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)

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

Also see 'terminology' for other dictionaries.

In 1885, 'Cries of London, A History', the following is reported:

 "Holloway cheese-cakes" was once one of the London cries; they were sold by a man on horseback; and in "A Drum's Entertainment," a Comedy, I600, in a random song, the festive character of this district is denoted:

"Skip it and trip it nimbly, nimbly,
Tickle it, tickle it, lustily,
Strike up the tabor for the wenches favour,
Tickle it, tickle it, lustily.
Let us be seene on Hygate-Greene,
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."


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

There were many inventions of musical instruments: 1847 patent 11847 patent 2

in the Mechanics Magazine, 1847, page165/166

It was thought that the pipe and tabor were instruments of the lower classes:

1829, July 4th (letter addressed To the Editor of the Mirror.)

"Three years ago you .... lamented the decrease of village
festivity and rural merriment, which in days langsyne cheered the honest
hearts and lightened the daily toil of our rustic ancestors. ... the song, the dance, and innocent
revelry are not quite forgotten in some part of our land, .....a village fete which I lately witnessed
and enjoyed....the company were just arriving in procession, preceded by a pink and white silken banner,
while a pipe and tabor regulated their march. ... led the party off in
the order they came to witness the ceremony of "dressing" the May-Pole...."

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

Waldie's select circulating library, Volume 7


" Music, of all arts, gives the most universal pleasure, and pleases longest and oftenest. 
Infants are charmed with the melody of sounds, and old age is animated by enlivening notes.
... the English peasant delights in his pipe and tabor;"


1842 The Maid of Saxony OR, WHO'S THE TRAITOR? , an opera in three acts from Poems by George Pope Morris


Lads and lasses, trip away
To the cheerful roundelay !
At the sound of tambourine,
Care is banished from the scene,
And a happy train we bound,
To the pipe and tabour's sound.
Merrily, merrily, trip away,
"I is a nation's holiday !
Merrily, merrily, merrilie,
Let's be jocund while we may ;
And dance dance dance “


Street entertainers in towns were common but they earned very little:

Sunday, November 13, 1831 Bell's Weekly Messenger

"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."

18331833 school interupted

Blackwood's Edinburgh magazine, Volume 20


1838-9 The Poughkeepsie Casket, Volume 2

Wedding procession 1840:

wedding procession description

Works, by Edward Howard, Volume 1  ‘Jack Ashore’, p143


“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

1839 from 1839 magazine illustration 1852 from: Leisure Hour Monthly Vol 1 magazine report

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

Mr Taphouse (Oxford) quote:

Rustic Sounds, and Other Studies in Literature and Natural History by Sir Francis Darwin


"At the fair ... and the lads and lasses footing it to the fife and tabor, and the people chattering in groups"

'Griffith Gaunt; or, Jealousy' by Charles Reade

1897 dancing monkey entertained in the street:

..." a jackanapes he had seen once at the Stratford fair, which wore a crimson jerkin and a cap. The man who had the jackanapes played upon a pipe and a tabor; and when he said, "Dance!" the jackanapes danced, for it was sorely afraid of the man.”

'Master Skylark' a novel by John Bennett

Victorian folk customs

Traditional celebrations were carried on in the villages:

"Hertfordshire has a long tradition of celebrating May Day ... The traditional celebrations started very early in the morning, before dawn, when groups of young people, usually accompanied by musicians playing instruments such as the pipe and tabor, would gather to collect branches of may (hawthorn) from local woodlands."

Dunmow Flitch: The Flitch Trials are held every 4 years in Great Dunmow, Essex. They exist to award a flitch of bacon to married couples from anywhere in the world, if they can satisfy the Judge and Jury of 6 maidens and 6 bachelors that in 'twelvemonth and a day', they have 'not wisht themselves unmarried again'. Started in medieval times the trial was revived in 1855.


1841 Dunmow Flitch1841 Dunmow Flitch procession, musicians 1850 child player1850 child player
in procession
1832 satire1832 satire, playing for maypole dancers 1836 playing for maypole dancers1836 playing for maypole dancers

1823, 1 May: The chimney-sweepers as usual paraded the streets, but with more pomp than last year.
In addition to their ordinary finery they had a drum & pipe, &c.

Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS.Eng.hist.c.144. Frederic Madden MSS., 'Journal for 1823', f.86.

1836 Jack-in-the-Green

The sweeps procession, in costume, entered "Bedford-row with a fife and drum, followed by an immense crowd of persons, when they commenced dancing and disturbing the whole of the neighbourhood .."

The Morning Post, 4 May 1836, page 4.

1842 Lambeth, London

 Two gentlement "were driving a spirited horse past ... Kennington-road, when some sweeps, accompanied with drums and fifes, startled the horse, which became wholly unmanageable, and in a few seconds dashed the vehicle against the iron corner post"


 "The juvenile members of the [sweeps] profession disport themselves in fancy dresses - faded finery from Drury Lane, and things that once were smart from Monmouth Street - and parade the thoroughfares with drums and fifes ... To-day, however, in violation of all the canons of art in such matters, some of the sweeps set at nought the good old custom, and actually had the hardihood to appear in washed faces!"

