the Pipe and Tabor compendium

the Pipe and Tabor compendium

essays on the three-hole pipe

England history of the pipe and tabor

Cotswold morris dance

gallery contents
beater and pipe

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).

1601 song from 'Jack Drum's Entertainment', talking about the Whitson morris dance:

"Skip it, and frisk it nimbly, nimbly!
Tickle it, tickle it lustily!
Strike up the tabour,
For the wenches' favour,
Tickle it, tickle it lustily!
Let us be seen on Highgate Green,
To dance for the honour of Holloway;
Since we are come hither,
Let's spare for no leather,
To dance for the honour of Holloway."

'Highgate: Part 2 of 2', Old and New London: Volume 5

1617 Morris dance is discussed in a play:

“Morrice-bels? And waste-coates, and napkins?... . So, now we want nothing but the Taborer wee talk't of: but 'tis no matter, since he does not come, wee'll sing, and so make musike to our selves.  ? [Enter an hobby horse dancing the Morrice, and a Tabourer] Oh, here they are both...[They dance three times, the hobby-horse over throwes them all againe, kisses Musica, and runnes away with the Tabourer]”

'Technogamia or The marriages of the arts: a comedie,' Holyday (1617) 46 editions published between 1618 and 1630 

c1620 On the Thames at Richmond
a pipe and tabor player accompanies
a hobby horse and morris dancers.
1661 and maypoleHone's Everyday Book, May 1st 1661

17th century Wales1

17th century Wales 2

17th century, in Hereford:
“eighteen persons, the fiddler, the taborer, the four whifiiers, and the twelve dancers in this morris”

page 144

“Old Hall of Hereford. ... the waits of three metropolitan cities make not more music than he can, with his pipe and tabor

page. 139

“The wood of this old Hall's tabor should have been made a pail to carry water in, ....; but Hall, being wise, because he was, even then, reasonably well stricken in years, saved it from going to the water, and converted it, in those days, to a tabor. So that his tabor hath made bachelors and lasses dance round about the May-pole threescore summers, one after another, in order, and is yet not worm-eaten.”

page 140

In 1609 a tract called " Old Meg of Herefordshire, for a Mayd Marian, and Hereford Toivnc for a Morris Daunce ; or Twclve Morris Dauncers in Hereford- shire of Twclve Hundred Years Old." is dedicated :
" To that renowned Ox-leach, Old Hall, Taborer of Herefordshire, and to his most invincible, weather-beaten, Nutbrowne Tabor, being alreadie old and sound, three-score ycarcs and upward.”

“Alas ! what do I see? Hold, Taborer ! stand, Hobby-horse ! Morris- dancers, lend us your hands ! Behold one of the nimble-legged old gallants is by chance fallen down,”

page 145

Temple says :
" There went about the country a set of morris-dancers, composed of ten men, who danced, a maid marian, and a tabor and pipe."


1696 Sundays1696 Sundays 2

Quoted in Morning Herald (London) - 
Thursday 07 September 1843

18th century pipe from Chipping Campden 18th century pipe
1720’s - 'Dixton Harvesters', a painting in Cheltenham Art Gallery showing how the harvest was gathered. The pipe and tabor player accompanied all the different activities.
( The painting has poor lighting and is high up on the wall so difficult to photograph [frances] )
Dixton Harvesterspart of the painting
dancingdancing scythingscything
gathering haygathering hay leading a lineleading a line of workers
morris dancers leading morris men
out of the picture
1733, May 19th in the vicinity of Hempsted, Gloucestershire

" two Children were burnt in a terrible Manner at Hemftead near this City, one of which is fince dead, and the other lies dangeroufly ill: It is obfervable, that the affectionate Father was then attending a Company of Morrice Dancers with his Tabot and Pipe, and when the News of this melancholy Accident was brought to him, he refufed to return home, faying, He would not lofe his Whitfuntide."

