The History of Lincoln Waites

Selby Dickinson - City Wait 1818 - 1857

The earliest reference that I have found, naming one of the Dickinson family as a Waite, dates from 1768.

On 6 April 1807 this interesting entry crops up:

Selby Dickinson is not named clearly until 1817 (when he loaned the City Council the huge sum of £600 (L1/4/2)), so it is hard to say whether the Waite of 1807 was Selby or another of the Dickinson family, in either case, it appears that a Dickinson in 1807 was acting as organiser or chief Waite, taking on the responsibility of liaising with the Council and collecting the Corporation salaries on behalf of his three fellow Waites. It is clear that this is a role which Selby Dickinson did take on, a the City Account books show salary payments to him (for four Waites) between 1818 and 1830.

Mr Joe Cooke, the Mayor's Officer, told me this story: The only existing Wait's Chain was returned to the City sometime after 1837 by a Mr Dickinson. Apparently, after the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835/36 (which heralded the end of Civic Sponsorship of Waits), Lincoln City Officials had been rather slow to ask for the return of the Waits' Chains. When they eventually decided to ask for them back, only one of the three [there were actually four Waits in 1836] could be located. The other Waits had either died or moved away, and their families were unable to help, so Lincoln's Waits' Chains (all but one) were lost. Unless they turn up somewhere unexpectedly, it would be fair to assume that they might have been melted down and the silver made into something else.

Corporation Cash Book 1816-1818

Waits in Lincoln after 1835

The Municipal Corporations Act was passed on 9 September 1835. At the first meeting of the new Council after the Act was passed, the Council, "Resolved and Ordered that the several Officers be for the present continued" (ref: L1/1/1/9, "Minutes of the proceedings of the Mayor, Aldermen and Citizens of the City of Lincoln Commencing 1 January 1836").

Why did Lincoln Council continue to appoint Waits in January 1836, when (as a result of the Municipal Corporations Act most towns in England and Wales had abolished their Waits?

In Lincoln, the election of new Councillors (now charged with the task of representing the New Wards) took place on 26 December 1835 (ref: L1/1/1/9). Their first Quarterly Meeting was held just a few days later, on 1st January 1836. The priority business of that first meeting was to form sub-committees and appoint Commissioners to assess and compile reports on Law and Order, Street Lighting, Footpaths, Roads, Bridges, Waterways, Water Supply and Sewage, etc.

[return to top of page]

This Act required such vast improvements and so great an evaluation of the Council's current working practices and accounts that they may not have had time to formulate any plans by the date of that first meeting. Lincoln Council (together with a long list of many other Boroughs in England and Wales) had been ordered, by an Act of Parliament, to make unprecedented, improvements in all areas of the City. They decided to start by undertaking a complete financial revue, to determine what activities, properties and events were profitable, and where savings could be made or revenue increased. The City Council decided not to make any immediate changes to their previously appointed Officers until the Finance Committee had completed their report. So Lincoln Waits continued a while longer.

The minutes say: "Resolved and Ordered that the several officers be for the present continued" (ref: L1/1/1/9 page 10) the minutes go on to list each man, including the four Waits:

It was an unusual decision to make. Most towns saw the Waits as one more element of antiquated ceremonial that they could manage without. So in 1836, most of the new Councils made a quick decision to dispense with their Waits and save the expense of their salaries and uniforms, but not Lincoln.

[return to top of page]

Poor Wandering Minstrel, or High Ranking City Official?

The following records transactions serve to dispel the myth of an impoverished minstrel performing for a crust.

1817 - Bond (ref: L1/1/1/8, page 305)

After the Mayorality of Matthew Sewell, (ref: L1/1/1/8, page 279) Lincoln Council began to realise that they were in a very difficult position financially. The minutes of 6 December 1815 (ref: L1/1/1/8, pages 276 - 277) record that the City's Bankers, Smith & Ellison, had recalled a loan of £2000. The Corporation asked the bank to "accommodate" them until the money could be raised. Money was also owed to various tradesmen for work done in the preceding year.

