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Julian Goodacre wrote this piece for the manual currently being prepared . Now the LBPS is 20 years old, it seemed appropriate to include a preview here.


Parallel to the resurgence in the playing of Scottish bellows pipes during the last 20 years there has been considerable research into the history of piping in the Borders. Information has been gleaned from early written accounts, music manuscripts and comparisons with the neighboring bagpipe traditions. The earliest surviving representations are carvings, paint- ings and prints. Some actual bellows instruments survive, but very few from earlier than the middle of the 18th century. The music and style of playing them was well in decline by the start of the 19th century and such instruments had lain silent for over 150 years.

Our challenge is to draw together these emerging fragments of information and superim- pose them on what we already know of the history of the area and its music and draw up a coherent picture. As a task, it is like trying to build up a picture from a jigsaw puzzle where only a few scattered pieces remain. Research is continuing and exciting new pieces are still being discovered.

Early evidence. Early Kirk and Court records may give accounts of payments to pipers or of their misdemeanors, but not the type of pipes they played. One has to beware of jumping to false conclusions: for example south of the Border there has been a tendency over the centuries to use the word pipes also for flutes, fifes, whistles and even shawms. Can we be more confident that the words pipes and pipers north of the border refer to bagpipes and bagpipers?

It seems likely that bagpipes were being played throughout much of Europe by the late 12th century, possibly encouraged by the flourishing of culture in general and music in particular during that period. All the earliest surviving written references to piping in Scotland refer to the Lowlands. Exchequer Records show payment to pipers during the reign of David II (1329 - 1371). There are references to piping in England from the late 13th century and as pipers were known to travel we might assume that pipes were not unknown in Lowland Scotland during that period.

The earliest pictorial evidence of bagpipes in Scotland probably dates from the late 14th Century. This is a delightful gargoyle in Melrose Abbey of a pig playing the pipes. There are two carvings of pipers in Roslin Chapel which date from around 1450. The pipes de- picted are similar to many pictures of pipes seen throughout England and Europe during this period and feature a conical chanter with a single drone. Pipes such as these are still played in Northern Spain and other regions of Europe.

James 1st of Scotland (1424- 1437) was credited with playing the bagpipe. By the very end of the 15th Century certain Burghs in Lowland Scotland were appointing an official piper and a drummer. Their duties were to perform as Waits, which involved playing through the streets each morning and evening and also at official functions. For these duties they were granted an annual payment, official lively and housing. We cannot be sure what type of pipe they played but there is no evidence of bellows being used at this time. During the 16th Century a Town piper and a drummer became an established feature in Lowland towns. The earliest surviving written Scottish music that we know to be bagpipe music is not until the


second half of the 17th century.

Bagpipes were often depicted in European Nativity paintings as the typical shepherds in- strument. Up to the end of the 15th century these pipes had only one drone. But from the beginning of the 16th century paintings of pipers show a second drone. There are no Scottish paintings of pipers before that of the piper to the Laird of Grant dated 1714. (This is of a highland piper whose pipes have three drones, a separate bass and two tenors in a common stock.) However, a crude illustration of a pig playing a pipe from the psalter of Thomas Wood, Dunbar, from 1562 - 1566, clearly shows a second drone.

The later 16th century was a time of musical experimentation, inquiry and exploration in Europe. Michael Praetorius, in his encyclopedic work on music, published in Germany in 1618, has detailed pictures and written descriptions of a variety of bagpipes. He clearly illustrates a Hummelchen- a bagpipe he states “has been imported from France, in which the wind is produced solely by a small arm-operated bellows”. This is the first dateable illustra- tion and written mention of bellows being used for bagpipes. He also illustrates a mouthblown smallpipe with three drones which he calls a Dudey. It is strikingly similar to some of the surviving 18th century mouthblown smallpipes in Scotland. Similar three- drone smallpipes appear in European paintings during the 17th and 18th centuries.

To cater for the pastoral fashion at the French court in the later 17th Century, the Musette, a highly sophisticated French bellows-blown smallpipe was developed by the Hotteterre family and a large body of music was composed and published for it.

