Researching Surnames

The crest of William Savage Wait (1808-1869)

Researching Surnames.  Have you ever wondered about your surname? I have often been teased about my Wait surname. But, family names are a key to the past and can unlock a fascinating historical trail right back to the Norman Conquest of 1066. I was intrigued by what I discovered during my research. 

A ‘Wait’ family lived in the ‘most haunted house in England’ for nearly 300 years and an Alice Wayte was probably the mother of Arthur Plantagenet (c.1470 -1542). Oh! And there is a ‘Wait’ connection with Crystal Palace Football Club. But more on that later. 

Opposite is an impressive ‘Wait” crest. Unfortunately, since investigating my family tree, I have not yet come across any aristocracy, but I haven’t given up. Perhaps you have an upper-class connection amongst your ancestors?


British surnames can be divided into four groups:

1. Local Surnames

2. Surnames of Relationship

3. Surnames of Occupation or Office

4. Nicknames

My surname, Wait, is an early medieval English occupational name for a watchman, introduced into England after the Norman Conquest of 1066, and derived from the Old Norman-French ‘waite’, Old French ‘guait’. The name applied specifically to a watchman in either a castle or a town. They patrolled the streets, marked the hours and guarded fortresses at night, allowing everybody else to sleep a lot easier in their beds.

Waites carried with them pipes known as shaums (also known as wait pipes) or hautboys, similar to the modern oboe. These could give out a high pitched sound and warn everybody of imminent danger.

Gradually, over time, as the country became safer, waites were employed in large towns just as musicians. They wore colourful liveries and chains of office and were expected to compose and play music for civic parades and ceremonies. Bagpipes, fiddles, lutes, recorders and sackbuts were all played by town waites.

Modern day Waits

So, job-descriptive surnames originally denoted the actual occupation of the name bearer, and later became hereditary. The earliest recorded examples of the name Wait are:

Ailward Waite 1180-1187  Early London Names

Roger la Waite 1197 Feet of Fines

Ralph Laweite 12th Century Nottingham

Ralph la Waite 1202 Curra Regis RollsHampshire (also known as Radulfus Vigil ‘the watchman’)

Robert la Waite 1207 Pipe Rolls Essex (also known as ‘de la Waite*’ in 1206

Roger le Wayte 1221 Suffolk  British Museum

John la Wayte 1243 Assize Rolls

Hugh le Weyt 1251 Assize Rolls

Roger le Wate  1296 Subsidy Rolls Sussex

Adam le Whaite 1349 Calendar of Letter Books

Richard Waight 1595-1610 London

*de la Waite meant of the watch

Town waites were abolished in 1835. But, the term ‘Christmas Waits’ still survives today, as a description for a group of musicians and singers who perform during the festive season, for a fee.

Waits at Seven Dials (London) by Hines in 1853

There are more than fifteen possible spellings of my surname, ranging from Waith, Wait, Waite, Wayt, Weight, and Waight to Whate.


Thomas Waite

Thomas Waite (1615 – 1688), was a colonel in the parliamentary army, in 1643, during the English Civil War, and an MP for Rutland from 1646 – 1653. He was also one of the judges of Charles 1, and signatory to his death warrant in 1649. Waite was imprisoned in 1660 at the restoration of Charles II. 

William Savage Wait

The crest at the top of the page, belonged to William Savage Wait (1808-1869) of Woodborough and appeared in John Burke’s ‘Landed Gentry of Great Britain & Ireland’ in 1846.

Arthur Plantagenet

Arthur Wayte (later Plantagenet) (c.1470-1540) was described by Henry VIII as  having the ‘kindest heart of anyone he knew.’ He was the illegitimate half-brother of Elizabeth of York. It is unclear who his mother was. Some claim it was an Elizabeth Wayte, but recent research suggests it was Alice Wayte, the illegitimate daughter of Sir Thomas Wayte III (c.1440-1482) of Hampshire. She possibly became the mistress of Edward IV when he spent time in and around Southampton in April 1470.

Alice gave birth to Arthur sometime between 1470-1 when his father had lost the English crown and was living in exile in the Low Countries. The king at this time was separated from his consort, Elizabeth Woodville, and was on the move trying to deal with threats and problems. This, could explain the brief affair and the lack of records concerning the birth of the royal bastard. Arthur Wayte was brought up in Edward IV’s court and later recognised and given the surname Plantagenet. In 1511 he married Elizabeth Dudley and was bestowed with a peerage, 1st Viscount Lisle, by his nephew Henry VIII in 1523.

Arms of Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle, KG

Arthur remained in contact with the Wayte family. He became Sheriff of Hampshire in 1514 and evidence shows that he leased, then purchased lands in Hampshire, from his second cousin John Wayte IV, in 1528.

On March 24 1538 Arthur was made Deputy of Calais. But the politics of the time were changing rapidly and in 1540 he was recalled to England, with other members of the Plantgenet household and accused of treason.

The other conspirators were executed, but even though no evidence was found against Arthur, he was kept in the Tower of London for two years. When Henry VIII did finally decide to release him, the shock apparently caused Arthur to suffer a heart attack and he died two days later.

Wymering Manor

A Wayte family owned Wymering Manor in Hampshire for nearly 300 years. It is claimed to be one of the the most haunted places in England. Phantom horses, bleeding nuns and ghostly children have all been witnessed there. Records show that it dates back to the time of King Edward the Confessor in 1042. The manor passed to Richard Wayte in 1390. He was the son of Richard Wayte of Denmead. When he died in 1423, Wymering Manor passed to his son, William, who had married Margaret daughter of Robert Bardot.

Wayte. Argent a chevron gules between three hunting horns sable.

In 1448, William died, leaving the manor to his  five year old son Edward Wayte. From then it passed to Simon Wayte who died in 1518. The estate was then divided, including lands in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, between six daughters and coheirs.

Honor who had married her cousin William Wait (she had been born at Wymering Manor) received part of the estate. But she relinquished it in 1582. 

Arthur Wait

As a schoolboy, Arthur John Wait (1910-1981) used to sneak into watch his favourite football team, Crystal Palace. He started work as a builder in the construction industry, but sometime between 1948-1950 became a director of the club. In 1958 he became chairman and oversaw a successful period in Crystal Palace’s history. Wait later went on to become life president from 1972 till his death. The ‘Arthur Wait Stand’ at Selhurst Park was later named in his honour.

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