They started to try to reduce spending and pay off old debts, but this proved impossible to accomplish without further borrowing. The minute books show that they frequently borrowed from private individuals. on 8 July 1817, Selby Dickinson stood the surety on one of these loans. The Bond was for the huge sum of £600. This shows that Selby Dickinson was a rich man with the means to pay this £600 debt on the council's behalf if they defaulted. To give you some idea of the value of this Bond, even by the middle of the 19th Century, it would have taken a Vicar of a poor parish in England, 12 years to earn £600. In the 1840s or 1850s a "live-in" Servant may have earned as little as £10 a year (ref: George P Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island on Selby Dickinson received interest from the City Council at a rate of 5 percent - which equated to £30 a year in 1818 - considerably more than his Waite's Salary, which was £2.2s per year in 1818. Dickinson continued to receive interest on this loan for years and was still being paid £13.10s a year in 1835 (L1/4/1/4).

[return to top of page]

Land and Business Interests

Selby Dickinson seems to have had an excellent head for business. He had a financial interest in the Butchery as early as 1811, and received regular payments from the Corporation because of it. These were described as a "Poor Rate for the Butchery" and a "Poor Lay for the Butchery" and ranged from £2.10s to £5 a quarter. He was also paid (or reimbursed?) Property Tax for "the Tolls let to the Sherriffs Officers" and "the Sherriffs Fee Farm" (in West Ward) in 1811 (L1/4/1/2). He received further "Property Tax" payments for the "City Tolls" twice more in 1812 - amounting to £5.5s each time (L1/4/1/2).

[return to top of page]

1825 - Purchase of Land (ref: MISC DEP/478/2/4)

On 12 September 1825, Selby Dickinson bought a parcel of ground and other premises from Robert and William Medley. This is a very complicated conveyance involving other people (possibly sitting tenants) as well as the sellers and the buyer. The land included a house with a small piece of land (and possibly out-houses) in the Parish of St Martin. The description of adjoining rooms suggests that this house may have included separate accommodation for three households, or that there were three joined houses. The agreed price was £200 and 10 shillings. On this conveyance, Dickinson's occupation is listed as Pawnbroker.

This purchase included number 6, The Strait. Today, number 6 is an Indian Restaurant and is probably not the same building that Selby Dickinson owned. Number 5, however, is a beautiful old timbered building with a crooked roof. It is apparent that the front of the building has been faced with brick at some point but the shop owner tells me the ceilings and the beams supporting the first floor are original. The owner also tells me that he has been able to trace this building's existence back to the 14th Century. The positions of the old doorways give away the fact that this building once stood on it's own, not in a terrace as it does now. (Selby Dickinson resold 6 The Strait to Benjamin Carrington, Cabinet Maker, on 19 March 1832.)

[return to top of page]

1826 - Sale of Land (ref: HILL/7/15 & 16)

On 22 November 1826, Selby Dickinson (Lincoln Wait) entered into a "Lease" and "Release" (conveyance) to sell a parcel of land to William Burley. Burley was a Pawnbroker; Selby Dickinson's occupation is recorded as Cordwainer. That does not mean that he was a shoemaker, as long before, the Cordwainer's Guild had grown in importance and influence and opened its membership to only those with high social standing and holding the highest positions within the City. That tells us something of Selby Dickinson's influence and role in Lincoln.

Pawnbroking had not always been William Burley's trade. Although, still occupied as a Waterman (boat owner or boatman), in 1808, Burley was granted the lease of a close and the right to use or sell "plashing and snaithing" [possibly woven fence panels] made from the Willow trees in the close (ref: L1/1/1/8 page 121). Earlier, in 1793, Burley was granted a 25 year lease of a Close at Stamp End called "Creampoke" with a "Workhouse now converted into a Tenement and the Fishing and Fowling usually letten with the said close" (ref: L1/1/1/7, p802). In 1789 Burley was one of the "Jury to enquire into the price of Corn" (ref: L1/1/1/7).