1869 'Chambers Book of Days', May 1st

Jack-in-the-Green procession: "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; but many persons who have a love for old sports and day-observances, can never see the little troop without a feeling of interest, or allow it to pass without a silver remembrance."

By the 1880's the Jack-in-the-Green procession had changed as the sweeps were invited to a formal dinner rahter than processing round the streets:

"And on May-morning the deceivers take on the character of sweeps, and dance the unwary out of halfpence. As for the real sweeps, they have advanced in luxury, and dine at Copenhagen-house. They dance, too, but then it is to the sounds of hireling minstrels ; they have become respectable, and have left the streets to cheats and imposters"

Punch [almanac] VI (London: Punch, 1844), page 196.

1880 newspaper report: milkmaids procession

The Graphic (London, England)
Saturday, May 1, 1880; Issue 544.
milkmaids procession 1872 1872 milkmaids procession, pipe and tabor with fiddler
(The Graphic)

May 15th 1869 Whitson Ale:

"It was the custom of our simple ancestors to have parochial meetings every Whitsuntide,... all agreeing to be good friends for once in the year, and spend the day in a sober joy. The squire and lady came with their piper and taborer; the young danced or played at bowls; the old looked on, sipping their ale from time to time. It was a kind of pic-nic..."

Francis Douce described an ‘ale’ ... "A large empty barn, or some such building, is provided for the lord's hall, and fitted up with seats to accommodate the company. ... The lord's music, consisting of a pipe and tabor, is employed to conduct the dance."

Harvest home evening by John Prescott Knight RA; description from the exhibition catalogue of a painting, exhibited in Liverpool in 1837. (Liverpool was the first town in the 18thc to hold art exhibitions.)

"The last load is brought in and stops under the village maypole which has been decorated for the occasion.  The harvest queen advances accompanied by the cheerful pipe and tabor"

1838 Harvest home:

" Crown'd with the cares of cornc, now come,
And, to the pipe, sing harvest home.
Come forth, my lord, and see the cart,
Drest up with all the country art.

 The pipe and the tabor are now busily set awork,
and the lad and the lass will have no lead on their heels.
O, 'tis the merry time," 

The New Monthly Magazine and Humorist, part 3, ed Theodore Hook, Rural Festivals

1857 from:" Ballad: THE HAYMAKER'S SONG.

[AN old and very favourite ditty sung in many parts of England at merry-makings, especially at those which occur during the hay-harvest. It is not in any collection.]

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; ..."

Ancient Poems, Ballads and Songs of the Peasantry of England, edited by Robert Bell, part 4

1859 writing about the 17th century:

"the Harvest Cart, and the garland of flowers crowns the captain of the Reapers : the battle of the field is now stoutly fought. The pipe and the tabor are now busily set a- work ; and the lad and the lass will have no lead on their heels...."

harvest homeVictorian harvest home, playing for dancers
pipe and tabor with fiddler

Sept 24th 1869 Harvest Home:

This consisted of a procession from the harvest fields when all the work was done
" while a pipe and tabor went merrily sounding in front, and the reapers tripped ..."

1893 from the poem ‘Michaelmas’

"Of peasants when they bring
The harvest of the earth.
With pipe and tabor hither roam
All ye who love our Harvest-home.
Hurrah for the English yeoman"

Fleet Street eclogues (1893) Davidson, John

Mumming plays were still performed: 1850's mumming1850's mumming contdreport of 1872 in the Penny Illustrated Paper (London, England),
Saturday, December 21, 1872; pg. 404; Issue 587 and 588.

1884 traditional Christmas Mumming Play : translation from French, verse 5:

"Christmas quaffs our English wines,
        Nor Gascoigne juice, nor French declines,
          Nor liquor of Anjou:
        He puts th’ insidious goblet round,
        Till all the guests in sleep are drown’d
        Then wakes ’em with the tabor’s sound,
          And plays the prank anew."

CHRISTMASTIDE its History, Festivities, and Carols. 
by William Sandys
1885 Mumming play England - Heyford men had their own version of a Mumming Play, figuring King George and Bonaparte, at least until 1885, and John Fathers of Heyford was one of the last players of the 'whittle and dub', the traditional Oxfordshire instruments for dancing.


“At Charlton-on-Otmoor, Oxon, on May morning a procession used to start from the vicarage, headed by two men carrying a large garland of flowers on a stick. With them went six morris-dancers, a fool or " Squire," who carried a bladder and a money-box, and a man who played the pipe and tabour”

'Old English Customs Extant at the Present Time An Account of Local Observances Festival Customs and (Ancient Ceremonies yet Surviving in Great Britain' by T. H. Titchfield, London, 1896

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."