An early mention of a small pipe in Scotland dates from 1600. James Talbot in London in his manuscripts of the 1690s gives measurements for a bellows-blown smallpipe with a closed end to the chanter. This closed chanter has become a feature of the Northumbrian smallpipes and one of the defining differences between these and the variety of smallpipes played in Scotland, which retain their open ended chanters.

18th Century. The 18th century reveals even more pieces of our jigsaw. We have biographi- cal details of individual pipers and contemporary accounts of their music and styles of play- ing.

It is easy now to view the 18th century as a golden era for piping throughout all Scotland. We can trace the names of numerous pipers of all sorts ranging from established town pip- ers and pipers appointed to noble households down to tinkers and other travellers. They seem to have been perfectly at ease playing a variety of different types of pipes. It was a time of new piping developments and in the Borders three types of bellows- blown pipes are known to have been played: the Border pipe, the smallpipes and the union pipes.

We cannot be sure when they were first developed, but during this century the Border or Lowland pipes became well established. Surviving instruments from later in the century are bellows blown, with three drones in a common stock. They were a loud outdoor instrument with a conical chanter. There are accounts of the pipes being reeded to play pinched notes a technique to play notes above the top octave. Dating surviving instruments is problematical as makers did not use name stamps on their instruments until the very end of the 18th Century.

The current revival started out with the assumption that Border pipers had a style of playing quite different from Highland pipers, and their own repertoire.


Clues to this style of piping were provided by the surviving tradition of Northumbrian small

-piping. However, when Matt Seattle unearthed the Dixon manuscript in 1995 we were at last granted a clear picture of an 18th century Border piper’s repertoire. Written by William Dixon in 1733 in Northumberland it is the earliest known British manuscript of pipe music. The repertoire consists of 40 dance tunes (reels, jigs and hornpipes) with elaborate varia- tions. The earthy tune titles suggest that this was not the music of the refined parlour.


The “Montgomery” smallpipes, dated 1757.

Image © National Museums Scotland


Smallpipes           were played          on      both sides of the Border, but by the end of the 18th         century they are generally referred      to            as Northumberland pipes.    It           seems almost certain that the musical reper- toires of the Border pipes and the early smallpipes            were largely           overlap- ping. The Scottish smallpipes  of         the eighteenth            century were similar to the Northumbrian smallpipes  of         the same   era;               three drones in a com- mon  stock and a very small chanter (about 8 inches long). The outstanding surviving example belonged to Col. Montgomery of the First Highland Battalion and is inscribed with his commissioning date of 1757. This and many other surviving sets from Scotland are mouthblown. Whilst Northumbrian smallpipes are always bellows-blown, the closed chanter, played with closed fingering, allows one to play silence - staccato notes being one of the particular characteris tics of Northumbrian piping.

The third type of bellows-pipe played in the Borders was a sophisticated instrument devel- oped in the 18th Century, known variously as the Union, Irish or Pastoral pipes. This was the precursor of the modern Irish pipes. The present name Uilleann Pipes was first sug- gested in 1908 (uilleann is Gaelic for elbow). They were similar to the Border pipe in hav- ing drones in a common stock and a conical chanter, but the narrower bore was developed to play a second higher octave and semitones by cross-fingering. Originally a stage instru- ment for pastoral performances in London, Edinburgh, Dublin and other cities, manuals and music were published for amateur players. It is known to have been played along with other instruments and in Scotland it was taken up by pipers of all classes and Scottish dance music was part of its repertoire.


By the end of the 18th Century we have large pieces of our jigsaw provided by antiquarians consciously recording what they saw as dying traditions, such as Robert Chambers’ memoir of James Ritchie:-

“A person who lived four or five doors from us, and who smacked of an ancient and by-past world, was James Ritchie, the Piper of Peebles, the last person who held the office. Ritchie had been the Piper of Peebles from the year 1741, so that in my childish days he had become a very old man. It was part of his duty to march through the town every evening between nine and ten o’clock, playing on his pipes, as a warning to the inhabitants to go to their beds. He dwelt in a small cottage, where he brought up a family of ten children upon an official salary of a pound a year, the gains he derived from playing at weddings and other festivals, and the little gifts it was customary to give him at the New Year.

