Regency Dancing to the Pipe and Tabor
researched by Frances
There is much literary reference to the pipe and tabor being played for dancing in the ballroom as well as informally at village celebrations, picnics and on board ship.
"Miss Hop would foot it, toe and heel,
And in the ball-room toil and labour;
So, to win her heart, a highland reel
I learn'd upon the pipe and tabor. "
( 'Love Turned Music-Master' by Charles Dibdin, 1740 - 1814)
Edward Francis Burney (1760-1848) was one of the many who mocked or deplored the speed and physical contact of the newly introduced waltz. He worked mainly as an illustrator and was influenced by the satirical style of Hogarth. In 1815 in his drawing called 'The Waltz' the ball-room is filled with dancing couples. The orchestra is up in the balcony with a pipe and tabor player at the back [see part above].
Sailors of all classes danced to the pipe and tabor. England was at war with France and large numbers of men were soldiers and in the navy. Whether or not women were present dances were held on board ship, often to the pipe and tabor. A drawing in the Bodleian Library Collection has a midshipman dancing with a 'lady' with pipe and tabor and fiddle providing the music.
The word tabor possibly refers to pipe and tabor music in 1800. In 'The Strawberry Tale', published in a collection of songs "which have been sung at Public Places of Amusement", called 'The New Entertaining Frisky Songster' :
"Your eyes have ta'en captive my heart
The dance and the tabor I shun,
No rest on my pillow I find ;
Believe me, wherever I run,
Your image still dwells in my mind."
A picnic is described in ' The Vicar of Wakefield' by Oliver Goldsmith, 1812:
"Our music consisted of two fiddles, with a pipe and tabor. ....
The ladies of the town .. swam, sprawled, languished, and frisked. ...
after the dance had continued about an hour, the two ladies, who were apprehensive of catching cold,
moved to break up the ball."
'The Garland' is a song written by William Dixon (1760-1825) in the form of a glee. One of "Six lively glees : for three voices NB These glees are within the compass of ladies voices" starts:
"Hark, hark, hark, hark the merry merry pipe and tabor
lead the festive dance along
let us now forgetting labour
Haste to join the jocund throng" etc
In 'Ode to the New Year' by A Gentleman of Literary Habits and Means:
"All hail to the birth of the year,
See golden haired Phobus afar;
Prepares to renew his career,
And is mounting his dew spangled car. ...
And the old year for ever is gone,
With the tabor, the pipe, and the dance;
And gone is our collar of brawn,
And gone is the mermaid to France."
(Hone, The Every-Day Book, 1826)
During his 'Travels in France During the Years 1814-1815' Archibald Alison describes: "the young dancing to the pipe and tabor, or singing in little groupes"
In 1803 the British government paid Charles Dibdin (1740 - 1814) to write a series of songs to "keep alive the national feelings against the French." Dibdin's songs were said to be worth ten thousand sailors to the cause of England. He was one of the composers that Jane Austen particularly liked. Dibdin's song 'Entertainments Sans Souci, Finale', includes:
"All you who have light heels
Dance to the pipe and tabor
At country dances and at reels
Try how well you can labour"
Sometimes contemporary literature not only describes pipe and tabor players providing the music for village dances but also lists the tunes they played:
"A blind fiddler, a pipe and tabor, struck up Nancy Dawson,
and the vibrating floor soon gave proof that the dancers were strong and active. ...
The pipe and tabor stopped, and the blind man's arm being suddenly seized by his companion, a long drawling squeak usurped the place of the merry notes of "The Black Joke."
Dancing is often associated historically with certain folk customs such as the Whitson Ale:
"The modern Whitson Ale consists of a lord and lady of the ale, a steward, sword-bearer, purse-bearer, mace-bearer, train-bearer, or page, fool, and pipe and tabor man, with a company of young men and women, who dance in a barn."
('The Every-Day Book' by William Hone, 1825-1826, May 23rd)
A poem fragment by Henry Kirk White describes another Whitson celebraton:
"A day of jubilee, and oft they bear,
Commix'd along the unfrequented shore,
The sound of village dance and tabor loud,
Startling the musing ear of Solitude."
('The Poetical Works of Henry Kirk White', born in Nottingham, died from brain fever when studying at Cambridge.)
In 1825 milkmaids' walked in procession on Mayday and danced outside the houses of their customers:
"In London, thirty years ago,
When pretty milkmaids went about,
It was a goodly sight to see
Their May-day Pageant all drawn out:-
Themselves in comely colours drest,
Their shining garland in the middle,
A pipe and tabor on before,
Or else the foot-inspiring fiddle.
They stopt at houses, where it was
Their custom to cry "milk below!"
And, while the music play'd, with smiles
Join'd hands, and pointed toe to toe. ...
(The "Mayer's Song a composition, or rather a medley, of great antiquity" from: May 1, Every-Day Book)
There are many records of dancing after the harvest has been safely gathered in such as:
"Now 'tis eve, and done all labour,
And to merry pipe and tabor,
Or to some cracked viol strummed
With vile skill, or table drummed
To the tune of some brisk measure,
Wont to stir the pulse to pleasure,
Men and maidens timely beat
The ringing ground with frolic feet;
And the laugh and jest go round
Till all mirth in noise is drowned."
('The Harvest Home' by Cornelius Webb in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction,
Vol. 10, Issue 268, August 11, 1827)
"And when that bright day faded,
And the sun was going down,
There was a merry piper
Approached from the town:
He pulled out his pipe and tabor,
So sweetly he did play,
Which made all lay down their rakes,
And leave off making hay.
Then joining in a dance,
They jig it o'er the green;
Though tired with their labour,
No one less was seen."
(the Haymakers Song from Hone, EveryDay Book 1826, Part 4)
In 1824 'Redgauntlet: Letter 12' by Sir Walter Scott (1771 - 1832) Wandering Willie, the blind Borders fiddler, has just arrived at the gig he was to play at with the writer; the company is already dancing; is another fiddler playing his gig?
"my companion was attracted by a regular succession of sounds, like a bouncing on the floor, mixed with a very faint noise of music, which Willie's acute organs at once recognized and accounted for, while to me it was almost inaudible. The old man struck the earth with his staff in a violent passion. 'The whoreson fisher rabble! They have brought another violer upon my walk! They are such smuggling blackguards, that they must run in their very music; but I'll sort them waur than ony gauger in the country.-- Stay--hark--it 's no a fiddle neither--it's the pipe and tabor bastard, Simon of Sowport, frae the Nicol Forest; but I'll pipe and tabor him!--Let me hae ance my left hand on his cravat, and ye shall see what my right will do......
universal shout of welcome with which Wandering Willie was received--the hearty congratulations--the repeated 'Here's t' ye, Willie!'--Where hae ya been, ye blind deevil?' and the call upon him to pledge them--above all, the speed with which the obnoxious pipe and tabor were put to silence, gave the old man such effectual assurance of undiminished popularity and importance"
top of page