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Keith Sanger sets the appropriate historical scene for the ensuing articles with their slant on Border (conical bore) pipes.

When this article was first mooted to the Editor it was my intention to examine the movements of minstrels, pipers in particular, and the cross border influences that this produced, However, following the debate within the Society over its name and the continuing efforts to classify the various early sets of pipes, the article has now turned into a different sort of beast altogether.

It seemed the time was ripe to re-examine piping history from the contemporary written or printed sources and compare these against current belief. For example the term ‘Cauld Wind Pipes’ recovered from comparatively modern folk memory is descriptively accurate and with the tenacity of oral sources may well have a distinguished lineage, yet does not feature at all in early written sources, where indeed the first recorded mention of bellows blown pipes in Britain may be no earlier than the end of the 17th/ beginning of the I8th century (1). This was also of course the time when bellows blown pipes similar to the rest of the UK began to appear in Ireland (2).

An instrument cannot be divorced from its music and evidence of some form of “Pipe Music” in early Scotland survives on the 7 - 11th century carved stones featuring a mouth blown triple pipe which probably, from the distribution of the stones, entered Scotland under Irish influence (3).

How these instruments were made and played is open to question. It is however worth noting that if the current Highland Pipe fingering is simply viewed as a top and bottom hand, it is possible to play two practice chanters (with the missing hand finger holes sellotaped over) simultaneously. This results in a permanent drone from whichever chanter has all bottom ‘A’ fingers closed. Add in another drone pipe and circular breathing and the     result is a two drone mouth blown pipe (4). The addition of a bag and inflation tube to this arrangement simply enables the instrument to increase in size and volume,

Perhaps the first firm reference to a bag occurs in the household accounts of Edward 1 of England for 1285/86 where “Cuidam garcioni cum una bagepipe pipanti coram rege de dono ipsius regis ijs.” And Edward's granddaughter Lady Eleanor in 1332/3 where a minstrel called “Baggepiper” got 12d for playing to her (5). How long it took for the bagpipe to appear in Scotland is uncertain, the sculptures at Melrose Abbey and Rosslyn Chapel would indicate mid 15th century at the latest, but there is no reason to suppose that if it had appeared in England by 1286 it would not also be known in the North too. Certainly a piper of some sort had held a 4 shilling land at “Piperstede” in the earldom of Morton, Dumfriesshire prior to 1376 (6).

References in fifteenth century Scots poetry confirm that the bagpipe was in use by that period and it was among the instruments said to have been played by James I (1394-1437) (7). Towards the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries references to pipers and musicians in general became more common in the records, It is also around this time, 1513-61,that the earliest “Highland Pipers”, i.e. musicians whose origins clearly lay within the Gaelic cultural entity, appear on the scene (8).

By 1581 clear evidence can be found for at least two sizes of bagpipe. Compare “James Wilson Pyper accused for playing on the great pype under silence of night” in Perth (9) and “James Roy Pyper accusit for ganging through the town playing on his gryit pype” (1592 Elgin), (10) both infer that there was a smaller version which is confirmed by an   entry in the Stirling Presbytery Record of 1600, where the piper James MacFarlane played both “small pipe and great pipe” (11).

It is at this point that the specific term ‘Highland piper’ occurs, one of the earliest of these being ‘Ane heland pyper’ found in the St Andrews Burgh Accounts for 1612 (12). As most of these references come from Lowland Scots sources, possibly no more should be read into them than the piper was regarded as coming from the Gaelic speaking area. However it should be noted that where the nature of the bagpipe was specified it was referred to as ‘a great pipe’ which corresponds with the Piob Mhor of contemporary Gaelic sources.

