the Pipe and Tabor compendium

the Pipe and Tabor compendium

essays on the three-hole pipe

UK pipe and tabor


The north Wales tabwrdd existed 700 years ago. 'Tabwrdd' and the English 'tabor' both come from the French 'tambour', a word which goes back to the Persian 'tabîr'. 'Bwrdd' means a board or table, which describes the drum as something you could have a meal off. Plural - tabyrddau;  Drumstick- ffon dabwrdd, ffyn tabwrdd .

There is a traditional pipe, (an early form of bagpipe), called a Pibgorn. It has a single reed and is played with two hands. It can be difficult to decide which 'pipe' is being referred to in the literature.

 Poets and musicians in Wales were part of an all-embracing bardic system. Except for taborers and few others. A late sixteenth-century hierarchy of minstrels contrasted the four types of graduate minstrel (poet, harper, crowder, reciter) with four ofergerddorion or inferior entertainers: the piper, the taborer, the fiddler (or player on the three-stringed crwth)...

1808 quote

1808 source a reprint of a 1794 book

This was confirmed in 1828:

1828 quote

Minstrels were prosecuted sporadically in Elizabethan Wales but it becomes increasingly difficult, especially after the 1572 Act, to distinguish entertainers from other wanderers who were regularly indicted as vagabonds. In 1556 a general order was made by the Marian Council against ‘players and pipers’ strolling through the kingdom spreading sedition and heresy. Multiple prosecutions of vagabonds, wanderers and suspect persons, including vagrant women, took place in Glamorgan in 1560, 1577 and 1586 but minstrels were not separately identified among them.

Poets and pipers were in competition: the music was increasingly preferred to the poets’ words. ‘By the saints of heaven’ – exploded Lewys Dwnn (c. 1550–1616) – ‘every Englishman [or anglophile] calls for a pipe rather than a poet of high repute’. The instruments that the bards detested – fiddle, pipe and tabor – were louder than the single-harp and the crwth.

The poets wrote verse of an occasional nature, including satirising certain people in verses which might have the intensity of curses. There is an Englyn (welsh word for a poem) satirising the tabor, pipe and fiddler:

c. 1613 Robert ap Huw Manuscript 

"Fie dinning tabor, unenjoyable song,
Fie the knave who uses it;
Fie the pipe, not a sweet instrument,
Fie the fiddler's echo."

from 'Detholiad o Englynion' Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, Part III, (1953), p.187.
ffei dabwrdd dwmbwrdd difwynder / kanu
ffei or kene sy iw harfer
ffei or bib, nid offer ber
ffei o adlais y ffidler.

[ Peniarth MS 146 .
Much of the collection was acquired and collected by the seventeenth-century antiquary Robert Vaughan (1592?-1666) of Hengwrt, Merionethshire.]

In the early seventeenth-century west Wales a determined effort was made to rid Pembrokeshire of strolling musicians. Six musicians were prosecuted as rogues in Pembrokeshire in 1620. They were variously described as a fiddler, a piper and fiddler, a crowder, two harpers, a taborer and harper, and a taborer. The pipe and tabor became ‘exceeding common’ in the seventeenth-century border counties where ‘many Beggars begd with it’ and ‘the Peasants danced to it’.

By the mid-seventeenth century in Cardiganshire Griffith ap Evan of Caron was prosecuted for
‘wandringe up & downe’ the county ‘w[i]th a taber, & pipe, roguinge & begginge’

There was a tabwrdd player living in Llandeilo in the 18th century. [says Roy Saer a highly respected specialist on folk music in Wales and is the author of numerous books and articles discussing the background and development of the instrumental and vocal traditions.]

Poem by John Dyer (1699 –1757) a painter and Welsh poet

‘While on the grass
The mingled youth in gaudy circles sport,
We think the Golden Age again return’d,
And all the fabled Dryades in dance:
Leering they bound along, with laughing air,
To the shrill pipe, and deep remurm’ring-cords
Of th’ancient harp, or tabor’s hollow sound.’


Dancing to pipe and tabor – Swansea Area, 18th century.

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