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CHESTER WAITS. English, Country Dance Tune (4/4 time). F Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). ABC. The town waits, or waights, were musicians employed by a municipality to provide music at ceremonial or other functions; many waits groups had their own tunes, for example "London Waits," "Oxford Waits," "Colchester Waits" and "Bristol Waits." The term waits seems to have been derived from the fact that these musicians were functionally descendent from night-watchmen, whose duty it was to remain awake through the night an perhaps play short tunes at appointed times of the night. Merryweather (1989) notes that waits may also have been employed to 'wait' through the night to give musical wake-up calls to personages who hired them for this purpose. The name Chester (Cheshire) is an Anglo-Saxon form (ceaster) of the roman word castra, or camp. A fortress was founded by the Romans at Chester, which they called Deva, home to the XXth Legion. It later was a Saxon stronghold and the last major town to fall to the Normans, in 1071. Charles I sought refuge in the city during the English Civil War, and from the city wall saw his troops defeated at the battle of Rowton. This tune appears in Walsh & Hare's New Country Dancing Master, 3rd book (London, 1728) and Walsh's Third Book of the Compleat Country Dancing-Master (London, 1738, 36, reprinted in 1754). Samuel Bayard (in his article "A Miscellany of Tune Notes," Studies in Folklore, p. 171) finds a Welsh set in Edward Jones's Cambro-British Melodies (1820, p. 5, the third volume of his Relicks), with the "Chester Waits" title simply rendered in Welsh, a set almost identical with Chappell's.
Printed sources: Chappell (Popular Music of the Olden Times), vol. 2, 1859; pp. 11-12. Knowles (A Northern Lass), 1995; p. 40.