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Paul Roberts, who gave a paper at the recent Collogue (see elsewhere in this issue) offers some interesting comments and theories about a tune that appeared in Playford’s “Dancing Master’.

This tune comes from the 1657 edition of Playford’s Dancing Master. I am pretty sure this is a Lancashire bagpipe tune, thought the evidence is entirely circumstantial.

It is obviously comparable to the usual “border” style of pipe variation set, but has a definite character of its own — comparing it to Dixon, Peacock etc, it looks like a fragment from a related but different local tradition. It has a very similar feel to Lancashire Bagpipes and Bagpipes from a bass viol MS of about 1625 in Manchester Library, also to tunes like Jack Warrell’s Hornpipe and Mr Preston’s Hornpipe in Marsden’s Lancashire Hornpipes of 1705 (all reproduced in Pete Stewart’s Robin with the Bagpipe). Indeed, a certain playful irregu- larity, including syncopation and changes in internal time signature, is starting to look like a distinctive feature of period Lancashire piping.

Given the date this is almost certainly a Civil War march, and probably named after a lead- ing Lancashire gentleman and Royalist Officer, Colonel Washington. He was a great-uncle of the George Washington, first president of the United States. The Washington family were big landowners in the Warton/Carnforth area of Lancashire, and strong Royalists. At the time they were the most important branch of an old Durham family, which also included the Northampton extension from which George Washington sprang.

The following extracts were lifted off the web after a very cursory and basic search. This failed to reveal any other significant Washingtons involved in the Civil war, though I be- lieve several members of the extended family were involved on the King’s side....

In around 1642, Stockport Bridge figured briefly in the Civil War when Charles I despatched Prince Rupert with 10,000 men to raise the siege of York. The bridge over the Mersey at Warrington was too well guarded and they turned east to Stockport. Parliamen- tary forces of about 3,000, under Colonels Mainwaring and Dukinfield, drew up their forces on the Cheadle side of the town to defend the bridge. They deployed musketeers along the hedgerows, where Prince Rupert’s forces had to pass in their advance. However, Royalist dragoons, under Colonel Washington, drove the musketeers back into the town and many dead were reported, though the parish register records only one burial.

On the morning of 26 July 1643, Rupert launched an attack from two directions. On the southern side, the Cornish infantry were repulsed with great loss of life, including the com- manders of all three of their assault columns. On the northern side, where Rupert led the assault, the outer defences were breached by Colonel Washington. With Prince Rupert in- side the city defences, Colonel Feinnes called for a truce and a parley. The Parliamentari- ans were running short of ammunition and the citizens of Bristol were unwilling to risk the destruction of their city.

Feinnes surrendered that night and marched his troops out next morning, leaving his ammu- nition, arms and sixty cannon. He was later court- martialled for incompetence and sen- tenced to death, though the sentence was remitted.


The piece sticks out like a sore thumb in Playford, which mostly consists of perfectly nor- mal two-part Country Dance tunes. One wonders what use a weird and irregular tune like this could be to a 17th century dancing master! The answer probably lies in the notorious Royalist sympathies of the Playford family. Some writers have suggested that Playford’s books and the popularity of Country Dancing among the restoration gentry have to be seen against the political backdrop of the times, as a thumbed nose to the Puritans and as part of a cultivated nostalgia for the old, pre-Cromwellian England. For many of the book’s target audience this tune would have had powerful “party” associations.

The only other version of the tune I have come across is from Ireland, where a simpler and regularized setting is known as The March of the High Kings of Leix. Given the strong links between Ireland and Lancashire (especially Royalist and Catholic Lancashire) during the period in question this could be seen as further circumstantial support for my theory. But whatever its origins, it’s a great bagpipe piece, and deserves to be more widely known.

Postscript: since writing the above both Niall Anderson and Roderick Cannon have pointed out a third version of this tune, the pibroch Duncan MacRae of Kintail’s Lament. The fine details of the ground are different, but its essence is undoubtedly the same. The variations, however, are very different. To my mind the basic theme is an obvious and effective one on bagpipes and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is even more widespread than this. The scarcity of written sources means it is unlikely we will find an earlier version than Washington’s, but possibly other versions from other piping traditions still await discovery.