Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Wait

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WAIT, one of a body of minstrels or musical watchmen attached to the households of kings and other great persons, who paraded an assigned district sounding the hours at night. Many cities and towns, both English and foreign, encouraged and licensed their waits, Exeter among other places having a regular company as early as the year 1400. As a plural, the word was sometimes used to describe those who acted as the town musicians, but did not do duty as watchmen, and any company of performers when employed as serenaders. The instruments used were a species of hautboys, called also shawms, and from their use “waits.” Also one of a band of persons who promenade the streets during the night and early morning about Christmas or New Year, performing music appropriate to the season.