the Pipe and Tabor compendium

the Pipe and Tabor compendium

essays on the three-hole pipe

England: history of the pipe and tabor

'Regency' Folk Customs (790-1829)

From the early 1800's onwards middle-class writers were starting to record rural traditions and customs; they realised that country life was changing and the old ways were dying out.

Traditional customs involving the pipe and tabor were recorded as including:

1793 poem entitled ‘The British Mule’1793 poemHereford Journal - Wednesday 03 July 1793

Punch and Judy

In the Hereford Journal of Wednesday 01 October 1800 it was reported that entertainments had taken place in the market-place in Whitehaven :

1800 newspaper cutting


1801 Bartholemew Fair as reported:

1801 Bartholemew FairOracle and the Daily Advertiser - Friday 04 September 1801

1810 Tettenhal Rut 1810Staffordshire Advertiser - Saturday 30 June 1810

Plough Monday

"Sherwood Forest is a region that still retains much of the quaint customs and holiday games of the olden time. .. These rude pageants are the lingering remains of the old customs of Plough Monday, when bands of rustics, fantastically dressed, and furnished with pipe and tabor, dragged what was called the "fool plough" from house to house, singing ballads and performing antics, for which they were rewarded with money and good cheer. ...Critics who reside in cities have little idea of the primitive manners and observances, which still prevail in remote and rural neighborhoods."

source: 'Abbotsford and Newstead Abbey' by Washington Irving,1783-1859)

"PLOUGH-BULLOCKS [plew-bullocks], sb. pl. plough-stots.
The men who are called the plew-bullocks, or plough-bullocks, and who represent ploughmen, go about on Plough-Monday, the Monday next after Twelfth-day, from house to house, drawing a plough without its share. If money is not given to them they threaten to put the share in, and plough the 'door-stone' up. One of the men who drives the plough has a bladder fastened to the end of a whip. They generally come at night. The one who carries the whip is very gaudily dressed in women's clothes." 

Sidney Oldall Addy A Glossary of Words used in the Neighbourhood of Sheffield (London 1888, vol II p 177): 

Jack-in-the-Green on May Day

"In London there are, and have long been, a few forms of May-day festivity in a great measure peculiar. The day is still marked by a celebration, well known to every resident in the metropolis, in which the chimney-sweeps play the sole part. What we usually see is a small band, composed of two or three men in fantastic dresses, one smartly dressed female glittering with spangles, and a strange figure called Jack-in-the-green, being a man concealed within a tall frame of herbs and flowers, decorated with a flag at top. All of these figures or persons stop here and there in the course of their rounds, and dance to the music of a drum and fife , expecting of course to be remunerated by halfpence from the onlookers. It is now generally a rather poor show, and does not attract much regard;"

source: ' The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent' by Washington Irving (1783 - 1859)

more examples of Jack-in-the-Green processions


In a moralising story called the Court of Hymen, a vision:
“A procession of cottagers, preceded by a pipe and tabor, and decked with garlands, now arrested the general attention...’
‘The pedlar: A miscellany, in prose and verse, by C. I. Pitt. ‘... By Charles Dibdin

Harvest Home procession

Rowlandson drew 'The Harvest Home' procession with a girl playing the pipe and tabor, one in a series depicting typical English life situations:

Harvest Home

Welcoming visitors' procession

ca. 1817 ' The Vicar of Wakefield: The Welcome': 18171817 welcoming procession [detail]

  Milkmaids Procession
1825 The 'Mayer's Song a composition, or rather a medley, of great antiquity'

"In London, thirty years ago,
When pretty milkmaids went about,
It was a goodly sight to see
Their May-day Pageant all drawn out:-

Themselves in comely colours drest,
Their shining garland in the middle,
A pipe and tabor on before,
Or else the foot-inspiring fiddle.

They stopt at houses, where it was
Their custom to cry "milk below!"
And, while the music play'd, with smiles
Join'd hands, and pointed toe to toe. ... "

Such scenes, and sounds, once blest my eyes,
And charm'd my ears— but all have vanish'd!
On May-day, now, no garlands go,
For milk-maids, and their dance, are banish'd.

