the Pipe and Tabor compendium

the Pipe and Tabor compendium

essays on the three-hole pipe

England history: pipe and tabor

Cotswold morris dance

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The pipe and tabor were played for Cotswold morris dancing in England for many centuries.

By the end of Victorian times it was superceded by the violin and then the melodeon and accordian. In the late 20th century and 21st century there has been a revival of the pipe and tabor playing for morris.

[This is not an exhaustive study of the morris, just some items I have come across - project manager ]

"John the piper " occurs in some Newton charters about 1346.
" Myself above Tom Piper to advance,
Who so bestirs him in the Morris-dance,
For penny wage."

Drayton (" Eclogue" iii.) quoted in Rush Bearing by Alfred Burton 1891 p130

In the records of a 1448 feast, Careawey, a harpist, and a certain John Pyper are named, alongside morris dancers and other minstrels. Goldsmiths’ Wardens’ Accounts and Court Minutes, CL, 165
The theft of instruments, including morris bells (recorded in 1515).  Court of Common Council, Journal 11, CL, 324, Court of Common Council, Journal 12, CL, 421

Morris dances that are mentioned with some regularity in the Watch records between 1477 and 1541. The Drapers’ Wardens’ Guild account for 1477 for the City of London, when the mayor was a draper, record that his company provided a morris dance and a pageant for the watch. In 1541 the Drapers provided a morris dance with its minstrel, a tabor, drums, and flutes. In 1512 the total cost for three pageants, including the morris dance, was £12 17s. 9d. In the 1520’s the Drapers provided a morris dance with its minstrel, a tabor, drums, and flutes, as well as pageants.

The Drapers’ Minutes and Records list:

Burnet, William; [minstrel; Morris dancer] 1522
Darrall [Darrell], William; [Morris dancer (leatherseller)] 1530
Fount [Fons, Founs], Walter; [Morris dancer; minstrel] 1525-36
Greves, Robert; [Morris dancer, minstrel] 1521
Lymmyr, John; [Morris dancer; minstrel (bowstring maker)] 1541


Morris dancing played an important role in the life of the church. Individual churches paid for food and drink and the costumes of the dancers as well as giving them a payment. It fell from favour after the Elizabethan Settlement of 1560. Thereafter, tainted by association with Rome and condemned by an increasingly militant Puritanism, church performances dwindled; they became the target of Episcopal injunctions from 1571 and had largely disappeared by the early seventeenth century.
Lancaster Castle1580's Lancaster Castle
wood carving, probably part of a casket
“In 1585, John Taylor published " Drinke and Welcome," in which he mentions
"the fagge-end of an old man's old will, who gave a good somme of mony to a Red-fac'd Ale-drinker who plaid upon a Pipe and Tabor, which was this :
' To make your Pipe and Tabor keepe their sound,
and dye your crimson tincture more profound,
There growes no better medicine on the ground”
[quoted in Rush Bearing]
Terminating the performances of Elizabethan plays a morris jig was danced with an infusion of rhyming songs or speeches delivered by the clown of the theatre to the accompaniment of pipe and tabor. Jigs usually lasted for an hour. The Stationers' registers contain entries in 1595 of two jigs described respectively as Phillips's "Jig of the Slippers," and Kempe's "Jig of the Kitchen-stuff Woman." Other jigs referred to by contemporary writers are "The Jig of the Ship" and "The Jig of Garlick."

“the picked youth, ..., footing the Morris about a May-pole, and he, not hearing the minstrelsie for the fidling, the tune for the sound, nor the pipe for the noise of the tabor, bluntly demaunded if they were not all beside themselves"

Plaine Percevall, the Peace-Maker of England [quoted in Rush Bearing, by Alfred Burton 1891, p107]

Elizabethan clown actor William Kemp, (also spelled Kempe), morris danced in 1599 between London and Norwich after accepting a bet. He covered the distance of about a hundred miles in nine days. This feat took 4 weeks in total.  Thomas Slye was his accompanist and referee.

Thomas Sly1600,Thomas Sly from
‘Will Kemp’s Nine Days’ Wonder’
sculpture to Will Lempe in Norwich

Wood Sculpture to Will Kempe and  Thomas Slye in Chapelfield Gardens, Norwich

Photo: Eric Ortner

1600 a play called ‘The Shoemaker's Holiday or the Gentle Craft’, Eyre announces that:

“for love to your honour they are come hither with a morris dance”.
(By the tabor, the pipe, and the rhythmic fall of dancing feet, Rose is able to recognize her disguised lover.)

Thomas Dekker (F2v , III.iii.49-50).

for other types of dance see:
dance of death
18th century dance
folk customs

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