The History of Lincoln Waites

William Howe - City Wait 1810-1857


Henry Morris created a vacancy for a City Wait when he left Lincoln in 1810. Four men stepped forward to fill his shoes and on 18 August 1810 and the Council elected William Howe as Wait (ref: L1/1/1/8 page 184). The votes were cast as follows:


On 17 December 1816 the Corporation Accounts state that the "Waites – Dickinson, Howe, & Curtis" were paid 10s (L1/4/6 Corporation Cash Book 1816-1818).


William Howe was still a Wait in 1836 (ref: L1/1/1/9), when the City Council made their momentous decision to retain Waits, after the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act.

William Howe's name does not appear in the Register of Freemen until 1835, : "William Howe of the Parish of St Mark in the City of Lincoln, Shoemaker, son of john Howe of the same Parish, Shoemaker" (L1/5/4/2 p100). William's brother is mentioned the same year: "Robert Howe of the Parish of St Mark in the City of Lincoln, Turner, son of John Howe of the said City, Cordwainer" (L1/5/4/2 p99). Both William and Robert were Freemen by birth.

The other Waits in 1835/1836 were:


In The Waits Badge and Chain (courtesy of the Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaelogy), B Sullivan tells us; "In 1852 the City Council ordered the Town Clerk to enquire into the whereabouts of these [Waits] badges, and it was found that two of the former Waits had died and their badges either lost or sold. The third Wait, William Howe, was found to have sold his badge to his landlord 12 years before, for the sum of 16 shillings to cover his arrears of rent. The Council had thought of stopping Howe's pension to recover the cost of his badge, but by that time Howe was an old man, and the landlord was thought to have gone to America, and in any case the badge had probably long since been melted down, so the City Council forgave him." [Or did the landlord use the badge to pay for his passage to America? Or did he realise the badge had greater value and take it to America with him? As the landlord's name is not mentioned we cannot confirm or refute the notion that he ever went to America in the first place.]

The Minutes seem to fall short of confirming all the details in Sullivan's article. In particular the Minutes state that Howe's pension was actually stopped. Curiously, the Minutes refer to these payments as "Salary", not "Pension". Does this mean he and Selby Dickinson were still considered on the Council Payroll as Waits? It certainly looks that way. The Minutes of 4 May 1852 (ref: L1/1/1/10) say: "Ordered that the Salary of William Howe one of the City Waits be suspended until he restores to the Corporation his Badge and Chain of Office".

Without explanation, the Minutes of 9 November 1852 (L1/1/1/10) state that William Howe's salary was to resume, and that he would receive arrears of pay for the whole period of the suspension too: "Ordered that the Treasurer do pay William Howe his Salary as Waite from the time of his suspension, and that the order of the fourth day of May last, suspending the future payments to the said William Howe, be rescinded".

Sullivan says that Howe was an old man who had fallen on hard times. Did the Council take his previous service into consideration and forgive him as Sullivan says? Perhaps. Or did a kind benefactor or friend pay the Council the value of the Badge and free Howe of his debt? Whatever happened, the City lifted William Howe's suspension and resumed payments, and while they paid him, he was still a Wait.


On the 27 March 1857, Y B Waring, the Superintendant of the General Museum of Art, wrote to Lincoln City Council asking if they could send artefacts to an important Art exhibition in Manchester (L1/1/1/10). The Art Treasures Exhibition was to include "a large and most interesting display of costly City Plate and of Civic and Municipal Insignia", including exhibits from:

According to the superintendant, these Corporations had already agreed and, "in the most unreserved and liberal manner placed their choicest plate, unique relics and various Insignia at the disposal of the Committee".

I can imagine the Council feeling rather embarrassed at this point. Unfortunately, on 12 April 1836, Lincoln City Council had sold a great deal of their silver plate (by public auction) to raise much needed funds (L1/1/1/9 page 60). As they had only retained the most precious objects within the Civic Insignia, they may have had some difficulty deciding what they could send to exhibit.

In their efforts to send suitable exhibits, on 7 April 1857, the Council would try to track down the Waits' Badges to send to Manchester, and once again William Howe found himself suspended. The Council seem not to have known about the events of 1852, or perhaps they simply did not believe that Howe no longer had the Badge. Whatever their reasoning, the City Council "Resolved that Mr Howe's Salary as one of the Waits be stopped till he produce his Badge of Office" (L1/1/1/10). I wonder what William Howe thought to all this!

Until this suspension, the Council had been paying William Howe. If he was on the payroll in 1857, he was still a Wait. The fact is that this latest suspension appears to be the reason why Howe's salary payments ended with the March Quarter of 1857 (Orders for Payment 1845-1854 (L1/4/5/1) & 1854-1866 (L1/4/5/2)). Sadly, it seems inescapable that being deprived of his Waite's Salary would have pushed William Howe further into debt and hardship in his old age.

pdf  Waites Salaries 1845 - 1858  Get Adobe Reader

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.

A man named William Howe appears on the Ward Lists of Citizens (Lincoln City Parcels: 83/24) as residing in Mill Lane, Lincoln in November 1861.

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