It would seem that all that can be said with certainty is that by the end of the sixteenth century, local variations in a large mouth blown bagpipe were played throughout Scotland (and as the ‘warpipe’ in Ireland), while a small pipe that was common to Lowland Scotland and both sides of the border may only have had limited penetration into the Gaelic speaking areas. It is not clear whether Scottish pipes were markedly different from those used in   England, although an entry in the accounts of the Earl of Huntingdon for the 21 November 1606, where 3 sh 4 d were paid for a “pair of Scotch baggepipes for the fool”, suggests that a distinctive Scottish instrument may have already appeared.

When dealing with the various bagpipes it may be preferable to think in terms of zones of influence rather than tight geographical boundaries. However even this approach may be too simplistic given that musicians were a very mobile profession and could turn up anywhere. Given the proximity of the Scottish border it is not surprising to find a Scottish piper at Naworth Castle, Cumberland in 1626, but when a musician called Robert Sympson     appears in York in 1602 is it just coincidence that he bears the same name as our own piper of Kilbarchan? (13).

Both minstrels shared the same propensity for getting into trouble and Habbie Simpson’s known dates are not incompatible with an appearance in York (14). Indeed although specu-lative it is very easy to concoct reasons why Habbie may have found his way to York. At

Kilbarchan Habbie would have found patronage from local families including the Sempill’s

(where Sir James Semphill the poet’s father was ambassador to England in 1599) and the Montgomery’s. One senior branch of the latter at Braidstane and Hessilhead just seven miles south west of Kilbarchan were heavily involved in political intrigue on both sides of the border and in the north of Ireland.

Two of the younger brothers of Hugh Montgomery of Braidstone were resident in England.

George was Dean of Norwich, (later to be Bishop of Derry and Raphoe then afterwards of

Meath in Ireland), and John, a doctor of medicine who was established in practice in     London during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. It would take too much space to deal with the activities of the family here, but as the principle characters behind the plantation of Ulster they were responsible for increasing the Scottish influence in Ireland (15).

Before leaving York a further coincidence is worth noting. Between 1611-1626 a family of musicians called Peacock, father Robert and sons Francis and Walter appear in York House Books (16). This brings to mind another clutch of Peacocks, Francis (d 1807) the musician and dancing-master who was one of the three professional musicians responsible for founding the Aberdeen Musical Society in 1748 and John Peacock (circa 1755-1817) a key figure in the Northumbrian Piping tradition (17).

There is no reason to connect the York family with their later namesakes but it might be worthwhile sometime to explore further the backgrounds of the last two and connections between Newcastle and Scotland especially the east coast up to Aberdeen. Many of the       familiar names in Northumbrian Piping seem to occur earlier in a musical context on the Scottish side of the border. Alexander Munro Kinloch, the Newcastle based dancing master and William Anderson of Ellon, Aberdeenshire, who had been one of the leading Newcastle merchants for over fifty years prior to his death in 1816, were just two examples of the Scottish migration southwards over the 17/18th centuries. Indeed the Newcastle Theatre at one time was in the habit of playing both ‘God save the King’ and ‘Bruces Address’ although neither seemed to receive a particularly rapturous reception (18).

Granted too, once the political divisions had moderated after 1603, the closer geographical proximity of Northumberland to the Scottish capital of Edinburgh rather than London was bound to exert a northwards pull. This was aided no doubt by the considerable Scottish traffic along the east coast route and the cattle droves from the north that had long passed through Morpeth market for the south.

When sometime prior to her death in 1776, the Countess of Northumberland presented to

Jamie Allan “a pair of small pipes handsomely made of ivory and decorated with silver chains which she had procured for him in Edinburgh”, she may simply have gone to the natural place to obtain them at that time (19). It is just possible that by the end of the seventeenth century Edinburgh was already a centre for purchasing or making pipes.

According to the accounts of the Earl of Breadalbane he paid his piper 24 in 1674 to buy pipes in Edinburgh. It is not certain what sort of pipes these were but, since the piobaireachd known as “The Carles with the Breeks or Breadalbanes March” is associated with the year 1669 when ‘two pypers and their men’ were with Breadalbane and in 1697 his piper was being sent to the Isles to Rankine and MacCrimmon for training, it can be assumed that the purchase was a large pipe (20). The price was not too far from the thirty merks paid in 1711 for ‘pypes bought to MacCrimmon MacLeods principal pyper’, a merk was 13 shillings and 4 pence, hence the price was 20 Scots (21).