Later, in 1812-1813, William Burley owned a Workhouse on Sincil Dyke, Lincoln (ref: Chamberlains' Rolls: 26/ 1812-1813).

The land that Burley bought from Selby Dickinson measured 528 square yards, and was within the Parish of St Swithin's. This church is still standing today, next to the Grey Friars building, just south of the public library, but North of the River Brayford and slightly to the East of the city centre. The land had previously been part of a paddock owned by Edward Fowler. Edward Fowler was a relation of Mayor Robert Fowler and an Alderman himself. Robert Fowler's occupation had been a "Linendraper" in 1787 (ref: L1/1/1/7, p724). In 1836, Edward Fowler chaired the City Council's Finances Committee. In February 1836, this Committee recommended the Council discontinue Waits' salaries, as part of their efficiency savings (ref: L1/1/1/9).

The sale of land included "five tenements or dwelling houses" that were built on the land. Another man had an interest in the land, one William Stephenson Nelson. It is unclear whether he was a part-owner of the land, or merely the builder of the five houses, in any case, he received only one third of the price (£130), whilst Selby Dickinson received two thirds (£270).

[return to top of page]

1835 - 1839: Joseph Dickinson

Joseph Dickinson seems to be a fuel supplier.

1846 - Compensation for removing a Window

2 July 1846 - Selby Dickinson was paid compensation of £7.00 by the City Council for removing a window (L1/4/7 – Minutes of the Lighting & Paving Committee 1830-1863). One possible reason for removing overhanging, or protruding windows might have been to prevent pedestrians having accidents in the dense fog that was prevalent during this time of industrialisation (hypothesis suggested by Dr R C Wheeler, co-editor of "Historic Town Plans of Lincoln, 1610-1920"(Lincoln Record Society)).

1851 Census

In the 1851 census for the Parish of St. Mary Magdalen, Lincoln, Selby Dickinson was aged 72. Even at that age, Dickinson was still working. His occupation is recorded as a solicitor's writing clerk. That makes perfect sense, as the Judges Lodgings are only a few hundred yards from where his house used to be. The Court (held inside the boundaries of Lincoln Castle) was very close by too.

His address was a house in Drury Lane, Lincoln. [It is unfair to publish the number of his house here, because Drury Lane is a street of private residences. I am sure the present owner would not appreciate a lot of unwelcome interest in the property. It is sufficient to say that I have met the present owner and discussed the date of construction, and have reached the conclusion that it is likely to be Victorian. The new (Victorian) buildings were probably put up soon after Selby Dickinson's house was demolished.]

The Census also tells us that Selby Dickinson was born in Lincoln. The other occupants of his house were Mary Dickinson aged 69 (born in Nottinghamshire), and Mary Makins (a servant) aged 21.

Selby Dickinson died in 1857, during the April/May/June quarter of registration (Lincoln District, Vol. 7a, page 292).

[return to top of page]

Selby Dickinson's Badge and Chain

An article by Mr Bernard Sullivan, The Waits Badge and Chain (courtesy of The Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology) explains more. According to Sullivan, after the Municipal Corporations Act was passed (9 Sept 1835), The City Council awarded a pension of £2.00 a year to the remaining four Waits. Sullivan says that the Council left the badges and chains in the hands of those four men; to keep in-case they needed them. [I can only guess that this meant that the Waits actually continued their ceremonial duties as they had done before!]


In 1852 the Council discovered that only one badge and chain could be located - that of Selby Dickinson. Sullivan says that his father had been a Wait before him, and the badge had been passed down, remaining in the Dickinson family for some 80 years. The Council allowed Selby Dickinson to keep the badge until such time that he either ceased "to be one of the Corporation Waits" or in the case of his "death whilst holding that office" (ref: Lincoln City Parcels/169/43) and they got Dickinson to sign a document promising that either he or his representatives would "restore and deliver up the same to the Corporation" (signed and dated 5 May 1852) (ref: Lincoln City Parcels/169/43).

