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

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.

1805 Samuel Johnson ‘A dictionary of the English Language'

Maidmarian A kind of dance so called from a buffoon dressed like a man who plays tricks to the populace.  
A set of morrice dancers danced a maidmarian with a tabor and pipe’ Temple


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."

Manchester Mercury - Tuesday 08 September 1807

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

the pipe and tabor player, 'poor old Master Beechey, of Lew', played at Bampton early in the century.
Jackson's Oxford Journal, 29 May 1858


John Fathers (1789-1873) was born at Upper Heyford, and played for a number of morris sides, probably in the vicinity of Marston. 

“He Played the Whittle and Dub for the different Morris round about – he died about 20 years ago at the age of 80 and the wife of his son ….  told me that she gave her Children the Whittle and Dub to Play with and she remembers them Breaking them to Pieces.”

John Timbs (1801 –1875) wrote of when he was a school-boy:Regencymentioned in the Hertford Mercury and Reformer - Saturday 08 June 1889

As a child Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) lived in Gawcot village, Buckinghamshire. In 1827 he moved to London to become an architect associated with the design, building and renovation of churches, cathedrals and workhouses. Writing about his childhood:

"The Morris dancers were young men perhaps about a dozen in number. ...In their hands were short 'white wands' & they danced to the 'pipe and tabour'... I well remember My intense admiration of their skill. The noise of the dozen wands keeping time with the tabour and of the jingling bells also roughly following the tune added to the lively antics"

(source: London, British Architectural Library, Manuscripts and Archives Collection, Sir George Gilbert Scott Papers, Sc GGS/3, notebook 1, 'Personal & Professional Recollections', f. 27, written 22 January 1864; published in Recollections of Nineteenth century Buckinghamshire, p.18)

at Bampton in the Cotswolds:

" Thomas Radband (1776-1854), had played them around the turn of the eighteenth century;
the pipe and tabor player, 'poor old Master Beechey, of Lew', who had played at Bampton early in the century

(source: Article MT051, Musical Traditions)

at Spelsbury in Oxfordshire:

"Spelsbury Morris (around 1820's) was a set of women Morris Dancers who used to dance on Whit Monday. They were mostly farmers daughters, girls of 18-20, and were under the escort of a man who looked after them. ..... With them went a clown or "squire" with bladders or cow's tail and a man playing the pipe and tabour."

(source: John Corbett, 88, of Spelsbury Aug 1894, The Morris Ring Archive - Cecil Sharp Folk Dance Notes)

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:

1829Morning Chronicle - Monday 22 June 1829

Gutch writing in 1847says that, a 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"

in a chapter called The Morris Dancers:

p 143 "These eighteen persons, the fiddlers, the taborer, the wifflers" (?)
p145 "hold taborer"  

quoted in: 'Rush-Bearing : An Account of the Old Custom of Strewing Rushes, Carrying Rushes to Church;
The Rushcart; Garlands in Churches; Morris Dancers; The Wakes; The Rush'. by Alfred Burton


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


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