On firmer ground the MacDonalds of Skye purchased Highland pipes in Edinburgh in 1748 and 1767, for which they paid 3-3 sh and 3- respectively. The apparent reduction in price between these four purchases probably reflects a change from pounds Scots to pounds Sterling, ( Scots was half of sterling). The account for the set of Highland pipes mounted on ivory purchased in 1767 came from Hugh Robertson Turner, whose bill was for 2-5-4 since 44 lbs of Cocoa Wood, costing 14 sh 8 d had been supplied to the purchaser (22).

Jamie Allan (1734?-1810) illustrates the open attitude to piping that existed prior to the latter part of the nineteenth century. Allan was said to have played Highland pipes, the small pipes, the Northumbrian raising or gathering pipes and the Union pipes. Allan was not the only Northumbrian piper to play the Union pipes. An account of Robert Bewick (1788-1849), a pupil of John Peacock describes him playing on the Union pipes. He was described as “walking about excitedly playing Scotch airs with variations in the loveliest manner on that most delicate of native instruments” (23).

The Union pipes made by Robert Reid (1784-1837) of North Shields were presumably intended for the local market but it is clear that Bagpipe makers of the time did not feel constrained by local or national considerations (24). Donald MacDonald (1750-1841), a native of Skye who became a pipemaker in Edinburgh, published in 1808 a set of in- structions for Highland, Lowland and Northumbrian Bagpipes. When in 1817 he published ’a new and Complete Guide or Tutor for the Great Highland Bagpipe’ he also advertised that he ‘carries on the Business of Pipe making in all its branches and gives lessons on the Highland and Union Pipes & co’. This was followed in about 1822 by the claim in his collection of Piobaireachd that he taught the great Highland, Northumbrian and Irish bagpipes (25)

The lack of reference to Union or Irish bagpipes in MacDonalds 1808 advertisement may be a reflection of the presence in Edinburgh from 1806-1816 of Richard Fitzmaurice the Irish piper who played, taught, sold and possibly made Union pipes (26). Among the many     Edinburgh “gentlemen” as his advert as a tutor quaintly puts it, was probably an Edinburgh Writing Master called William Swanson (d 1812) among whose collection of instruments were Scots, Irish and Northumbrian Pipes.

Nor was Donald MacDonald the only pipemaker producing more than one type of instrument. In 1912 at the annual piping competition in Edinburgh, Malcolm MacGregor piper and musical instrument maker to the Highland Society of London was complemented for ‘essential improvements he had made to the great Highland Pipe and the Union and Northumbrian pipe on which last instrument he played several tunes’ (27). This experimentation and development continued, according to a report in the Edinburgh Evening Courant of 4 February 1836, “Robert Miller of Montrose, performer on Northumbrian, Union and Great Highland Bagpipes and now in Dundee had improved our noble national instrument the bagpipe adding a horn to the chanter and extra holes which he works by means of keys”.

This cross fertilisation in piping extended over the Irish sea, where the introduction of the

Union pipes probably occurred no earlier than elsewhere (28). Between 1789-1798 two Irish pipers a John Murphy and one ‘MacDonnell’ played at meetings of the Highland Society in London. MacDonnell is know to have referred to his pipes (which seem to have been small with ivory tipped with silver and gold) as the Irish Organ and it has been suggested that the introduction of the term Union pipes came into use between 1784-1794 (29).

Murphy went on to become piper to the Earl of Eglinton, where among his duties he entertained the company in the stand at the Ayr races on his ‘Irish bagpipe’. After publishing a collection of Irish music he moved on from Eglinton and in 1818 died at his lodgings in West Portman Square, London. His obituary described him as an eminent professor of the Union pipes whose loss will be long felt by admirers of Scots and Irish music (30).

