This is a much abridged version of the presentation made to the Collogue by Paul Roberts. The full essay will be available on the website.

Thorough record keeping and documentation is really the product of the 19th century. The further back you go the weaker the documentation gets, especially before the mid-18th century. There are plenty of references to bag- pipes in British sources before then, but precious little information about the ac- tual instruments. So whilst we now have a reasonably good picture of the Border bagpipe from around the mid 18th cen- tury, its origins and evolution have long been obscure. I would like to introduce you to what seem to be the first images of the fully-formed instrument, painted between about 1674 and 1730 by Egbert van Heemskerck the Elder and the Younger. I first became aware of their work ten years ago, in an article by Ernst Schmidt which commented that: “in [the 1690s] bagpipes of the Lowland type seem to have been quite common in England too”, referring to paintings by the Heemskercks. I’d forgotten about it by 2006    when the engraving in fig. 1 appeared in Chanter courtesy of James Merryweather Apparently printed in London by “Johnson Sayer and Hemskirk” in 1772, it clearly showed what we would now call a Border Pipe. The picture appeared to be based on a type of rustic image associated with 17th century Dutch and Flemish art. As we under- stood things in 2006 the instrument looked totally out of place and James dismissed the bagpipe as an addition by the engraver. In 2008 Pete Stewart found the same picture on the internet and discovered “Hemskirk” was an Anglicization of Van Heemskerck. A web search threw up yet another Border style Pipe [fig. 2]


Fig. 2

This is a particularly convincing image: drones and chanter in proportion to each other and the piper, lower hand finger joints over the chanter holes, ac- curate detail like the mounts and the flared chanter sole found on older Border chanters. The piper too has the look of a real person drawn from life, with more facial detail than the other figures and a carefully drawn club foot - before modern welfare systems many professional street musicians were disabled. After much discussion we came to the conclusion that these pictures were probably painted in south-east England around the 1680s and that’s pretty much where the story has stayed till now.


In the 17th century the lands of the southern North Sea - southeastern Eng- land and the Low Countries - were in the forefront of developing a new kind of society marked by the development of a mercantile capitalist economy and the rise of a powerful and wealthy middle class. One aspect of this story is that a revolution in art took place in the Low Countries in response to the demands of the expanding middle class. In part this revolution was quantitative: it is estimated that over 1.3 million Dutch paintings were produced between 1640 and 1660 alone. But there was also a qualitative change: these artists began to find new themes, including for the first time a sub-style devoted to portraying the everyday life of ordinary people - what has come to be called “genre” art. Genre painting doesn’t just mark the beginnings of social realism. It also marks the beginnings of the modern cartoon. Both these strands can be seen in the work of the Van Heemskercks, with the son forming an important bridge between his father’s generation and the world of Hogarth and Rowland- son.


In 1672 the “rampjaar” or “disaster year” stimulated an important migration of Dutch artists to England. This kick started genre art in Britain. Egbert Van Heemskerk probably left for England sometime in 1674: a very minor painter among hundreds of competitors in his own land, he became an important play- er in the English art world. His full name was Egbert Jasperszoon Van Heemskerk and he was born in Haarlem in 1634. He was the son of a Doctor, Jasper Jasperszoon Van Heemskerck, and Marytge Jansdr. Rayson. He worked in various towns from about 1649    before emigrating to England, where he lived in London and Oxford. In Holland he had not been particularly successful, and older European art histories rarely mention him. But in Eng- land his subject matter and style were new, and found a ready and eager market among “the waggish collectors, and the lower rank of virtuosi”. In particular he was patronized by the notorious rake John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. Once established in England Heemskerk's output was prodigious: over 887 paintings by him and his son passed through auction houses between 1689 and 1692 alone. The bulk of his output consisted of what were called “drolls and conversation pieces”. Far and away the most important subject was the tavern scene, typically involving drunkenness, smoking, eating, gambling, sex, occasional violence, and an awful lot of singing and dancing. Lesser subjects included sick-bed and deathbed scenes, religious scenes that were probably satirical (Quaker meetings, Catholic Priests/ Monks) and village schools. He often reworked the same ideas, sometimes even the same images, which was normal practice in the days before mass printing. Egbert Junior was probably born in London around 1676, and active from about 1690. It’s often said his work is hard to distinguish from the father, but this is an exaggeration. Like any apprentice he will have trained in the master’s style, and worked on many of his pictures, and there are some genuinely ambiguous works - but like any apprentice his own voice gets gradually more distinctive. In particular his style is much more cartoonish - he was a pioneer of the 18th century caricature style. It is generally cruder and more colourful than the elder, and often favoured a broader canvas. He also found his own subject matter, including outdoor festival scenes of a type long popular in the Low countries but rarely if ever undertaken by his father, and he eventually moved beyond realism altogether, specializing in bizarre fantasies featuring witches and demons, and satirical pictures featuring cats and monkeys acting as humans. However, he was never as successful or as prolific as the father, and developed an alternative career as an actor and singer. He died in 1744.


