the Pipe and Tabor compendium

the Pipe and Tabor compendium

essays on the three-hole pipe

England: history of the pipe and tabor

Victorian folk traditions (1830 - 1900)


Harvest Home Procession
John Prescott Knight (1803-1881) painted the 'Harvest Home Evening' .
The 1837 Liverpool exhibition catalogue described the painting:

"The last load is brought in and stops under the village maypole which has been decorated for the occasion. The harvest queen advances accompanied by the cheerful pipe and tabor "

1859 newspaper report 1859Northern Daily Times - Saturday 28 May 1859
1859 newspaper commentry regarding a peep show: 1859Union - Friday 24 June 1859

Punch and Judy:

1849 St Giles Fair, Oxford 1849Oxford University and City Herald - Saturday 08 September 1849

May Day

"Hertfordshire has a long tradition of celebrating May Day ... The traditional celebrations started very early in the morning, before dawn, when groups of young people, usually accompanied by musicians playing instruments such as the pipe and tabor, would gather to collect branches of may (hawthorn) from local woodlands."

18651865Field - Saturday 06 May 1865

1896 May Day procession

“At Charlton-on-Otmoor, Oxon, on May morning a procession used to start from the vicarage, headed by two men carrying a large garland of flowers on a stick. With them went six morris-dancers, a fool or " Squire," who carried a bladder and a money-box, and a man who played the pipe and tabour”

'Old English Customs Extant at the Present Time An Account of Local Observances Festival Customs and (Ancient Ceremonies yet Surviving in Great Britain'
by T. H. Titchfield, London, 1896

Dunmow Flitch: The Flitch Trials are held every 4 years in Great Dunmow, Essex. They exist to award a flitch of bacon to married couples from anywhere in the world, if they can satisfy the Judge and Jury of 6 maidens and 6 bachelors that in 'twelvemonth and a day', they have 'not wisht themselves unmarried again'. Four musicians were at the front of the procession in 1841, one of whom was a pipe and tabor player' who played with so much glee that he cannot refrain from dancing to his own music.' Two pipe and tabor players accompanied the Flitch of Bacon in the procession in 1855.

1841 Dunmow Flitch1841 Dunmow Flitch procession, musicians 1850 child player1850 child player
in procession
1832 satire1832 satire, playing for maypole dancers 1836 playing for maypole dancers1836 playing for maypole dancers
1889Bucks Herald - Saturday 30 November 1889

1823, 1 May: The chimney-sweepers as usual paraded the streets, but with more pomp than last year.
In addition to their ordinary finery they had a drum & pipe, &c.

Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS.Eng.hist.c.144. Frederic Madden MSS., 'Journal for 1823', f.86.


1836 The sweeps procession, in costume, entered "Bedford-row with a fife and drum, followed by an immense crowd of persons, when they commenced dancing and disturbing the whole of the neighbourhood .."

The Morning Post, 4 May 1836, page 4.

18411841 sweeps festivalWolverhampton Chronicle and Staffordshire Advertiser - Wednesday 02 June 1841


1842 Lambeth, London

 Two gentlement "were driving a spirited horse past ...
Kennington-road, when some sweeps, accompanied
with drums and fifes, startled the horse, which became
wholly unmanageable, and in a few seconds dashed the
vehicle against the iron corner post"



 "The juvenile members of the [sweeps] profession disport themselves in fancy dresses - faded finery from Drury Lane, and things that once were smart from Monmouth Street - and parade the thoroughfares with drums and fifes ... To-day, however, in violation of all the canons of art in such matters, some of the sweeps set at nought the good old custom, and actually had the hardihood to appear in washed faces!"

1869 'Chambers Book of Days', May 1st

Jack-in-the-Green procession: "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; but many persons who have a love for old sports and day-observances, can never see the little troop without a feeling of interest, or allow it to pass without a silver remembrance."

By the 1880's the Jack-in-the-Green procession had changed as the sweeps were invited to a formal dinner rahter than processing round the streets:

"And on May-morning the deceivers take on the character of sweeps, and dance the unwary out of halfpence. As for the real sweeps, they have advanced in luxury, and dine at Copenhagen-house. They dance, too, but then it is to the sounds of hireling minstrels ; they have become respectable, and have left the streets to cheats and imposters"

Punch [almanac] VI (London: Punch, 1844), page 196.