While in Scotland, Richard Fitzmaurice and John Murphy published collections of music which were among the earliest to be produced by pipers, anywhere. It is important to note however, that these were music for the ‘Union Pipes and other instruments’, not specifically pipe music, an important distinction. A substantial part of these collections comprise song airs and music by Carolan and other harpers which were not necessarily wholly of native origin (31). It is also clear from accounts of performances and advertisements for concerts by pipers like Mr Hannigan at New Ross in 1839, which stated that he would perform ‘Popular Airs, National Melodies, Scotch Sonnets &c, &c, &c’, that what was played         covered a very wide range (32).

A similar picture is conveyed by Peacock’s collection where:- “It is well to remember what the aims of the book were not. The book is collection of favourite tunes adapted for the Northumbrian small pipes, other instruments. It is not claimed to be a collection of pipe tunes, nor is it meant to typify Northumbrian music ......” (33).

John Peacock in collaboration with John Dunn is credited with adding keys to extend the range of the Northumbrian Pipe chanter, but it is far from certain when the closed chanter was devised or bellows introduced (34), Most authorities to date have relied heavily on a musette like instrument dated 1695 to derive the Northumbrian pipe from the French musette. But this particular instrument belonged to a Salathiel Humphries in London, which at that time appeared to have been included in the small pipe circuit, according to the evidence of George Skene’s diary. Indeed Skene’s short account which is probably the earliest written evidence for bellows blown pipes in north Britain, poses a number of questions. Who was ‘the famous fellow at Newcastle’ who was beaten by James Bell and why does there seem to be no mention in Northumbrian piping tradition of Bell himself it he was crowned ‘King of the pipers at Newcastle’? (35).

It is possible to argue that the history of a specific type of ‘Northumbrian pipe’ starts with John Peacock and his tutor Joseph Turnbull. But to return to the beginning of this article and the written evidence, the argument can be extended further by the suggestion that a period of perhaps Jess than 100 years from circa 1740-1840 was a time of innovation in pipe making generally which saw the evolution of the modern national instruments:- the Northumbrian small pipes and larger ‘Union pipes’, now primarily represented by the much developed Irish version. ‘This period was not unique to bagpipes, a number of other musical instruments including the harp, piano-forte, and flute were undergoing considerable changes at the same time. It is perhaps not unrelated to the wider growth of experiment and inventiveness that characterised the early part of the industrial revolution.


(1) Assuming the date of 1695 on the musette like instrument in the Royal Scottish Museum can be classed as written evidence.

(2) S Donnelly, Lord Edward Vitzgerald’s Pipes, Ceol, Vol VI (1) April 1983, 7-11.

(3) James Porter, Harps, Pipes and Silent Stones - The Problem of Pictish Music in Selected reports in Ethnomusicology 4 (1983). 251.

(4) A dollop of chewing gum inside the mouth between the chanters helps effect a good lip seal.

(5) B Byerly & C Byerly ed, Records of the Wardrobe and the Household 1286 - 1289, 94 No 825; C Bullock-Davies, A register of Royal and Baronial Domestic minstrels 1272-1327, 5.

(6) Registrum Honoris de Morton, Bannatyne Club, 1853, Appendix LXIX.

(7) 1 Stevenson ed, The Life and Death of King James the first of Scotland, (1837). 54

(8) K Sanger, the Origins of Highland Piping, Piping Times Vol 41 No 11.

(9) J Maidment, The Chronicle of Perth, 93.

(10) Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue, under Pipe Ib, Grit pipe.

(11) Common Stock, Vol 6 No 1, 2.

(12) GS Pryde ed, Ayr burgh accounts 1534-1624, (1937). L:XXVI; - An early use of the term “a certane hiland pyper” dating to some time prior to 1596 can be found in a dubiously accurate passage in The historie of Scotland by John Leslie translated into Scots by Father James Dalrymple in the Scots Cloister of Regensburg in 1596. (Published by the Scottish Texts Society (188-95), Vol 1, 174.