Both artists - particularly the father - produced numerous images of lower class “minstrels”. Of these by far the biggest group are the Fiddlers. Fiddles account for 50% of the Heemskercks’ musical instruments in the RKD online database - Bagpipes only account for 18%, Hurdy-Gurdies 16%, miscella- neous smaller wind instruments 16%. Altogether I have probably examined around 400-500 separate Heemskerck images and found 11 Border pipers and 5    Dutch style pipers, plus several ambig- uous or indistinct images. So perhaps about 1 in 40 or 50 pictures portray a Border Pipe: as their total output may have numbered in the high thousands there must be many more waiting to be discovered.

Clearly a primary task is to establish where and when these pipers were painted. My conclusion is that the Border Pipers were all produced in south-east England between about 1680 and 1720. The Younger Heemskerck spent his entire career in England, and though the Elder’s career splits almost equally between Holland and England it seems the majority of his paintings were also produced in England where he had his greatest success. I’ve analysed the estimated dates of the Elder’s pictures in the RKD database, and all his signed and dated pictures that I know of, and these both seem to suggest that about 75% of his pictures were produced after 1675. So the odds are very high that any given Heemskerck painting was produced in England. One way to locate and date a picture more precisely is through the costume. Unfortunately, peasants in Holland and south-eastern England wore much the same clothes, and lower class costume in this period changed very slowly. Much of their clothing was home-made or the work of local craftsmen to simple and long established patterns. The wearing of cast-offs was also common meaning that peasants can appear in the outdated fashions of up to 100 years before. Our first image presents some of the problems of dating by costume particu- larly well. In terms of gentry fashion the clothes here seem to represent a bewildering variety of periods. The multi-but- ton slash doublet and ruff are typical of the late 16th or early 17th century, while the short tabbed jacket is typical of the early to mid 17th. The hats are peasant styles that occur repeatedly though all periods of the Heemskerck’s work - the pudding basin, the acorn, the tall crown, and the bonnet/beret. But the young man’s tight button-knee breeches worn without stockings, tell us this is actually the late 17th or early 18th century. In fact his old fashioned jacket and ruff continued to be worn by ordinary peasants well into the 18th century, while his unbuttoned ruff and unbuttoned breeches with bare calves seems to have been something of a sub-cultural style among younger tavern users in the later 17th century. Variants of this figure appear over and over again in Heemskerck tavern scenes. The scene is one they reworked time and again too, the small group of drunken singers round a barrel and often includ- ing variants of stock characters. Overall, despite the archaism, the costume suggests the picture is late 17th century. The British Museum attribute it to the Younger Heemskerck, which would mean it is no earlier than about 1690.    As it’s a reworking of one of the father’s stock images, and close to the father’s style - things I have come to associate with the son’s early work - I think a date of around 1700 wouldn‘t be far out. Our second piper [fig. 2] provides clues that seem to place the picture in the 1680s or 1690s. The piper’s hat, for example, is a shallow brim tricorn, a style that began to take shape around the late 1680s/early 90s. Earlier hats had wider brims and less elaborate shaping. On the other hand, the piper’s “rhine- grave” breeches probably rule out a date much later than 1690. These were the height of fashion in the 1660s, but rarely seen by the 1690s, though the breeches are patched: Heemskerck is actually saying these are old and worn The other characters are harder to make out: most appear to be in generic dark homespun, but the character at the back has the tighter breeches and waist- coat that became fashionable around the early 1680s. The groper on the right wears the same short tabbed jacket we saw in the previous picture: there’s an- other in a painting by Egbert senior actually dated 1686. All in all, the clothing seems to suggest a date of around 1680-90, so it’s worth noting that what may be the same tavern interior appears in a painting which is signed and dated 1689. Both these pipers, like most of the Heemskerck tavern musicians, wear cloaks which may be significant. Travelling musicians had every reason to wear a cloak, and there are many cloaked minstrels in European imagery. But it isn’t the norm in European imagery, and when they are cloaked they are usually outdoors, sometimes represented as ragged itinerants.