My recollections of these sights
"Annihilate both time and space;"
I'm boy enough to wish them back,
And think their absence—out of place

from: May 1, 'Every-Day Book', Hone

"the country apes the manners and amusements of the town, and little is heard of May-day at present, except from the lamentations of authors, who sigh after it from among the brick walls of the city."
Page 549

[Ales were one of the principal sources of income for the local church, and particularly for the guilds which contributed in various ways to parish life. An ale was more than the barrel of hearty cheer that it took its name from. An ale was a kind of parish supper or picnic, generally with entertainment and often with various wares for sale either for the benefit of the parish or for the benefit of the vendor. The parish or guild that sponsored the event provided the ale, charging for each tankard, of course. Most parishes had certain fixed occasions when they would put on an ale, and there were also ales for special events, such as weddings, whence we get the term bridal , i.e. "bride-ale". One of the most popular and widely observed occasions for an ale was at Whitsun. source]

1822 imagined scene at Kirtlington Lamb Ale (in 1679) with Lord and Lady of the Lamb accompanied by ‘a moresco of men and another of women’, and describes a contest between maids of the village, with hands tied behind them, to catch a fat lamb. A pipe and tabor is played under a tree:


Whitson Ale 1826

May 23. "The modern Whitson Ale consists of a lord and lady of the ale, a steward, sword-bearer, purse-bearer, mace-bearer, train-bearer, or page, fool, and pipe and tabor man, with a company of young men and women, who dance in a barn."

'The Every-Day Book' by William Hone, 1825-1826
The Every-Day Book included accounts and anecdotes drawn from antiquarian lore and literature that Hone had discovered in his decades of research in the British Library and in his work in the antiquarian book trade. So it is now not easy to sort out what was contemporary reporting, and what historical information.


Dancing Bear
In 1851 Henry Mayhew undertook a ground-breaking survey of the poor of London. He interviewed Londoners about how they made a living. One was a 'street-musicianer' who talked to Mayhew about what he did 30 years before. :

"A stout, reddish-faced man, who was familiar with all kinds of exhibitions, and had the coaxing, deferential manner of many persons who ply for money in the streets, gave me an account of what he called ' his experience ' as the drum and pipes ....."I''ve played with Michael, the Italy Bear. I've played the fife and tabor with him. The tabor was a little drum about the size of my cap, and it was tapped with a little stick"

'London Labour and the London Poor', 1851 by Henry Mayhew (1812 - 1887)

Jig dolls
There are drawings of itinerant pipe and tabor players with 'jig dolls' that were popular street entertainments across Europe. Also known as Marionnettes-a-la-planchettes or Les Petites Marionnettes, they were loose limbed dolls that danced on a vibrating platform as the entertainer tapped a foot. It is reputed that they came to England from Italy. This example is from a fashion plate published in 1815:


Maypole Dancing

1826 Hone ' The Every-Day Book' May 1st
"The woodmen and the milk-maidens danced around it according to the rustic fashion; the measure was played by Peretto Cheveritte, the baron's chief minstrel, on the bagpipes accompanied with the pipe and tabour..."


Annual Wake

1814 'The Excursion', a poem published in its first edition in 1814 by Wordsworth, Book II. The author laments the long-lost days when itinerant minstrels – harpists, as he specifically mentions – would roam the land and be respected and taken in great esteem by everyone, from royal to outlaw......
On a broad vale they see a crowd of people. They hear “blithe notes of music” of pipe and tabor in the distance: it’s the annual Wake.


Accompanying the Town Crier

1821 18211821

Celebrating national events:

1821 - Bronhem Village, Bedfordshire, celebrated the coronation of George IV with a meal on the village green.
“additional animation was given to the scene by the enlivening influence of the tabor and fife.”


Playing at aristocratic events

1791 - Rural Breakfast: 1791

Cotswold Morris Dancing
Many villages still had traditional morris dancing sides.


Also see: pandean pipes
'piper' - Regency and Victorian terminology
Samuel Johnson 1805 dictionary

street entertainment
morris dance

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