(13) WL Woodfill, Musicians in English Society from Elizabeth to Charles I (1953), 262, 292.

(14) Common Stock, Vol 5, No 1, 13-14.

(15) G Hill, The Montgomery Manuscripts, (1869).

(16) WI. Woodfill, op cite.

(17) Francis Peacock seems to have had a wide musical interest. He left a set of rules for tuning and playing a Psaltry (Scottish Record Office GD 103/2/134). When his daughter Miss Elizabeth Peacock died in Aberdeen in 1814 she was described as the last of a worthy line,

(18) Mr Munro Kinloch junior from Newcastle returned to Scotland to set up as a dancing instructor in Edinburgh in 1822, Edinburgh Evening Courant, 25 May 1816, 6 Jan 1820 and 28 Sept 1822.

(19) K Proud and R Butler, the Northumbrian Small Pipes, An Alphabetical History, Vol 1 Early Times - 1850. (1983), 2. (Despite its name, a large number of the entries in this publication, including most of the earliest historically, fall north of the Scottish border).

(20) K Sanger, MacCrimmons Prentise, Piping Times, Vol 44, No 6 March 1992, 16-19,

(21) H Cheape, The Making of Bagpipes in Scotland, in “From the Stoneage to The 45”, ed A O'Connor and D Clarke, 598.

(22) K Sanger, Who Paid the Pipemaker, Piping Times, Vo! 40, No 8, May 1988, 28-29,

(23) K Proud and R Butler, op cite, 2 and 8-9; For another account see Northumbrian Pipers Society Magazine, Vol 3, (1982);- he generally relieves his powerful mind, in the bosom of his very amiable family, either by hearing Scotch Songs (of which he is passionately fond) sung to the Piano-Forte, or his son Robert “dirl” strathspeys & jigs on the Northumbrian pipes.

(24) K Proud and R Butler, op cite, 30; Common Stock Vol 2 No 1, March 1985, 6-7.

(25) Edinburgh Evening Courant, 3 November 1808, 25 August 1817. Unfortunately no copies of these publications seem to have survived,

(26) Fitzmaurice appears to have been dogged by illness, but at various times he claimed to have “newly invented pipes”. “to have perfected rapid teaching method” and to have “his charming toned Irish made Union Pipes for sale” although it is not clear if these were in tact his own set; K Sanger, “The Irish Pipers’ in Scotland”, forthcoming.

(27) Edinburgh Evening Courant, 21 March 1812, 30 July 1812.

(28) S Donnelly, Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s Pipes. Ceol, Vol VI (I), April 1983, 7-11.

(29) National Library of Scotland, Dep 268 No 34; N Carolan, McDonnell’s Uillean Pipes, Ceol Vol VE. (April 1984) No 2, 59-61.

(30) Edinburgh Evening Courant, 31 Sept 1805, 15 Oct 1818; R.D.Cannon, A Bibliography of Bagpipe Music, 90-91.

(31) J Rimmer, Patronage style and structure in the music attributed to Turlough Carolan, Early Music Vol XV No 2, (May 1987), 14-174. B Boydell, Music before 1700, in a New History of Ireland Vol 9, (1986).

(33) L Jessop, John Peacock, Some Facts and Thoughts, in Northumbrian Pipers Society Magazine, Vol 12, (1991). 18; The collection includes many tunes originating north of the border including one by Neil Gow.

(34) The fact that the two chanters illustrated in Peacocks Tunes’ still have vestigial belled open chanter like ends suggest that the introduction of a closed chanter was not too far back in the distant past;’ S Cocks, The Northumbrian Bagpipes; Their Development and Makers, (1933), and other later writers seem to be unspecific about dating the advent of the closed chanter claiming that it occurred ‘during the 18th century’.

(35) Common Stock, Vol 4, No 1 (Jan 1989), 1I-13.