the Pipe and Tabor compendium

the Pipe and Tabor compendium

essays on the three-hole pipe

UK terminology

some Regency and Victorian terms

Lantern slide (glass photographic plate; hand-tinted)
Photographer: Henry W Taunt, Oxfordshire, 1860 to 1922.
Copyright: English Heritage. National Monuments Record, 'Merrie England' series. TS00002

The name of the instrument and the person playing them was not fixed in the 19th century. The player (also known as tabor and pipe player), was called a tabor, a taborer, taber, taberer, or a piper. I also have references to a fife and tabor player>, performer on drum and pipe, (also here ^^), a drum and fife player" " , a fife and drum**, fidler and pipe and taborist*. I've come across three fingers and drum^ and many references amongst records of conversations with Victorian morris dancers of the drummer and the tabor and pipe~. Further analysis of Victorian morris dance terminology is here.


1830 - piper or tabor and pipe? Newespaper report:

1830 quote

1836 : drummer - harvest time poem 1836 drummerNew Lyrical Almanack for 1837


References to fife and drum players especially in a military context usually turned out to be bands. I have one reference to the pipe being called a whistle, but that is in a Scottish novel and it is a sexual innuendo. [Peveril of the Peak ]

Generally when the word 'piper' is used I assume the piper plays a bagpipe of some sort or another wind instrument unless I have evidence to the contrary.

Examples of 'piper' meaning a pipe and tabor player

In Peele's Edward I, (1591) when Lluellen orders the Peddler, the Priest, and the Piper to pay money to Friar Hugh ap David, the Peddler complains that he has only three pence tucked away in a corner of his shoe, prompting Rice ap Meredith to wonder aloud if the Piper might have some mutton hidden in his tabor. The piper is a non-speaking character in the play.

1780 morris piper

It is recorded that nine people were involved in a morris dancing jubilee in 1780 in Oxfordshire.
The records call him a piper, then later he is listed along with other members of the side as:

"1 Piper (Tabor and pipe)"
Notes by Cecil Sharp from Conversation with Mr. Geo. Simpson (near Didcot) July 1908

In 1813 Tom the Piper who was sent to London to collect money is then described as playing the pipe and tabor.

" Myself above Tom Piper to advance,
Who so bestirs him in the Morris-dance,
For penny wage.

His tabour, tabour-stick, and pipe attest his profession ; the feather in his cap, his sword, and silver-tinctured shield may denote him to be a squire-minstrel, or a minstrel of the superior order "
John Brand's Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain: Chiefly Illustrating The Origin of Our Vulgar and Provincial Customs, Ceremonies and Superstitions, [Arranged, revised and greatly enlarged by Sir Henry Ellis], George Bell and Sons, London: 1908, vol. 1, pp. 212-270 (Original ed. 1813).


1807 - 1818 in the folk-song 'Twas in the Pleasant Month of May'

"It was just at one evening  
As the sun was a-going down,  
We saw the jolly piper  
Come a-strolling through the town.  
There he pulled out his tabor and pipes  
And he made the valleys ring;  
So we all put down our rakes and forks  
And we left off haymaking.  
We called for a dance  
And we tripped it along;  
We danced all round the haycocks  
Till the rising of the sun.

printed by Sarah Taylor


1826 in a collection of old poems and stories:

"There was a merry piper
Approached from the town:
He pulled out his pipe and tabor....,"
The Haymaker's Song: from Hone, EveryDay Book


In 1864 Sir Gilbert Scott recalled that at Christmas time when he was a child:

'Besides the usual carol singers and hymn singers who went from house to house I recollect we were always visited by a piper a little before Xmas',

but later he adds that

"the instrumental combination of three-holed pipe and tabor drum was a rare one"

Scott (1811-1878) was a Victorian architect associated with the design, building and renovation of churches, cathedrals and workhouses.
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


1888 'The Pied Pipe of Hamelin' poem:

The musician was called a piper - "Into the street the Piper stept .. "
The instrument he played was a pipe - "at the scarf's end hung a pipe "
Was he a pipe and tabor player? Near the end the poem says:

"The place of the children's last retreat,
They called it the Pied Piper's Street,
Where any one playing on pipe or tabor
Was sure for the future to lose his labor"
narrative poem by Robert Browning (1812 - 1889).

Victorian morris dancing:
In 1837 in a newspaper article describing the Betley Window, the pipe and tabor player is described as 'the piper'

1854 the 'piper' for morris dancing in Northampton

'Joseph Pole the piper' played for Bucknell morris men in Oxfordshire. Cecil Sharp examined his pipe and noted that he hanged the drum over his thumb not his wrist.

"a man once came over from Finstock, named Dore who used to play dub and whittle" wrote Cecil Sharp in his ' notes ' . In 1851 another note was made that in Finstock a fiddler was " Living adjacent to piper Stephen Dore".
So the 'piper' was a pipe and tabor player.

“two men who had seen one end of a tunnel wanted to know where it led to, or whether there was treasure in it. One of them was a musician; at Richmond Castle (Yorkshire) he is said to have been a drummer boy, but at Grantchester (Cambridgeshire) and elsewhere, a fiddler or a piper. This musician entered the tunnel and walked along it, playing as he went, while his friend followed above ground, tracking him by the sound; suddenly the music ceased, and the musician was never seen again”

‘A Dictionary of English Folklore’ JACQUELINE SIMPSON STEVE ROUD online here

* "Westbury, Bucks: Mrs. Johnson (nee Makepace). Her father used to play pipe and tabor, for Brackley dancers and for Westbury Morris, but seemed doubtful whether Westbury had an independent Morris of its own. Her father died 40 years ago then the Brackley men got another pipe and taborist. "

** "Wheatley, Oxon. : A man of the name of Gomme used to come from Horton to play fife and drum"

^ "Barton Hartshorne, Bucks. George Horwood (80) remembers Morris in Barton and Chetwode-70 years ago. A cousin of his of the same name used to play the pipe "three fingers and drum"

^^ "No sticks, only hanks. Drum and pipe or fiddle. Very proud of it and very proud of Ducklington Morris. Neither Bampton nor Field Town so clean as we. We had clean shirts every morning." [no indiction as to whether they were played by one person or two - ed]

" "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;"

~ "C. Benfield's lively fiddle-strains took the place of the tabor and pipe."
The Chipping Norton Deanery Magazine, 57 (September 1885)

>"The Ilmington Morris Dancers are a very clever and proficient troupe of performers,
and their entertainment gave great satisfaction.
" Playing the fife and tabor was James Arthur.
The Banbury Advertiser, 17 June 1886


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