The elder Heemskerk’s musicians ho ever, are almost invariably cloaked, almost as invariably indoors, and they are usually no more beggarly than their audience. It may be we are seeing here a Dutch immigrant observing a particular feature of English law and custom. From the late middle ages to the present day, public musical performance in England has been subject, to varying degrees, to a series of licensing restrictions. Up to the mid-18th century these generally restricted lower class musicians to performance within their parish. Professional minstrels under the patronage of a grandee or corporation were allowed to travel further, perhaps within the county. The truth seems to be that “wandering minstrels” generally “wandered” over a very limited area, and they were themselves eager both to keep strangers off their patch and to restrict local amateurs. To this end professionals formed local fraternities to regulate the trade in their area: members were distinguished by their cloaks. These were sometimes in the colours of a patron or fraternity, and they would carry their badge or license inside. The period also saw a series of agrarian clearances to make way for larger scale commercial agriculture, leading to a major vagrancy problem and a series of harsh laws against “rogues and vagabonds”. One such act - the 1572 Statute of Vagabonds - effectively criminalized minstrels and travelling performers by actually classing them as rogues and vagabonds, leaving them potentially open to punishments of whipping, mutilation and death. As with previous legislation licensed minstrels could ply their trade within a limited area, but the professional minstrel’s cloak now became an immediate and visible symbol of vital importance. By Heemskerck’s time the worst penalties of the act had been mitigated, but the substance remained in force throughout the following century. So it may just be that the ubiquity of the minstrel’s cloak in the elder Heemskerck’s paintings, in all weathers, indoors and out, reflects an English location. However, perhaps the most important clue confirming these pictures were in- deed painted in England and not Holland is the instrument itself, and before we go any further I think we need to ask ourselves just why we recognize this instrument as the Border Bagpipe. Clearly it is different from the characteristic north European conical bore pipes of the era, of which there are literally hundreds of paintings. These all show essentially the same configuration. A large “wineskin” bag of vertical orientation, usually held against the front chest or slightly under arm. The drones usually slope vertically over the bag shoulder or point vertically away from the player to the front. Typically there are two drones mounted in a common stock. And these pipes are always mouth blown. If we return to our tavern bagpipe this is a radically different configuration. It’s bellows powered, and while it shares the common stock principle it has three drones not two, clearly rendered as bass and two tenors. This is the standard configuration for museum Border sets - only a minority feature an alto drone - but was a very rare drone configuration in Europe at this time. Similarly rare is the draping of the drones over the bel- lows arm: I know of a few European pictures showing this in smallpipes, but none with a conical bore pipe. To this we can add the position of the bag, apparently held horizontally and tucked under the armpit, very rare in 17th centu- ry Europe. Where these striking differences of configuration came from is an interesting issue. There was probably some influence from continental smallpipes. In Europe at this stage bellows power seems almost entirely confined to small- pipes aimed at the gentry “pastoral” cult, and it’s also with smallpipes that we sometimes see the horizontal drone position, though more often pointing the “wrong” way, away from the body. It’s with small pipes that we get three drones too, though as bass tenor and 5th. However, any influence on the bag position seems unlikely: European smallpipe paintings generally show the same wine-skin style vertical bag as the great pipe images. Whatever the European influence, it is possible to detect something of an evolution towards the border style configuration in British imagery: early 17th century carvings from Yorkshire, Aberdeenshire and Fife and a drawing in a calligraphic copybook from Leicestershire all show the drones over the opposite shoulder, halfway to the over-arm position, while the Thornhill piper from Stirlingshire has two drones in the full Heemskerck position. Several of these images show the underarm horizontal bag position too, as do many of the more convincing British vernacular images from as far back as the Luttrell Psalter and the Ellesmere manuscript. Images like these can perhaps be seen as evidence of a gradual evolution towards the instrument that finally appears in the Heemskerck paintings.


