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 (1790-1829)

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.

1793 poem ‘The British Mule’1793 poemHereford Journal - Wednesday 03 July 1793
End of Harvest
1796 story 1796'Maria; or, the Vicarage. A novel. In two volumes.' ... 1796: Vol 1 by Stabback, Thomas

18021802 dancing at hay-making time


1813 story, harvest home:

“…It was the close of the vintage, and on that day the hardy peasantry had finished their annual labour. They assembled early, and with their pipe and tabor hailed their yet drowsy inhabitants of the castle with their lively strains…”

‘Anselmo; or, The Day of Trial a romance in four volumes’
by Mary Hill


1819 poem - dance after bringing in the harvest

“…And fondly lingers, as he lov'd to hear
Arezzo’s harvest-home, and vintage-cheer.

And hears, before those sounds have died away,
The creaking wains again, the tipsy laughter,
And song;, that bursts from farm at fall of day ;
Sees the gay dance renew’d, and roof and rafter
(For Musick in this clime beats time to Labour)
Reel to the raving pipes and rattling tabor….”

'The Court and Parliament of Beasts'; by  Casti, Giovanni Battista, Rose, William Stewart

"And when that bright day faded,
And the sun was going down,
There was a merry piper
Approached from the town:
He pulled out his pipe and tabor,
So sweetly he did play,
Which made all lay down their rakes,
And leave off making hay.

Then joining in a dance,
They jig it o'er the green;
Though tired with their labour,
No one less was seen."

(the Haymakers Song from Hone, EveryDay Book 1826, Part 4)

1825 Harvest Home dancing
1825‘The Literary souvenir, or, Cabinet of poetry and romance.’
Punch and Judy
1800 It was reported that entertainments
had taken place in the market-place in Whitehaven :
1800 newspaper cuttingHereford Journal - Wednesday 01 October 1800
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
May Day
1814 Glee for 3 voices: 1814‘The words of the most favourite pieces, performed at the Glee Club,
the Catch Club, and other public societies’ by Clark, Richard, ed

“…long life to the merry meetings at Holly Lodge, and may the sound of the pipe and tabor be heard
on May-day again throughout England, among duchesses as healthy as peasants, and peasant-girls as
much alive to the poetry of Mayday as duchesses….”

The Companion 1828-05-07: Vol 1 Iss 18

Plough Monday

1817 "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."

'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): 

1829 182918291829Glasgow Herald - Friday 05 January 1849
Jack-in-the-Green on May Day

1819 "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

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
Harvest HomeRowlandson drew 'The Harvest Home' procession with a girl playing the pipe and tabor
one in a series depicting typical English life situations:
harvest home
RegencyThis design was later used as the centre of a transfer-printed glazed earthenware platter.
Detroit Institute of Arts

There are many records of dancing after the harvest has been safely gathered in such as:

"...Now 'tis eve, and done all labour,
And to merry pipe and tabor,
Or to some cracked viol strummed
With vile skill, or table drummed
To the tune of some brisk measure,
Wont to stir the pulse to pleasure,
Men and maidens timely beat
The ringing ground with frolic feet; ..."

'The Harvest Home' by Cornelius Webb in 'The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, '
Vol. 10, Issue 268, August 11, 1827

1829 Whitsun procession

“… On the 9th inst. (Whit-Tuesday), after a few miles’ walk, I arrived in the village of Shillingstone (Dorsetshire),
… Attracted by musical sounds, and following my ears instead of my nose; I soon found my way to the vicarage-house,
where the company were just arriving in procession, preceded by a pink and white silken banner, while
a pipe and-tabor regulated their march...."

The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction 1829-07-04: Vol 14 Iss 379

Lichfield Bower procession

1819 the pipe and tabor lead the procession. This tradition continued into Victorian times, sometimes with
and sometimes without the pipe and tabor.

‘The Morris in Lichfield’ by Roy Judge in Folklore 1992: Vol 103 Iss 2

Welcoming-visitors' procession
1817 welcoming procession [detail] 1817ca. 1817 ' The Vicar of Wakefield: The Welcome': 1817close-up of taborer

“…Early in the nineteenth century the Corporation of Northampton 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 a hautboy,
and the other on a “whip and dub,” or tabor and pipe….”

THE WAITS by F. A. HADLAND Musical News, 1915

1826 Election procession 1826British Press - Saturday 10 June 1826

Milkmaids Procession

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

Shaftsbury Prize Byzant procession

Records dating back to 1518 tell how it was the custom on the Sunday after Holy Roode
Day in May for the Mayor and Burgesses to lead the people of every parish within the
borough of Shaston down to Enmore Green at one o’clock in the afternoon. There followed
an hour of dancing
Shaftsbury Prize ByzantSomething for Everybody by John Timbs 1861 page 76

After over four hundred years the ceremony ceased in May 1830

[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: 1822 1822

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.

1826 Whitsuntide Celebrations1816The Monthly magazine Monthly literary register - Volume 1 - Page 134 1826
early 19th century Whitson Ale procession
Whitsun Ale‘Village song & culture : a study based on the Blunt collection of song from Adderbury,
north Oxfordshire’ by Pickering, Michael, 1982
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

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:

also see street entertainers here

Maypole dancing

1798 poem1798'Poems, on various subjects.' by Mary Ann Chantrell

17841784 satire, playing for maypole dancing
Lewis Walpole Library
Holland1796 Holland maypole,
trumpet and drum

1800 story
“…The Maypole is brought home, garlanded, and decked with ribbons, to the sound of pipe and tabor,
surrounded by a laughing throng of sturdy yeomen and buxom maidens. It is erected on the great green,
in the centre of the village, to the universal delight of old and young, and the dancing commences round it
with high glee….”

‘The Three Brides, Love in a Cottage, and other tales’ by Durivage, Francis Alexander

1800 poem ‘May Day’

“PLANT the May-pole on the lawn,
Now while day begins to dawn,…
Bid the pipe and tabor sound,
All shall join the mazy round,
Prolonging this auspicious day,
The immemorial rites of May,…”

‘The Meteors, number 7 1800: Vol 2’


“…Then comes the village holiday,
When cheerful pipe and tabor gay
Proclaim the glad return of May ;
High raise the pole with silver bound,
With roses and with myrtle crown'd,
Whilst lads and lasses beat the ground….”

‘Odes, lyrical ballads, and poems on various occasions’ by George Stephen Kemble 

1826 maypoole dancing 1826‘The Every-day Book : or everlasting calendar of popular amusements, sports,
pastime, ceremonies, manners, customs, and events, incident to each of the
three hundred and sixty-five days, in past and present times ...’
by Hone, William, May 1st

May Queen

1813 Children's story ‘THE TRAVELLING BEGGARS.’

“…The village-green now presented a pretty and interesting scene…The crown was placed upon the head of Lucy…
The pipe and tabor now struck up, and the dance began….”

‘The Parent's Offering, or, Tales for Children’

Accompanying the Town Crier
1821 18211821
Playing at aristocratic events
1791 - Rural Breakfast: 1791
Cotswold Morris Dancing
Many villages still had traditional morris dancing sides.
[see section on Regency morris dance here]
Local Events

1810 Tettenhall Rut
1810Staffordshire Advertiser - Saturday 30 June 1810

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.”
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.

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

street entertainment

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