I remember the old man calling at our house on New Year's Day in the course of the round of visits he then paid the principal citizens, dressed in his official coat of dark red and his cocked hat - rather merry by the time he came to us, in consequence of the drams given him along with the shillings and sixpences. My father had a liking for him, through the sympathy in his nature for everything musical, and one evening he took me with him into Ritchie's cottage, that I might hear some of the old man’s tunes. The instrument was not what is called the Great Bagpipe, the bagpipe of the Highlands, blown by the mouth, but the smaller bagpipe inflated by a pair of bel- lows under the left arm. I suspect that Ritchie had tunes of his own composition, since lost, for there were three called Salmon Tails, Lyne’s Mill Trows and The Black and the Grey - a racing tune I suspect - which are not to be seen or heard of now-a- days.”

19th Century. Scattered references from the 19th Century may show that bellows pipes con- tinued to be played in Scotland, especially in the North East, but it seems that, as Chambers implies, the old music and style of playing them did not survive. Throughout the 19th cen- tury Highland bagpipe makers continued to make bellows pipes. There is no evidence, how- ever, that they were making for a Border tradition of playing and the way they were advertised suggests that they were supplying them to Highland pipers who would be playing Highland repertoire on them.

Of course bagpiping did not die out in the Borders in the 19th century, but the adoption of the Highland pipes, with their different traditions, as the Scottish national instrument meant that the Border piping tradition was forgotten. The Northumbrian smallpipes continued to be played and have flourished in the last 40 years, with a growing worldwide interest. In the mid 1920s there was an attempt at reviving the Northumbrian ‘half-long’ pipes which are essentially the same instrument as the Border pipes.

Current Revival. The final 25 years of the 20th century saw a big European resurgence of interest in local piping traditions. The Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society was formed by pipers, many of whom were Highland pipers, who were looking for a more sociable way of playing Scottish pipes in combination with other instruments. The Society was formed in 1983 and became the focus of this revival. The initial intention was to encourage a revival of the Border pipes, but it was the smallpipes that took off first.


With the help of Northumbrian pipemakers, modern Scottish smallpipes in a variety of keys were developed for Highland pipers who wanted a pipe which used the same fingering. These modern smallpipes are very sociable instruments, allowing solo pipers to practice quietly at home as well as being well suited in volume and pitch to playing in a group set- ting or session.

The Border pipes have taken a little longer to become re-established. Technically they are much harder to make and adjust and are more demanding to play. Historically the Border pipes were solo outdoor instruments, only known to have been accompanied by a drummer. Whilst such instruments are being made and played today, the predominant demand is for pipes with a mellower sound suitable for playing indoors, often in groups.

Today, as in the 18th century, there is a healthy diversity of interests in bellows piping. Some pipers are interested in further research into early Border pipes, music and styles of playing. Some have adapted their Highland technique and repertoire for these pipes. Others look to European piping traditions for inspiration and much new music is being composed.

Glance through the Piping section of a good CD shop today and you will find recordings of these pipes playing along with fiddles, guitars, whistles and accordions. But you will also find them playing alongside saxophones, electric guitars and synthesizers. A healthy state of affairs for instruments that only 20 years previously had been declared extinct!

Conclusion. Many of the pieces of this emerging jigsaw come from the historical research done by Hugh Cheape, Sean Donnelly, lain MacInnes, Brian McCandless, Gordon Mooney, Paul Roberts, Keith Sanger, Matt Seattle, Jon Swayne and others and has been published in Common Stock, the journal of The Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society. Back issues pro- vide a wealth of historical information and more new research is regularly being published. See also “The Book of The Bagpipe” by Hugh Cheape (Appletree Press 1999) and “Highland Bagpipe Makers” by Jeannie Cambell (Magnus On- Publishing 2001).

The last 20 years of the picture have been very well preserved and documented. In re- creating our tradition, however, we should continuously re-assess the way the neighbouring traditions overlapped and interacted at different periods. We should never be tempted to glue our jigsaw puzzle into a fixed frame!