Jane Moulder, with help from her instrument-maker husband Eric, reports on a unique ‘improvement’ to the bellows-blown bagpipe made in late-17th century Derbyshire.

In the private family apartments of the Harper-Crewe family of Calke Abbey, Derbyshire hangs a dark painting high above a doorway.  It’s difficult to make out the features but it’s a portrait of a smiling gentleman in a high hat holding a strange looking musical instrument.  Eric and I  realised that we were looking at the depiction of a man proudly playing a bagpipe –but very different from any other bagpipe we had seen before.  

The instrument itself posed a number of questions but the detail and accuracy of the bagpipe – and the fact that it is so unusual – led us to the conclusion that the artist must have seen the instrument as it was unlikely to come out of any imagination.  We believe the instrument to be a type of sordellina, a late 16th/early 17th century bagpipe of Italian origin [Ed. see p. 24], but it is unlike any one previously depicted.  
The instrument is large and heavy as indicated by the red ribbon which is used to support its weight. This is similar to the method traditionally used on large zampognas.  It is bellows-blown and the clap valve, folds and nails can be clearly seen.  It’s a left handed instrument with two chanters and no drones,  although the chanters may well have provided drones in a similar way to other double-chanter pipes (such as the Cornish Pipes developed by Julian Goodacre). The left hand chanter has an extra length, returning at an angle.  There are many keys which, bar one, are all closed standing and the key system uses an overlapping method, similar to that used in the renaissance.  The right hand of the player is shown depressing three keys.  Finger holes can be clearly seen and are, as far as we can ascertain, in the correct places acoustically.  All of this indicates that it is a cylindrically bored instrument.  There are ferules, some of which are decorated.  The bag has a cover which has fringed decoration on the bottom- and end-seams as well as round the chanter stock.
All this detail clearly indicates that it is a real instrument that has been painted and not simply an artist’s fancy.  The artist must have had the instrument in front of him to have been able to paint it with this much accuracy and detail.
The large number of keys indicates that this would have been an expensive instrument to make.  However, does the uniqueness of the instrument indicate that the portrait depicts its maker ?  
Using measurements from a Great Bass Crumhorn, including reed position, etc. we estimate that  the pitch could be around E or D below the bass clef.   If we assume that it is in D with the right hand chanter for the tune and the left hand chanter for the diapason, the range of the right hand chanter could be 1½ octaves taking it up to an a, further lower notes can be obtained on the left hand (diapason) chanter.  
In March 2013 we took the opportunity of presenting the picture to the conference as part of International Bagpipe Day held at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.  It was there that a number of people said that it reminded them of the engraving of Hale the Piper  as depicted in the engraving in John Offord’s book, “John of the Green, The Cheshire Way” [and previously by Roderick Cannon - Ed.]. There are clear similarities between the portrait and the engravings of Hale the Piper.  
There are two surviving engravings of Hale the Piper.  One is in the British Museum and carries with it his Hornpipe:  This engraving is by Sutton Nicholls and can be dated as between 1710 and by 1712. We believe that Hale commissioned the portrait now hanging in Calke Abbey in order to show off, orcommemorate, the bagpipes he had made.  He was obviously well known in his time as a musician as well as for his set of keyed bagpipes.  The hornpipe tune is, in theory, capable of being played by the bagpipes shown in the painting.  The engraver, Sutton Nicholls, had not seen the instrument so depicted a (not very accurate) drawing of a bagpipe with some keys on the chanter.  Hale was from Derbyshire and for some reason, perhaps because of patronage, his portrait came to be in Calke Abbey.  The Harper family from Calke could well have been one of the lords and knights for whom he played upon unique the bagpipe which he had constructed himself .

Details of some of the key-work. Also visible, in the right-hand image, above the left arm, is the ribbon that supports the chanters

ED.:This article is an edited version of the one which appeared in Chanter, the Journal of the Bagpipe Society, Summer, 2013 and is included courtesy of Jane Moulder. The engraving of Hale by Sutton Nichols mentioned above was printed in Common Stock, Dec 2013, p. 38