the Pipe and Tabor compendium

the Pipe and Tabor compendium

essays on the three-hole pipe

England: history of the pipe and tabor

Victorian (1830 - 1900)

gallery contents


hand embroidered bag
close-up of embroideryclose-up of embroidery on bag
The pipe and tabor are in decline. They are occasionally seen when country folk come to the main towns. However there is a folk memory of idyllic times in the rural past: the pipe and tabor is used to evoke this in romantic prose and poetry.


"The writer is informed by Mr. William Chappell that Hardman, a music-seller at York, described the instruments to him fifty years ago ... adding that he had sold them, and that country people still occasionally bought them."


The Victorians started to research and publish old documents so they did not get lost:
1845 copy of Betley Window1845 Old England.
Illustration from Old England,
A Pictorial Museum - copy of the 17th century Betley Window
1847 copy of medieval manuscript1847 copy of a medieval manuscript
after a miniature in a manuscript psalter,
from 'Le Moyen Age et La Renaissance'
by Paul Lacroix (1806-84) published 1847

idealised 17th centuryidealised 17th century
village (detail)

1892 copy1892 copy of
medieval manuscript
'Gregory Decretals'

In 1839 Francis Douce did much research and wrote 'Illustrations of Shakespeare and of Ancient Manners with Dissertations On the Clown and Fools of Shakespeare; On the Collections of Popular Tales Entitled Gesta Romanorum; and On the English Morris Dance' ( London, 1839)


  copy of 1486Douce copy of a 1486 French translation:
a fool playing the pipe and tabor
1917 copy1917 copy (After Lkcit delta Robbia)

Sunday, November 13, 1831 Bell's Weekly Messenger - street entertainers:

"Whole houses are inhabited by these wretched boys, who sleep eight and nine in a bed; ... The following are the charges made by the proprietors upon the juvenile crew:...For a dog and monkey (the latter may be frequently seen in the street riding on the dog's back), 3s. per day. For dancing dogs, four in number, including dresses, spinning-wheel, pipe and tabor, &c. 5s. per day...Some of these boys, by their artlessness of manner and gesticulations, it is said, obtain six or seven schillings a day, and some more."

18311831 British Museum 1830's dance macabra1830's dance macabre  

1847 patent 11847 patent 2

in the Mechanics Magazine, 1847, page165/166


the pipe and tabor were instruments of the lower classes.

In a book in 1836
"soon after the sound of pipe and tabor came from the servant’s hall"

Waldie's select circulating library, Volume 7

Street entertainers were common:


1838-9 The Poughkeepsie Casket, Volume 2


“The street dances are always performed on a small piece of board (about three feet long and two feet wide), placed in the middle of the road... Included in the twelve London street-dancers are six children; these are girls from five to fifteen years of age. The fathers of these girls play the drum and pipes..."

1849-50 ‘The Morning Chronicle : Labour and Poor’ Henry Mayhew

In 1859, at  nine o'clock in the evening:
“a fife and tabour announce the advent of a little dancing boy and girl, with a careworn mother, in the street below. I look from my window, and see the little painted people capering in their spangles and fleshings and short calico drawers.”

‘Twice Round the Clock, or The Hours of the Day and Night in London’, by George Augustus Sala


"Who knows how he may have been disturbed? A pretty milliner may have attracted Harry’s attention out of window—a dancing bear with pipe and tabor may have passed along the common—a jockey come under his windows to show off a horse there?
There are some days when any of us may be ungrammatical and spell ill. "

 'The Virginians' William Makepeace Thackeray

“The air resounds with the pipe and tabor, and the drums and trumpets of the showmen shouting at the doors of their caravans, over which tremendous pictures of the wonders to be seen within hang temptingly; while through all rises the shrill "root-too-too-too"
of Mr. Punch, and the unceasing pan-pipe of his satellite.”

1857 'Tom Brown’s School-days' Thomas Hughes


Many lamented the passing of the old days:


“Ah! those were the days of pipe and tabour, of joy and gladness, of cake and wine; of the mirror before any of the quicksilver at the back is worn off; of the plated service before whitening and chamois leather have been too often used, and the copper begins to show. “

1859 ‘Gaslight and Daylight’, by George Augustus Sala (1828 - 1895), ch32


Dictionaries of all sorts were compiled before the old phrases and words were completely lost:


"WAITS. The Corporation of Northampton, within the remembrance of my informant, had a band of musicians called the corporation waits, who used to meet the judges at the entrance into the town at the time of the assizes. They were four in number, attired in long black gowns, two playing on violins, one on the hautboy, and the other on a whip and dub, or tabor and pipe."

"Glossary of Northamptonshire Words and Phrases" by Anne Elizabeth Baker (1854), vol II page 388


sheet music coversheet music cover depicting an idyllic village scene   mid Victorian drawingmid Victorian drawing statuettebronze statuette
clockclock missing pipe clockclock missing pipe and drum-stick late 19th century clocklate 19th century clock, France
clockVictorian clock


"In summer they have music before they go to bed. We are in a city that has always been fond of music. The noise of crowd and pipe, tabor and cithern, is now silent in the streets. Rich men kept their own musicians."

Not everyone appreciated the sound of these instruments:


“ Some strollers make more noise than others: the dull, heavy, thumping sound of the tabor, and the shrill tone of the pipe are heard”’

‘Rural pickings; or, Attractive points in country life and scenery, for the use of young persons’ George Mogridg

1892 comment

The pipe and tabor were often used to recall the romance of the past in images and the written word:
18341834 romantic song

1834 The birds are all singing - a Duet (Upton)

"He Sweetly, sweetly, the birds are all singing
She - Merrily, Merrily, the bells are all ringing
While the pipe and tabor in harmony play,
He - For Edward and Phillis are married today."

1840's story 1840's story  
1842, Robert Browning: 'Dramatic Lyrics' 


"Who thinks Hugues wrote for the deaf,
Proved a mere mountain in labour?
Better submit; try again; what's the clef?
'Faith, 'tis no trifle for pipe and for tabor---
Four flats, the minor in F."

18801880 inaccurate painting by J W Dawson   Italian Garden roundelItalian garden, Kensington Palace, London  

1890's romantic poem1890's part of a romantic poem from the
Illustrated London News, Christmas Edition

Bringing in the boar's head at Christmasbringing in the boar's head at christmas
By the 1890's a revival began.

The pipe and tabor were played in an 1897 production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Musical direction by Arnold Dolmetsch (The Goldsmith’s Hall, London: 13 November 1897).

The Dodo was Really a Phoenix: The Renaissance and Revival of the Recorder in England 1879-1941 Alexandra Mary Williams

1905 Dorset, Sherborne Pageant:
“ a rustic musician, perched on a barrel, keeps time with pipe and tabor to the old English melody sung by a Dramatic Chorus in Lincoln green”

1907 in a play 'The Parish Clerk' (1907) Ditchfield, P. H. wrote:

“Robert Smyth ... accusing the vicar of being a companion of tipplers and fooling away his time
with pipe and tabor, and finally bringing an accusation against him, on account of which the poor
man was cited before the High Commission Court. The charge came to nothing”

street entertainers
morris dance


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