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From medieval times up to the beginning of the 19th century, every British town and city of any note had a band of Waits (see our list of towns known to have had waits). Their duties varied from time to time and place to place, but included playing their instruments through the town at night, waking the townsfolk on dark winter mornings by playing under their windows, welcoming Royal visitors by playing at the town gates, and leading the Mayor's procession on civic occasions.
Their instruments also varied, but were for the main part loud and penetrating wind instruments such as the shawm, which was so closely associated with them that it was also known as the Wait-Pipe. Waits were provided with salaries, liveries and silver chains of office, bearing the town's arms. See our Cognizances section for examples of these.
The Waits Website is designed to accumulate and disseminate historical information on Waits, and to advertise the growing number of revival bands, as well as their equivalents throughout Europe, some of which are listed on our Member Bands page.
As a result of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, Waits were abolished, though their name lingered on as 'Christmas Waits', who could be any group of singers or musicians who formed a band in order to sing and play carols for money around their town or village at night over the Christmas period. Unfortunately, it is these largely amateur musicians who have become associated in peoples' minds with the name 'Waits', when they have heard of them at all, rather than the important civic officers and accomplished musicians who were true Waits.
The Waits Website is constantly expanding and evolving. So far, we have an extensive bibliography, essays, historical records, midi files of music associated with Waits, masses of pictures, contemporary quotes about Waits, research resources and James Merryweather's charts and spreadsheets resulting from his historical researches. On our Notes & Queries pages you will find odd items of news, together with an archive of past messages on everything from snippets of historical research to making your own trumpet. For the latest additions to the site, visit the site update page, and to be kept in touch with developments, join our mailing list. If you have any information you wish to share with us, please contact us by email. Details for contacting us, or joining the mailing list, can be found on the contacts page.
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