The two Heemskerck Pipers we have seen so far have been in the public domain since Pete’s book. I’d like to conclude by showing you several new images, mostly from the collections of the Witt Library in London and the RKD in The Hague. But first here’s an image found by Michael Holgate on the web: the same piper as in Pete’s picture, but in a different tavern interior. [Fig. 3] I wonder if fig. 4 is the same piper too. It is simply attributed to “Egbert Van Heemskerck” in the Witt, but the crudity and cartooish quality is typical of the son. It looks like a reworking of one of his father’s stock images, typical of his earlier work around 1690-1710. The piper again wears a shallow brim tricorn, but instead of the cloak he now seems to wear a type of coat called a Justacorps. This started life as military wear in the 1650s and 60s and was gradually adopt- ed as fashionable civilian wear from shire all show the drones over the opposite shoulder, halfway to the over-arm position, while the Thornhill piper from Stirlingshire has two drones in the full Heemskerck position. Several of these images show the underarm horizontal bag position too, as do many of the more convincing British vernacular im- ages from as far back as the Luttrell Psalter and the Ellesmere manuscript. Images like these can perhaps be seen as evidence of a gradual evolution to- wards the instrument that finally appears in the Heemskerck paintings.

Fig. 3

Fig. 4

THE “NEW” PAINTINGS The two Heemskerck Pipers we have seen so far have been in the public do- main since Pete’s book. I’d like to con- clude by showing you several new images, mostly from the collections of the Witt Library in London and the RKD in The Hague. But first here’s an image found by Michael Holgate on the web: the same piper as in Pete’s picture, but in a different tavern interior. [Fig. 3] I wonder if fig. 4 is the same piper too. It is simply attributed to “Egbert Van Heemskerck” in the Witt, but the crudity and cartoon-ish quality is typical of the son. It looks like a reworking of one of his father’s stock images, typical of his earlier work around 1690-1710. The piper again wears a shallow brim tricorn, but instead of the cloak he now seems to wear a type of coat called a Justacorps. This started life as military wear in the 1650s and 60s and was gradually adopt- ed as fashionable civilian wear from around the late 1670s/1680s. The com- bo of tricorn and Justacorps on a lower class character probably dates this to no earlier than around 1690. The absence of a cloak also suggests the Younger‘s hand: just as the elder’s minstrels usually wear the cloak, the Younger’s tend not to - by his day the old fraternity system was probably in decline, though successive 18th century Vagrancy Acts contin- ued to target minstrels and a licensing system remained in force.



 Fig. 6

Fig. 6 is also by the Elder, it shows a similar figure but closer up: when Heemskerck’s min- strels aren’t playing for dancing they seem to be playing for singing. Fig. 7 was sent me by Jeroen de Groot of the Dutch band Hailander   Jeroen deserves credit as the first man to spot Heemskerck’s pictures and see their significance: it was he who first alerted Ernst Schmidt to their existence. It’s from a poor photocopy of a photo so hard to pick up enough detail to say more than that it is late 17th century, and a typical elder Heemskerck scene with several stock motifs. The piper looks almost “Scotch” or “Northern” but this is probably down to clichés like the bonnet - actually one of the commonest form of European lower class headgear at the time - and what look like a plaid, but is probably the usual folded back cloak (in any case plaid-style garments were not confined to Scotland back then). What is probably most significant about this piper is that, like the club footed piper, he has the look of being drawn from life, though it‘s clearly not the same man. Notice how quietly he seems to be sitting compared to the others - how realistic and un-caricatured the face compared to the others - how he looks right at the artist and the viewer - and the realistic chanter hold, with the lower hand finger joints.

Fig. 7

Fig. 8 shows the type of village festival scene which was a staple of Low Country art. It seems to have been totally ignored by the elder Heemskerck but enthusiastically taken up by the Younger. You’ll notice how archaic the clothes seem to be, though this was probably painted early in the son’s career around 1690-1710 and if you look closely at the piper you’ll see he is wearing a late 17th or 18th century Justacorps coat. Once again he appears to be disabled - a hunchback. The bagpipe is much more crudely represented than in the father’s work, and though we clearly see the bass and two tenor configuration, two things are different here. First, the highly splayed drones. Splayed drones are a genuine feature of some museum sets, but this seems to be very exaggerated. The other thing is that - alone amongst these Border pipe images - this one seems to show a blowstick. The drawing in Fig. 9 is probably also by the Younger. The bagpipe’s highly splayed drones look suspiciously similar to the previous image. The longish breeches without stockings would confirm a date around 1700.  

