the Pipe and Tabor compendium

the Pipe and Tabor compendium

essays on the three-hole pipe

UK terminology
whittle and dub

traditional term for the pipe and tabor
in Berkshire, Oxfordshire and elsewhere

by frances, some notes I add to occasionally
Please let me know if
you have more detail to add

The pipe and tabor were also known as 'whittle and dub', 'dub and whittle', 'whit and dub' and 'whip and dub', and the player 'a dub and whittler' in some counties.

As yet I have been unable to find a dictionary definition of the term prior to Victorian times, possibly because the term was only in use in isolated valleys in the countryside. The dictionary definition prio to the 19th century relates only to getting into houses by force. In 1736 a 'dub' was something to do with lock-picking. In the following century, in 1811, the term still related to locks and burglary.

By Victorian times the term was being written down as educated people started to record traditions of their past
before they were lost; farming people were starting new types of lives in towns. In Berkshire by1852 the term
whittle and dub appears to have been shortened to whit and dub as recorded in a dictionary:

"Whit and dub, ancient village music, the pipe and tabor of scripture"

In Northampton in an1854 dictionary the town band (Waits) is described as:

"WAITS. The Corporation of Northampton, within the remembrance of my informant, had a band of musicians called the corporation waits, who used to meet the judges at the entrance into the town at the time of the assizes. They were four in number, attired in long black gowns, two playing on violins, one on the hautboy, and the other on a whip and dub, or tabor and pipe. "

In a diary extract relating to John Potter

"Me grandad told me that Ted Potter from Ducklington [sic] also used to play the Whit (whistle) and Dub. Today we call it pipe and tabor"
W A D Morris, 'We be the 'riginals', Witney Gazette 19 April 1968, page 9

By 1888 a Berkshire dictionary refers to the past use of the whit and dub:

The term whittle appears here as: whittle - to flog lightly

An intriguing reference in 1934 to the whittle and dub states that it is 18th century nomenclature for pipe and tabor drum.
[1934 'The musical companion: a compendium for all lovers of music ' , by Alfred Louis Bacharach, William Robert Anderson ]

In a standard work on the history of the recorder in 1939 there are these two references [which I have not yet seen]: history of the recorder in the Germanic countries' by John Degen, pub Bärenreiter-Verlag)

The pipe and tabor were referred to by their common names of whittle and dub in those counties wherever they were played, whether for dances or in church. In 1923 Donald MacArthur outlining the history of church music said,

"Speaking broadly, the medieval church had no vestry, no choir, no instrument. What was very much a said service satisfied there for ordinary purposes; musicians could be imported for the Church Feast or other special occasions." ....“Village bands began to come into existence about 1780 and were dying out in 1850”. He also makes mention of whittle and dub being accompaniments in churches” and “a wind instrument with spaced stops is so much easier to learn than strings is sufficient explanation of why the fiddle was rare”

Much research has been undertaken and published on morris dance traditions, where the pipe and tabor were used to accompany the dancing at many traditional annual celebrations. For example in Oxfordshire in 1897:

" the 'whittle-and-dub' man, who played the pipe and tabour ... "

('Some Oxfordshire Seasonal Festivals: With Notes on Morris-Dancing in Oxfordshire' Percy Manning in Folklore,
Vol. 8, No. 4 (Dec., 1897), pp. 307-324 , Pub Taylor & Francis Ltd on behalf of Folklore Enterprises Ltd.) 

Mumming plays also sometimes had whittle and dub men to accompany them. Also in Oxfordshire, at least until 1885,

"Heyford morris men had their own version of a Mumming Play figuring King George and Bonaparte. John Fathers of Heyford was one of the last players of the 'whittle and dub', the traditional Oxfordshire instruments" for dancing in the play.

In 1903 two volumes called 'The Mediaeval Stage' were written by Sir Edmund Chambers (1866–1954) in which he commented:

"The music is that of a pipe and tabor ('whittle' and 'dub')
played by one man"

In 1914 Sir Francis Darwin talked about Oxfordshire whittle and dub:

"I do not know when playing the "whittle and dub" (as they were called) became extinct as a village art. It certainly existed thirty years ago"

Whittle and dub was obviously a widespread term in Victorian times. In the early 20th century Cecil Sharp wrote notes about traditional music and dance. In my analysis I have found mentions of 11 'whittle and dub' players from 5 different rural counties in England. In addition he noted from a former dancer of Leafield, Oxfordshire, that:

`Their musician, John Williams, played fiddle and whittle and dub, but all preferred to dance to the latter'

In the early 21st century some morris sides were reviving the term: :

"Music, traditionally supplied by a whittle and dub (a three-holed pipe and tabor, or small drum) or fiddle, can also be accompanied by a melodion or concertina."

At least one foreign language dictionary of the 20th century has picked up the term: the1993 edition (and previous editions) of a Hungarian-English dictionary includes:

"nepi-dalszoveg - with pipe and tabor, with whittle and dub"

[by Laszlo Orszagh, Budapest : Akademiai Kiado, 1993]


further reading:
The history of the whittle and dub at the Pitt Rivers Museum website.



top of page