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Appointed Assistant Lecturer at Manchester in 1887, Tait became Lecturer in Ancient History in 1896. He served as Professor of Ancient and Medieval History, from 1902 to 1919. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1921.
Tait was noted for his retiring, scholarly life, in Fallowfield and then in Wilmslow. He died unmarried, in Wilmslow, on 4 July 1944.
Tait's major works were Mediaeval Manchester and the Beginnings of Lancashire (1904), the first volume of the history series of Manchester University Press and a standard work for the rest of the century, and The Medieval English Borough (1936).