Fig. 8

 One striking feature of the Heemskercks’ pictures is the popularity of breeches without stockings among tavern figures around that time. Initially these show ordinary button-knee breeches with a slit bottom, but eventually the slit disappears and the leg gets longer, perhaps in response to the fashion. As in some of our earlier images, the piper is the main figure here. He is certainly the most carefully drawn, the most emphatically shaded, and the only one with facial detail. He is also the only one not to wear a generic acorn hat and has the most interesting pose. Whilst we see here a stock image - the singers round the barrel - the piper himself doesn’t seem to be a simple reworking of a stock figure or an earlier piper: once again I suspect he may be drawn from life.


Fig. 10

Fig 10 shows some more splayed drones. They‘re hard to see: this seems to be an image “after“ the original produced for the Victorian/early 20th print market and a lot of the detail has been lost, but if you look up close you can just make them out. This is probably the Younger’s work again. As well as the splayed drones note the much cruder workmanship, the cartoon-ish style, the absence of a cloak - also the multiple tabs on the jacket waists, the only other place I have seen these are in two of the Younger’s pictures. The picture in Fig. 11 is also attributed to the Younger by the RKD. Note once again the three drones appearing to splay outwards from a common stock over the opposite arm. Like the preceding pictures by the son it still reflects the Elder’s favoured themes, and includes some typical Elder motifs, but is overall cruder than his work - though not as caricatured as much of the Younger’s later work. I‘d date this to around 1700, and certain features of the costume like the prevalence of shallow brimmed hats might suggest the same. Interestingly it follows a very similar compositional structure to another of his pictures in the Shipley Gallery, Gateshead, which is dated there to 1700-1705.


Despite the difficulty of precisely dating images like these, what evidence there is points consistently to a period from about 1680 to 1720, with the emphasis on the earlier decades, and several pictures in a tighter time frame of around 1690-1700. The absence of pictures from an obviously later date is very noticeable. This might be taken to represent the son’s observation that the instrument was getting rare, however, having looked at a large number of his tavern scenes I’m of the opinion most were also painted in his early period, and its probable the bagpipe disappears be- cause in the years after his father’s death he increasingly concentrated his efforts on his fantasy pictures and his stage career. Of course the literary evidence does suggest the bagpipe was getting rare by the early 18th century, and the much higher proportion of fiddlers in the Heemskerck paintings perhaps confirms its medieval leading position had long gone.


fig. 11

The dating gives a south-eastern English location, around London and Oxford, and these are likely to be rural locations too. All the outdoor scenes by the younger Heemskerck are set in rural locations. Although the elder’s tavern scenes are overwhelmingly interiors, the few exceptions are also rural, and what we can see of the view out of his tavern windows usually looks rural too. This was the convention within genre art: although Low Country artists mostly lived and worked in towns they usually painted rural scenes. This is important because the English licensing system largely restricted vernacular performance to a local area. One can imagine this system might break down in a city like London but not in the countryside. The obvious conclusion is that Heemskerck’s minstrels were supposed to represent relatively local people and not strays from the north, despite the close association of bagpipes with Northern England and Scotland in period literature, and the known presence in London of pipers in the entourage of certain Northern English gentlemen. I think these images have to alter our perception of the instrument‘s history. There now seems little doubt that a bagpipe with the same fundamental configuration as the one we now call the Border, Scots Lowland, or Northumbrian Half-Long Pipe was being played in south-east England in the last quarter of the 17th century, most likely by local musicians. Moreover, this is its first definite appearance in the record. This doesn’t mean it originated there - but neither does it mean that it didn’t. On the one hand the images we discussed from Northern England and Scotland seem to suggest something of the gradual evolution of a generic British great pipe towards the Border configuration within that region; on the other hand one can imagine key developments like the addition of the third drone and of the bellows taking place in London’s thriving woodwind industry, especially with the city‘s major links to Germany and the Low Countries where bellows driven and three drone smallpipes date back at least to the late 16th century. Indeed, educated southerners were re- ferring to bellows bagpipes before even Praetorious: the Londoner Ben Jonson linked bagpipes and bellows in 1617. It certainly seems to me that if this instrument is the “Border” bagpipe then historically at least, it’s been a very wide border. By now many of us are familiar with the tale of James Budge from Caithness, who was banned from play- ing his bellows pipe at the Highland Society’s competitions in 1821. They referred to his pipe as “the common bagpipe”. From Caithness to the Home Counties surely suggests that in its time this may have been a very common bagpipe indeed.

(An extended version of this talk, with some coloured images, will be available on line in the New Year)