Thomas Hill 1706-1739

Writers recorded seeing morris men and women dancing to the pipe and tabor in towns too:

"In Fleet strete then I heard a shoote :
putt off my hatt, and I made no stave,
And when I came unto the rowte,
Good Lord ! I heard a taber playe,
For so, God save mee ! a Morrys-daunce :
Oh ! ther was sport alone for mee,

in John Brand (1744-1806)


Rustic Sounds, and Other Studies in Literature and Natural History By Sir Francis Darwin


Gwilym Davies has researched the history of the pipe and tabor in Gloucestershire up to the present. He found that the
pipe and tabor were played in Chipping Campden in the 1770's. James Warner (1737-1772) from the town played for morris dancing. His possible 18th century pipe has been given to the Gloucestershire Folk Museum which, if it is his, is probably the oldest surviving instrument known to have been used for morris dancing.

1772, June 8th

" Warner was an accomplice with Kelly in the murder of Richard Dyer. It seems that KELLY  is a famous Morrice-dancer; and on Sunday morning before the fact was committed, he was teaching a set of fellows to dance.  WARNER, used to play on the tabor and pipes to the dancers.  It is to be hoped the Justices will suppress such nurseries of idleness and drunkenness as Morrice-dancings have generally proved."

Court records GLOUCESTER JOURNAL, 1772

  scrimshawscrimshaw of morris pipe and tabor player
1777 a play incorporated morris dances in the intervals between acts: 1777 advertisement

Leeds Intelligencer - Tuesday 22 May 1781
At the theatre in Leeds entertainments between plays included:
“Morris Dancing to be accompanied by a Tabor and Pipe”


also in 1782 in Derby at the New Theatre “Morris Dancing to be accompanied by a Tabor and Pipe” as part of the evening's

Derby Mercury - Thursday 28 February 1782

By the early 1800's writers were starting to mourn the gradual decline of folk traditions like the playing of the pipe and tabor in the streets.

And by the middle of the nineteenth century fashions were changing and the pipe and tabor dropped out of use for morris dancing.
Many old morris dancers when deprived of the whittle and dub's simple tune and steady beat simply gave up.


Died: "On Sunday se'nnight, Mr. James Nicholson, of York;
supposed in his day to be the best performer on the pipe and tabor in the kingdom."

1811, 19 January

Died "At Easton, near Winchester, aged 94 years,
Mr. John Bucksey, a well-known pipe and tabor player,
who has assisted in promoting the merry dance to at least
three generations of the gay and sprightly."

Jackson's Oxford Journal

1811, 14 January
better known " by the name of Old Bucksey the Fiddler;
his usual instrument, however, was the pipe and tabor.
Few men, in his humble walk of life, were so well known to the fashionable and gay world. "

The Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle

1826, Goswell Road, London; a correspondent, writing to the "Every Day Book," describes what was evidently the same company as being in Rosoman Street, Clerkenwell, in June of the same year :
" They consisted of eight young men, six of whom were dancers, the seventh played the pipe and tabor ...

Morris dancing still went on in the countryside and the dancers came to the towns once a year:

A letter from a reader to the editor of The Every-Day Book (1838):
“In June, 1826, 1 observed a company of these 'bold peasantry, the country's pride' in Rosoman-Street, Clerkenwell...  it was the third year of their pilgrimage; that they had never disputed on the road, and were welcomed home by their sweethearts and friends...”

