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The origin of the Town Waits, and the myth of the watchman-turned-musician

The origin of the Town Waits, and the myth of the watchman-turned-musician

By Richard Rastall

Paper given to International Guild of Town Pipers (2006)

Introduction: We all know about the origin of the town waits. The waits go back into the mists of history, and they provide an interesting story of how one kind of civic employee – the watchman – was gradually turned into another – the musician that we know as a town wait, or town piper. The process was succinctly described by Walter Woodfill in 1953, in his classic book Musicians in English Society (p. 33):

Waits originally seem to have been watchmen or sentinels in camps, castles, and other fortified places, including towns, and to have played some kind of horn as an alarm or signal. By the fifteenth century towns were becoming the characteristic employers of waits, and in some towns waits were coming to be regarded as musicians primarily and watchmen secondarily. By the end of the sixteenth century the transition was general if not complete: waits were then municipal musicians, who had traditional but relatively unimportant functions. …

Click here to read this article from the International Guild of Town Pipers

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