The Minutes of 4 May 1852 (ref: L1/1/1/10) say: "Inquiries having been made respecting the Silver Badges and Chains which were formerly worn by the four Waits on public occasions it was found that three of such Waites (two of whom are now dead) had, since the discontinuance of their duties sold or otherwise disposed of their Badges and Chains; Mr Selby Dickinson alone retaining his Badge and Chain which were produced at this Council, when it was ordered that the Badge and Chain produced shall remain in the hands of Mr Dickinson during his continuance in Office and upon ceasing to be one of the Waits to be restored to the Corporation and that the thanks of the Council be given to Mr Dickinson for having preserved the insignia of his Office."

[return to top of page]


In April 1857, Lincoln City received a letter from Y B Waring, the superintendent of the General Museum of Art (ref: L1/1/1/10). The letter asked for an exhibit of silver plate and/or Civic Insignia to go into the Art Treasures Exhibition in Manchester. Several other cities and towns had agreed to send similar exhibits, which were to form "an important feature" of the exhibition.

This posed something of a problem for Lincoln because a few years earlier (on 12 April 1836), soon after the Municipal Corporations Act (1835) became law, Lincoln Council had sold much of its silver plate to raise much needed revenue (ref: L1/1/1/9 page 60). So the Council decided to exhibit Selby Dickinson's Waits Badge and Chain (ref: L1/1/1/10).

On 7 April 1857, the Council instructed Mr Mason [Richard Mason was previously the Town Clerk] to apply to Mr Dickinson for his Badge and Chain to send off to the Exhibition in Manchester (ref: L1/1/1/10). Mr Mason appears to have been unsuccessful. This is difficult to understand because in 1852, Selby Dickinson was happy to co-operate. Whether Mason's lack of success was because Selby Dickinson was too ill or frail (Selby Dickinson died in 1857/1858 (ref: Lincoln District, Vol. 7a page 292)) to comply with the Council's request, or whether Mr Mason offended Selby Dickinson by delivering the request in a demanding or un-gentlemanly manner, we do not know. What happened exactly is unclear, but the result was that, on 5 May 1857, the Council, "Resolved that unless Mr Selby Dickinson give up his badge of Office as one of the Waits to the Town Clerk for the purpose of being sent to Manchester his salary is stopped" (ref: L1/1/1/10). A very short letter was sent to Selby Dickinson on 5 May 1857, telling him of the council's decision to stop his salary, The entire letter reads: "Dear Sir, On the other side I send you a copy of a resolution this day passed by the Council", and is signed by John Tweed, the Town Clerk (ref: L1/6/2).

[return to top of page]

Sullivan says that the badge was returned to the Council (after Selby Dickinson's death?) by the Dickinson family, in 1857, unfortunately Sullivan does not quote the source document for his information. I have found a note dated 8 May 1857 (at the foot of the 1852 agreement between Selby Dickinson and the City Council, (Lincoln City Parcels/169/43)), which reads simply, "Memorandum... received from Mr Dickinson the Badge and Chain". This falls short of proving whether the badge was returned by Selby Dickinson himself, or a relative. His Last Will and Testament reveals that Selby Dickinson had no male progeny, only "my dear daughter and only child, Sarah" (ref: LCC/Wills/1858, p475). The 1852 agreement required the badge to revert back to the Corporation in the case of Selby's death. Although this memorandum does not clearly state that it was Selby who delivered up the badge, why would it be in the hands of one of his brothers (Charles and Joseph) or nephews (Charles and George) whilst Selby was still alive? As Selby's Will was made on 9 July 1857 and his executors were sworn in (after his death) on 2 June 1858, he must have died between these two dates (ref: LCC/Wills/1858, p475).

