant Act of the present king, the word 'minstrels' is omitted; consequently, they are no longer cognizable under that Act of Parliament; and, in addition to that, Mr. Charles Clapp, one of the prisoners, produced his indenture of having served seven years as an apprentice to the profession of a musician to Mr. Clay, who held the same appointment as Mr. Munroe does under the Court of Burgesses. The prisoners were discharged, after receiving an admonition from Mr. Halls, the sitting magistrate, not to collect Christmas boxes."

In an article, "Concerning Christmas," in _Belgravia_ (vol. 6, new series, p. 326), we read: "It may not, perhaps, be generally known that, in the year of grace 1871, 'Waits' are regularly sworn before the Court of Burgesses at Westminster, and act under the authority of a warrant, signed by the clerk, and sealed with the arms of the city and liberty; in addition to which they are bound to provide themselves with a silver badge, also bearing the arms of Westminster."

Project Gutenberg




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18th May 2020

I discovered this article in July 2009, it has just resurfaced, so I have added it here [Al Garrod, 18th May 2020].

Westminster Waits

Source: Article on The Waits, Page 742, 743 &744 in
The Book of Days, A miscellany of popular antiquities in connection with the calendar, including anecdote, biography and history, curiosities of literature and oddities of human life and character. Volume 2.
Edited by Robert Chambers (W & R Chambers 1832)

"At present [1832] and in London, the waits are musicians who play during the night hours for two or three weeks before Christmas, terminating their performances usually on Christmas Eve. They use generally wind instruments and play any tunes which happen to be popular at the time. They call at the houses of the inhabitants soon afterwards for Christmas donations.

Down to the year 1820, perhaps later, the waits had a certain degree of official recognition in the cities of London and Westminster. In London, the post was purchased; in Westminster, it was an appointment under the control of the High Constable and the Court of Burgesses. A police inquiry about Christmas-time, in that year, brought the matter in a singular way under public notice. Mr Clay had been the official leader of the waits for Westminster and on his death, Mr Monro obtained the post. Having employed persons in different parts of the city and liberties of Westminster to serenade the inhabitants, trusting to their liberality at Christmas as a remuneration, he was surprised to find that other persons were, unauthorised, assuming the right of playing at night and making applications to the inhabitants for Christmas-boxes. Sir R Baker, the police magistrate, promised to aid Mr Monro in assertion of his claims; and the result, in several police cases, shewed that there really was this ‘vested right’ to charm the ears of the citizens Westminster with nocturnal music. At present (as stated in the last paragraph) there is nothing to prevent any number of such itinerant from plying their midnight calling."




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