There are remarkably few images of Scottish Pipers from before the 1750’s. Here we introduce three more, at least one of which has a strange history.

The first of our two pipers is seen here at the restorers prior to its being rebuilt and replaced in its original position high up on a pediment over a dormer window at Craigievar Castle in Aberdeenshire.1 The castle was completed in 1626 by William Forbes, who had purchased the incomplete structure in 1610. It seems reasonable to assume that the sculpture dates from somewhere between those dates. The pipes themselves lack drone or blowpipe and the end of the chanter is missing; however, it is clear that something is unusual about this piper; he has the bag under his left arm, though he has his right hand on top, but the drone clearly once lay across his chest and over his right shoulder, the position adopted by many border and smallpipe players today [though most today would have their left hand on top]. The position is identical to that shown in a drawing, done in 1839 by John Dalyell and published in 1849 in his Musical Memoirs of Scotland.2 This piper, according to Dalyell, was at Melrose Abbey, though by the time of Manson’s publication, The Highland Bagpipe,3 which reproduced the drawing, it had disappeared.

Craigievar Castle Piper
Photo courtesy of Graciela Ainsworth

Whether Dalyell’s piper was ever at Melrose may be difficult to establish now, though a more thorough exploration of his papers may reveal a clue. It seems clear, however, that the same piper is depicted in our second carving, to be seen on the gable wall of one of the Saughtree Cottages in the Fife village of Ceres.

Dalyell’s drawing of the ‘Melrose piper’

The Ceres Piper (note the difference in the ‘pedestals’)

The story of this piper is a good example of the way in which local history sometimes seems to conspire to confuse. A copy of the sculpture is in the museum at Ceres, the label to which reads “This sculpture is of a left-handed piper. It was carved by John Howie, a stonemason working in Ceres in the 1700's. The most famous of his caricatures in stone is the Provost, who is shown clutching a pint of beer! Another copy of this statue can be seen on Saughtree Cottage in the village. John Howie's cottage has the mason's insignia showing his mason's tools carved over the door. “
We will return to this ‘Provost’ for our third piper, but the museum’s suggestion that this John Howie carved both piper and Provost in ‘the 1700’s’ is contradicted in a history of Ceres included on the website of the Ceres Games.4 Here we are told that the ‘Provost’ was first located in the garden of its ‘first owner’ in 1837. That this sculpture was carved by John Howie is quoted on the site from ‘a well known book on old Ceres, "The Croft House Andersons"’.
 The website then adds to the confusion, though perhaps also suggesting an explanation, with the following:
“John Howie, the grandfather of the John Howie who carved the Provost, also a stonemason, lived in the house that still stands behind what is now the art gallery.”
It is this house, used by the Howie family as a workshop until the 1920’s, that bears the mason’s tools above its doorway. So was it this earlier Howie that  carved both piper and Provost? Not so, says the website:
“A little further to the north of the village, along the main road, stand Saughtree Cottages, once the home of John Howie (1820-1890). On the roof of one of the cottages can be seen two more of his carvings. One is of a left-handed piper and the other a carved stone head..”
A number of other websites re-iterate the same opinion, which, as we have seen, contradicts that of the museum.  In looking for a ‘higher authority’ we can pass to our third piper, since he is very closely related. In fact, he can be seen in the centre of Ceres, immediately below the aforementioned ‘Provost’, on a panel depicting a skirmish, said to represent the Battle of Bannockburn [at which the men of Ceres so distinguished themselves that the Ceres Games are said to have been first held to celebrate their return]. You will not be surprised to learn that, having credited John Howie with the carving of the ‘Provost’ the Ceres Games website goes on to add  “Howie apparently also carved the surround for his statue, placing the figure in a niche above a large panel which is said to depict a cavalry skirmish at the Battle of Bannockburn with a carved head on each side.”
The composite of panel and provost were set up in their current position at the corner of the main road junction in 1939 and the stonework of the panel has been eroding ever since. However, it was recorded in 1927 in the Inventory of Monuments in Fife, when it was still in its earlier location:
“Built into the south-east wall of an old garden lying to the south-west of Ceres Church is a double fireplace of the 17th century with a sculptured frieze panel measuring 4 feet 2 inches by 2 feet and representing a cavalry skirmish ... In the lower sinister corner is a hill with a piper marching up one side and five foot-men marching down the other... The fire  place is incomplete, the upper part, which apparently contained an armorial panel, being missing. The panel has been replaced by a carved effigy, of date not earlier than the late 18th century, and probably executed by a local mason, representing a large Toby jug; on the base is inscribed, PROVOST.”5
John Howie the younger was born, we are told, in 1820 - he was therefore 17 when the Provost statue was bought - perhaps one of his first. The piper below him however was much older; there has been a suggestion that the fireplace may have been taken from nearby Criaghall Castle, though this has been disputed. As for the piper on the Saughtree cottage, if it is the work of a Howie then the museum is probably right in assigning it to the grandfather. Even then ‘the 1700’s’ may prove too late a date. It has so much in common with the Craigievar piper, which can be fairly confidently assigned to the early 17th century, that it is tempting to suggest that they are contemporary; could it too have come from Craighall Castle? How we equate this with the obvious relationship with Dalyell’s drawing is a matter for conjecture; perhaps after all, the younger John Howie simply copied the drawing? That would at least account for the difference in the ‘pedestals’.

Detail of the much-worn Ceres panel
(From a photograph by Keith Sanger, 1974)

An interesting supplement to the story of the Craigievar and Ceres pipers comes from Keith Sanger, who supplied the following:
“in the 1632 Register of the Privy Council, there was a complaint by Sir Thomas Hope of Craighall, the Kings Advocate and Andrew Forbes at the Mylne of Clinterlie that they had been invaded by a James Arbuthnot in Kinnudie and George Leslie in Birsackmylne armed with swords, hagbuts and pistols and with ‘ane pyper playing on ane great pype’. They are all ‘Lowlanders’ and although not the Forbes of Craigievar, it’s the right geographical area.”
Craighall Castle, the seat of the Hope family, was built by Thomas Hope in 1637,  it lay within a mile of the village of Ceres (it had been a ruin since the late 18th century and was finally demolished in 1957). It is perhaps too much to suggest that it is this 1632 incident that is depicted in the panel now in the village centre.

1. The restored piper can be viewed at
2. Dayell, Sir JohnGraham, Musical Memoirs of Scotland, London, 1849
3. Manson, W. L., The Highland Bagpipe, Its History, Literature and Music etc, London, 1901
5. Inventory of Monuments in Fife, 1927, p.55