1829 Duchess of St Albans wedding anniversary garden fete:


1833 theatre dancersMorning Post - Saturday 18 May 1833
18441844 painting by Danby at Stowe House, Buckingham


1844 Buckingham: Festivities on the Coming of Age of the Marquis of Chandos1844Bucks Herald - Saturday 14 September 1844
1845 fete

Weekly Chronicle (London) - 
Sunday 24 August 1845

1846 newspaper report “The Whitsuntide Festivities”1846Cheltenham Journal and Gloucestershire Fashionable Weekly Gazette. - Monday 08 June 1846

“ a very few years before, he witnessed "a numerous retinue of morris-dancers, remarkably well habited, skilfully performing their evolutions to the tune of a tabor and pipe, in the streets of Oxford University ;”

Lytell Geste of Robin Hode, Gutch," 1847, note, p. 365. in Rush Bearing, Alfred Burton, 1891

1850 Greenhill Bower in Lichfield, Staffordshire, on Whit Monday, consisted of a Court Leet followed by a procession that included a pipe and tabor and morris men. 1850 processionWolverhampton Chronicle and Staffordshire Advertiser - Wednesday 29 May 1850

The Illustrated London News of Saturday 25 May 1850 also listed those in the procession: 1850 Lichfield

Lichfield player1850 Lichfield procession


1851 WOOTTON, William ('Old Piper') 1768 - 1851

"An inquest was held on the 14th inst., at the Locomotive Inn, in this place, by R. Weston, Esq., Coroner, on view of the body of William Wootton, mason, aged 81 years. The deceased was well known in the neighbouring villages, as the "Old Piper." It appears he retired to bed at 7 o'clock in the evening as usual, and about 6 o'clock next morning he spoke to a boy, who left his room about that time, and at half past 8 was found dead in his bed. Verdict - "Visitation of God."

The Banbury Guardian 24 April 1851

Mid 19th century - John Potter of Sutton, Oxfordshire
One of the best known and respected morris dance musicians in west Oxfordshire during the middle decades of the nineteenth century was John Potter, of Sutton, a village adjacent to Stanton Harcourt.  He was renowned over a wide area for playing the instrumental combination of three-holed pipe and tabor drum

At Ilmington, Warwickshire, for most of the nineteenth century the local morris was danced to a pipe and tabor: three generations of the same family, from the founder George Arthur (1769-1836) from Snowshill, Warwickshire, through his son Tom (1802-1890), a mason and grandson James (1828-1906), a carpenter.
“the pipe and tabor player, James Arthur, son of the original player, became too old to play, and as there was no one to take his place, the dancing came to an abrupt conclusion”. Cecil Sharp. In 1908 a letter was written to the Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press with a history of Ilmington Morris, including the fact that:

1908 newspaper cutting

The pipe and taborer Nelson, got so drunk once that he had to be tied upright to a tree so he could continue playing. He performed with several sides in north Oxfordshire. Good musicians were much in demand and sometimes played on a strictly commercial basis for a sum of money agreed before-hand.

1860's the quoted fees for a pair of pipe and tabor players at Finstock were 5s. and 7s. per day

Sharp MSS, Folk Dance Notes, vol. 2, ff. 42-43

James Simpson, alias McDonald, aka 'Jim the Laddie', of Sherborne, Gloucestershire

James Simpson was widely known by the nickname 'Jim the Laddie,' which is easily explained once his Scottish origin is considered.  At what age he learned to play the three-holed pipe and tabor drum is unrecorded, but his reputation as a player was widespread across an extensive area of east Gloucestershire and west Oxfordshire.  He accompanied the Sherborne Morris set, but in addition probably also went out with the side from Northleach (Glos), and possibly that based at Great Rissington (Glos). ...
'He used to play it at most of the Morrises for Miles Round.'
In 1856 " Thirty years ago come the Whitsun week he had been round the country to the club feasts with his boys, as he called the dancers, and in a stable at Bourton-on-the-Water, with his tabor and pipe in his hand, poor Jim the Laddie lay down and died."
"the Dub ie Tabour Cannot be found at Present. It was seen among some Rubbish some 4 years Back but if it is found we shall be sure to get it." (Pitt Rivers Museum)

pipe & tabor belonging to Thomas Humphries (1806-1886) of Oxfordshire, who played at most of the morris dances in that county for almost 40 years. Humphries pipe and tabor        
1856 poem 'The Death of the Old Year':1856Maidstone Journal and Kentish Advertiser - Tuesday 30 December 1856 for more on Jesters and the coxcomb hood and asses ears see here  
1858 story 1858South London Times and Lambeth Observer - Saturday 27 February 1858

