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An Edinburgh bagpipe teacher

Keith Sanger suggests that a late 18th-century piping teacher in Edinburgh’s Blackfriar’s Wynd was giving instruction in something other than Highland pipes


ACCORDING to the Edinburgh Post Directories, one Charles Campbell, described as a “teacher of the Irish pipes” was living in Edinburgh from 1793 through to 1802, with an address given as “foot of Blackfriar's Wynd”, an area that no longer survives, since most of it, especially the east side of the Wynd, has been demolished and replaced by the wider modern Blackfriars Street. Inclusion in the Edinburgh Directory required a payment so the fact that Charles Campbell felt it worthwhile to appear every year would suggest that students continued to be forthcoming, so what was the “Irish” pipe he claimed to teach?

Students need instruments and the most likely supplier would have been Hugh Robertson on the Castle hill. Robertson also features in the Edinburgh directories but with some interesting changes of description which, since he was paying for the entry, must reflect how he primarily wished to be seen. In his first entry for 1774-1775, he was just described as a “Turner”, but in the following directory for 1775-1776, his description expands to “turner and pipe maker, and curious in making all kinds of wind musical instruments”.

However in the following years he reverts to just “Turner” until the directory for 1793- 1794, the year that Charles Campbell first appears, when Robertson's entry changes to “Ivory Turner and Bagpipe maker”. This description continues through until 1798, but for the 1799-1800 entry his description changes to just “Ivory Turner” and this continues until 1805, the last year in which Robertson has an entry in the directory.

While Hugh Robertson may have regarded bagpipe making as just one incidental part of his occupation as a turner, he was clearly producing instruments to order throughout his work- ing life, (while he was ageing and with failing health, the Highland Society had returned to getting the prize pipe from him in 1816), so his own description of himself as an “Ivory Turner and Bagpipe maker”, occurring at the time that Charles Campbell comes on the scene teaching “Irish pipes” looks like more than a coincidence. To further add to this coincidence, the existence of a set of ivory and silver mounted bellows-blown pipes with an additional regulator with an Edinburgh Assay Office mark for 1793-94, may indicate that 1793 marks the start of Hugh Robertson's production of that type of instrument.(1)

Returning to the teacher, Charles Campbell, there is some evidence that he may have been a performer on the bellows pipe for a while. Charles is not the most common of Campbell forenames, so it is probably the same piper who signed a receipt at Gordon Castle on the 15th September, 1787, “Mr Menzies will please pay Charles Campbell Piper, two Pounds, ten Shillings Sterling for his trouble in coming from Badenoch & playing on the Pipes here


for 8 days, by order of the Duke, Same day received payment”.(2)

Clearly as there were other estate pipers available it would suggest that piper Campbell was offering something more exotic that they were not, and Alexander, the 4th Duke of Gordon clearly had an appreciation of piping, as demonstrated by an account from 1756 when he was an 11-year-old boy attending Harrow School in London when two shillings and three pence were paid for ribbons for the Bagpipe.(3)


  • Cheape, Hugh, A Check List of Bagpipes in the Edinburgh University Collection, 1983, p7, no
  • National Archives of Scotland (NAS), GD44/51/3.

(3). NAS, GD44/51/263/2 page 23.


(Above) Charles Campbell’s entry in the Edinburgh Directory, 1799