The mystery was solved by a short entry, made on 8 May 1857, in a Book of miscellaneous sub-Committee Meetings: "Mr Tuckwood attended this meeting [of the Superintendence Committee – ie: The full Council] on behalf of Mr S Dickenson and delivered up to the mayor, the Badge and chain worn by Mr S Dickenson as one of the Waits, and the Mayor gave him a receipt for the said Badge and chain." (L1/1/8/1 Minutes of various Corporation Committees). So it was George Tuckwood, Sarah's husband and Selby's son-in-law, who handed in the Badge and Chain - probably as a result of the Council informing him about the order made 3 days earlier - to suspend his father-in-law's wages unless they give up the Badge (ref: L1/1/1/10, 5 May 1857). Although this was 3 days after the exhibition opened, the Council may still have sent the Dickinson Waites' Badge and Chain off to Manchester.

Why did Tuckwood hand in the Waites' Badge? Was Selby Dickinson too frail in body or mind to take care of his own affairs? Perhaps Dickinson did not want the badge to leave his keeping? This Badge was safe in Lincoln. Dickinson knew that William Howe had been parted from his Waites' Badge, and that the Dickinson family Badge was the last existing one of Lincoln's four Waites' Badges. Did Tuckwood give up the badge to preserve Dickinson's salary - even against the old man's wishes? We can only guess. In the abscence of any later receipt for this Badge and Chain, it appears that the badge, which had been in Selby Dickinson's family for such a long time, may never have returned to his hands before he departed this life.

[return to top of page]

Waites 'Pensions'?

The actual amounts of 'Pension' paid to the waites were always listed under the account heading of Salaries and Stipends (Orders for Payment 1845-1854 (L1/4/5/1) & 1854-1866 (L1/4/5/2)).

pdf  Waites Salaries 1845 - 1858  Get Adobe Reader

It is noteworthy that these accounts never describe the payments as a 'Pension', but always as 'Salary'. Perhaps this may be an indication of the Corporation's intent - not to enforce retirement on these long serving and valued officers of the City, but to encourage their continued involvement in City ceremonial by continuing to keep them on the City Corporation Payroll?

Lincoln Council treated their Waits in a unique manner. In England, the custom of Mayorally sponsored Waits had died out by 1836, but in this agreement with Selby Dickinson, the City Council officially recognised him as a Wait for his lifetime - until 1858.

[return to top of page]

1857 - Selby Dickinson's Will (LCC/Wills/1858, page 475)

Selby Dickinson made his Will on 9 July 1857. In it, he says that he gave away all his "household furniture and movable effects" to his daughter, Sarah, the wife of George Tuckwood, Gentleman, "several years ago". Perhaps he disposed of these belongings because he no longer lived alone? One explanation might be that he may have moved in with Sarah and George Tuckwood in his old age, to live as a member of their household.

Here is a wealthy man. Not only did he leave land and houses (both within the City of Lincoln and elsewhere), but he also left a £26 annuity to each of his brothers, Joseph and Charles. It appears that the real estate, including messuages, tenements and hereditaments was to be held in trust by the executors and any profits or rent was to provide an income for his daughter [his only child], Sarah.

Other legacies totalled as much as £530, including £10 each to the three executors; £50 each to two charities (Lincoln County Hospital and the General Dispensary); £50 each for any married niece (his brothers had six daughters, but I do not know how many were married) and £100 to Ann Sharratt of Oldham (the niece of Selby's late wife, Ann). The remaining money, Stocks, Funds and Securities went to Sarah Tuckwood.

[return to top of page]

The executors were men who Dickinson counted as friends:

After speaking to experts in researching the history of Waites, I am told that Selby Dickinson and William Howe were the last men that they know of, to have remained on a Council payroll until this recently. It appears then, that they were the last City Waites to hold Office in England.

Today, the Dickinson badge, forms part of the Civic Insignia, and is worn by the Deputy Mayor.

[return to top of page]