1858 May-Day 1858Leamington Spa Courier - Saturday 01 May 1858

1863 play

“ But this is a day of enjoyment; away with business, and let the time be spent in pleasure. [Pipe and tabor without.]
Ah! here come the morris dancers; you see I have not forgotten your taste for rural sports, my dear.
Sir Michael. You forget nothing, Lady Audley, that can minister to my amusement.
[He leads her to a garden seat, R. ]
Enter VILLAGERS, followed by MORRIS DANCERS, C., who perform a dance and exeunt

LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET first produced at the Royal Victoria Theatre, London, 25 May 1863


"Finstock Morris danced to tunes played by Stephen Dore and Thomas Langford on the Pipe and Tabor and that they were in demand with other sides including Ascott-underWychwood in 1864 and even played for Bampton."

1864 taborer1864 playing for mummers
at Chilworth, Hampshire

The Era - Sunday 28 August 1859

1859 newspaper report
1880's?c.1880's Joe Powell (1845-1937) and Bucknell Morris Men taborand stickJoe Powell's tabor and stick
Photog Phil Day

This tabor is a fairly standard C19th shallow morris tabor, constructed from a cheese box with second-hand parchment heads. 

Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.

1882, 13 May

"the minstrelsy of tuneful tabor, pipe, and horn the motley morrice dancers merrily mingling the throng! "

Staffordshire Advertiser

18911891 Whitson
drawn as though it
was the 17th century
in Rush Bearing, by
Alfred Burton, 1891

Victorian North Leigh, Oxfordshire
"The Ale started with a procession round the village to the Lord's Hall,.... The procession was completed by the Morris with a ‘pipe and taborer’."

LichfieldLichfield, newspaper picture

1886 “A Revival of the Morris Dance”
A talk and demonstration of morris dance
was given by Mr D’arcy Ferris in Cheltenham
Assembly Room with a 100 year-old tabor. 
He also showed an old pipe which was
unserviceable and so could not be played.

Cheltenham Examiner - Wednesday 10 March 1886

1886 Ilmington morris newspaper advertisement:

1886 ilmington morrisAlcester Chronicle - Saturday 19 June 1886

1886 Bidford Morris Men contributed towards a “Carefully arranged and extremely picturesque May Revels” performed at the Agricultural Halls in Islington, London. 1886 performance1886 Bidford MorrisMorning Post - Monday 10 May 1886
1888 A newspaper correspondent remembered his childhood: 1888John Bull - Saturday 25 August 1888
1891 - as reported in the Monmouthshire Beacon - Saturday 09 May 1891. As part of the May Day Revels the procession included 'Taborer Mr J Cumbley' followed by named morris dancers.


"In every parish they raised a May-pole hung with garlands and ribbons;.... And there was morris-dancing, with Robin Hood, Friar Tuck, Little John, Tom the Piper, and Tom the Fool, with hobby-horses, pipe and tabor, mummers and devils, and I know not what;"

London by Walter Besant

1897 Arthur Sullivan's ballet ‘Victoria & Merrie England’ :

"Morrice Dancers and 6 lady morris dancers arrive and perform to a very attractive jaunty 6/8 theme in which The Era again noted clever use of 'pipe and tabor' effects"

In a newspaper review entitled ‘Exhibition of morris dancing – an interesting revival’ at the Corn Exchange in Oxford, the reviewer noted that:
“During the interval Mr Manning exhibited the pipe, tabor (drum) and bells used by the Headington Morris Dancers upwards of 70 years ago.”

By1900 the practice of Morris dancing in a traditional context was almost defunct in the south Midlands region of England, after more than three centuries during which it had been a widespread element in working class cultural activity

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


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