1880 newspaper report: milkmaids procession

The Graphic (London, England)
Saturday, May 1, 1880; Issue 544.
milkmaids procession 1872 1872 milkmaids procession,
pipe and tabor with fiddler
(The Graphic)

Whitson Ale:

May 15th 1869

"It was the custom of our simple ancestors to have parochial meetings every Whitsuntide,... all agreeing to be good friends for once in the year, and spend the day in a sober joy. The squire and lady came with their piper and taborer; the young danced or played at bowls; the old looked on, sipping their ale from time to time. It was a kind of pic-nic..."

Francis Douce described an ‘ale’ ... "A large empty barn, or some such building, is provided for the lord's hall, and fitted up with
seats to accommodate the company. ... The lord's music, consisting of a pipe and tabor, is employed to conduct the dance."

harvest time

1836 New Lyrical Almanack for 1837: 1836 harvest time

early Victorianearly 19th century, playing for harvest home
Harvest home evening by John Prescott Knight RA; description from the exhibition catalogue of a painting, exhibited in Liverpool in 1837. (Liverpool was the first town in the 18thc to hold art exhibitions.)

"The last load is brought in and stops under the village maypole which has been decorated for the occasion.  The harvest queen
advances accompanied by the cheerful pipe and tabor"

1838 Harvest home:

" Crown'd with the cares of cornc, now come,
And, to the pipe, sing harvest home.
Come forth, my lord, and see the cart,
Drest up with all the country art.

 The pipe and the tabor are now busily set awork,
and the lad and the lass will have no lead on their heels.
O, 'tis the merry time," 

The New Monthly Magazine and Humorist, part 3, ed Theodore Hook, Rural Festivals

1857 from:" Ballad: THE HAYMAKER'S SONG.

[AN old and very favourite ditty sung in many parts of England at
merry-makings, especially at those which occur during the hay-
harvest. It is not in any collection.]

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; ..."

Ancient Poems, Ballads and Songs of the Peasantry of England, edited by Robert Bell, part 4

1858 'The Old Water Mill' by John Farmer1858 Harvest HomeBorough of Greenwich Free Press - Saturday 12 June 1858

1859 writing about the 17th century:

"the Harvest Cart, and the garland of flowers crowns the captain of the Reapers : the battle of the field is now stoutly fought. The pipe and the tabor are now busily set a- work ; and the lad and the lass will have no lead on their heels...."

Victorian harvest home, playing for dancers
pipe and tabor with fiddler
harvest home
1863 Frant Harvest Home 1863Surrey Gazette - Tuesday 22 September 1863
18671867Western Gazette - Friday 27 September 1867
1869 ' Harvest Home' by E J de Barr1869 The Ipswich Journal - Saturday 28 August 1869

Sept 24th 1869 Harvest Home:

a procession from the harvest fields when all the work was done

" while a pipe and tabor went merrily sounding in front, and the reapers tripped ..."

1891 from the poem 'Tis Harvest Time (Scotland)

"At daylight forth to labour
The healthy peasant hies;
Nor sound of pipe and tabor
Could happier make him rise ..."

1893 from the poem ‘Michaelmas’

"Of peasants when they bring
The harvest of the earth.
With pipe and tabor hither roam
All ye who love our Harvest-home.
Hurrah for the English yeoman"

Fleet Street eclogues (1893) Davidson, John

Mumming plays were still performed: 1850's mumming1850's mumming contdreport of 1872 in the Penny Illustrated Paper (London, England),
Saturday, December 21, 1872; pg. 404; Issue 587 and 588.

1884 traditional Christmas Mumming Play : translation from French, verse 5:

"Christmas quaffs our English wines,
Nor Gascoigne juice, nor French declines,
Nor liquor of Anjou:
He puts th’ insidious goblet round,
Till all the guests in sleep are drown’d
Then wakes ’em with the tabor’s sound,
And plays the prank anew."

CHRISTMASTIDE its History, Festivities, and Carols. 
by William Sandys
1885 Mumming play England - Heyford men had their own version of a Mumming Play, figuring King George and Bonaparte, at least until 1885, and John Fathers of Heyford was one of the last players of the 'whittle and dub', the traditional Oxfordshire instruments for dancing.
1877 The Holy Thorn Bush was supposed to bloom at midnight on the old Christmas Day: 1877newspaper cuttingWeston-super-Mare Gazette, and General Advertiser - Saturday 13 January 1877
Wedding celebrations
18911891Sheffield Independent - Saturday 13 June 1891

Also see:
double pipes
morris dance
pandean pipes
'piper' - Regency and Victorian terminology
street entertainers
'tabber / taberer'
'whittle and dub'
Cecil Sharp, morris pipe and tabor

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