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The Canterbury Waits
Early Music Group

Welcome to the Canterbury Waits web page.


Ursula Fuller, Derek Poole, David Shaw, Timothy Samuelson, Carl Willetts.

  • Shawms, sackbut and curtal provide the historical centrepiece of a four-piece shawm band specialising in loud ceremonial and dance music from the time of the Plantagenets to the Tudors and Stuarts.
  • Whole consorts of crumhorns, flutes, recorders and great recorders provide softer sounds more typical of sixteenth century indoor music.
  • These are supplemented as appropriate by bass viol, harp, rebec, psaltery, harp, cornet, bagpipes, kortholt, sordun, tabors, nakkers, and a variety of other medieval and renaissance instruments.
  • The Canterbury Waits give full length evening concerts, typically 90 minutes plus interval. In addition to the music they always include explanations and readings both amusing and enlightening.
  • Lcstures on the instruments and historical background are also available.
  • The Canterbury Waits can provide background music of the right period mood for fayres and mediaeval banquets
    Please note that we reserve the right to vary programmes at short notice due to the availability of people, instruments and, not least, the whim of the musicians.
  • Please note we wear period costume only for re-enactment events such as mediaeval banquets and fayres and only by pre-arrangement.
  • Performance enquiries please email us at
  •  Fees are by negatiation, depending on the nature of the event, people involved, time and distance.





In mediaeval and renaissance times many important towns and cities wmployed a small group of men called "Waits". Originally nightwatchmen, they soon became known for their musical abilities. These bands of three to five men would hold the monaopoly of musical performances in ther town, playing for civic functions, Corpus Christi processioons, weddings and other celebrations. In return they received salaries, livery ( cloth for uniforms and silver badges of office. Like other craft guilds they were regulated and maintained apprentices.


As most performances were either outdoors or in noisy halls, the Waits used loud wind instruments, initially only shawms, usually the soprano (Schalm) and alto (bombarde) sizes. In the fifteenth century the bands included a slide trumpet which developed into the sackbut, whilst the sixteenth century saw them expanded to include the cornet and bass curtal - the ancestor of the bassoon.


The City of Canterbury instituted the Waits as a civic body in 1425. In 1493 the three members were each paid £1 per annum, but would have earned more from private bookings  (7d per head per day) plus payments for special occasions. In 1492  Henry VII took a journey form Windsor to Sandwich and en-route paid the Canterbury Waits 10s. The Canterbury Waits were expanded to four members in 1545 and to five in 1613.


Following a series of internal disputes the exasperated City authorities disbanded their Waits in 1640, but allowed them to re-form in August 1660 in time for celebrations of the Restoration. The Municipal Reform act of 1835 abolished all civic waits as ther titular watchmen duties were transfered to the new police forces.


Since their foundation in 1970, the modern day Canturbury Waits have played for BBC Schools and local radio, for a commercial video (A Blow-by-Blow Account of Renaissance Sword Fighting), for many Kentish dramatic societies, music and historical societies in the Home Counties, and local mediaeval banquets and fayres.


Click the links to hear playing by the Canterbury Waits on:

Crumhorns- L'arboscello Ballo Furlano

Shawms - Baxella un Tratto


Please note these MP3 files may be slow to load. They will open in your standard media player.

For other early music activities in the South of England, see the Web site of the Southern Early Music Forum


For general information about Waits bands and links to other groups, see


Copyright © 1998--2008, The Canterbury Waits.
This page was created by David Shaw and modified by Carl Willetts.


This page was last modified on 30 April, 2012