1892 London

"In the following chapters it has been my endeavor to present pictures of the City of London..... showing the streets, the buildings, and the citizens at work and at play....  the cheerful sound of pipe and tabor; the stage with its tumblers and its rope-dancers;.....

It is an evening in May. What means this procession? Here comes a sturdy rogue marching along valiantly, blowing pipe and beating tabor. After him, a rabble rout of lads and young men, wearing flowers in their caps, and bearing branches and singing lustily.... Presently the evening falls.  The noise of crowd and pipe, tabor and cithern, is now silent in the streets...

Everywhere singing—everywhere joy and happiness. In the streets the very prentices and their sweethearts danced, to the pipe and tabor, those figures called the Brawl and the Canary, and better dancing, with greater spirit and more fidelity to the steps, had I never before seen."

The decline of traditional activities was commented upon throughout Victorian times:
1829:1829 decline of pipe and tabor

Library of entertaining knowledge, Volume 27 1829
 By Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (Great Britain)

1829 engraving1829 magazine illustration of showman


"“for some few years ago, the dancing on May-day began to decline;
small sweeps were observed to congregate in twos or threes, unsupported by a
"green," with no " My Lord" to act as master of the ceremonies, and no " My Lady"
to preside over the exchequer. Even in companies where there was a green, it was an
absolute nothing — a mere sprout; and the instrumental accompaniments rarely extended
beyond the shovels and a set of Pan-pipes, better known to the many, as a mouth organ."

"Sketches by Boz: Illustrative of Every-day Life, and Every-day People, Charles Dickens page 337


"The May-day of the milkmaids is passed away -
the May-day of hawthorn, garlands, and pipe and tabor is departed"

 Punch [almanac] VI (London: Punch, 1844), page 196

Decline of traditional activities: 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



"Where are the echoes that bore the strains
Each to his nearest neighbour;
And all the valleys and all the plains
Where all the nymphs and their love-sick swains
Made merry to pipe and tabor?

Where are they gone? "

The Bed-Book of Happiness by Harold Begbie (1871-1929)

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."


"leafless trees, has a music of its own — a music that sets the spirit within us dancing, 
as surely as the sound of pipe and tabor.


"But rude hands rent the vail in twain, 
And rushing in, a motley crew
Profaned the sacred, golden fane,
And as the orgies louder grew,
The footstep of the past withdrew.
And festive rites beneath the moon
Were held, and like to concords sweet,
The pipe and tabor played in tune,
And round and round the jewelled feet
Of dancing girls the marbles beat;"

'Judith and other poems' Castle Bulding


"Ring, ring, village bells,
Cheerily, cheerily!
In their best
All are dressed,
Hastening to the green.
Merrily, merrily !
Sound the pipe and tabor,
Twinkling feet
Measures beat,
Garlands crown the queen".



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

extract from 'Punch'

Punch, Volume 3 MDCCCXLII Punch’s Comic Mythology: page 190,  Acis and  Galatea, chapter 3

“ Let us not, like the sour preacher, cry out upon a young man because he glorifies his body by fine raiment. To such a jagg'd and embroidered sleeve is as bad as the sound of pipe and tabor or the sight of a playhouse. ..."

1892 London byWalter Besant

18801880 inaccurate painting by J W Dawson   Italian Garden roundelItalian garden, Kensington Palace, London player
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 Shakespeares singing fairiesShakespears singing fairies; A Midsummer
Nights Dream Act Two Scene Two.
Victorian literature

1842 'The Pied Piper of Hamelin' by Robert Browning in 'Dramatic Lyrics'

 XIV 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.


The Witches Sabbath
 “They dance to the sound of the tabor and flute, and sometimes with the long instrument they carry at the neck, and thence stretching to near the girdle, which they beat with a little stick”



“in the retirement of his own apartment had spent his evening as calmly among his books as if the sound of pipe and tabor had fallen on a deafened ear.”

Richmond Times Dispatch, November 18622

1862 Hymn 'Those eternal Bowers' , verse 3:

"...Shame upon you, legions of the heav’nly King,
Citizens of regions past imagining!
What! with pipe and tabor dream away the light,
When He bids you labor, when He tells you, “Fight”?...

1866 in a story called ‘Griffith Gaunt or Jealousy ‘by Charles Reade

“At  the fair the wrestling was ended, and the tongues going over it all again, and throwing the victor; the greasy pole, with leg of mutton attached by ribbons, was being hoisted, and the swings flying, and the lads and lasses footing it to the fife and tabor ...”

‘The Argosy, A Magazine of Tales, Travels, Essays and Poems

1882 Gilbert, Iolanthe, first night

"I'm very much pained to refuse,
But I'll stick to my pipes and my tabors;
I can spell all the words that I use,
And my grammar's as good as my neighbours".

1886 the pipe and tabor are used as a metaphor in a review of the play ' Bric a Brac':

1886 quote1

1886 quote 2


'Pipe and tabor' were sometimes used as titles to romantic poetry, tunes and songs:

for example in the New York Times 1892, a notice under literary notes: "a volume of poems by W. J. Henderson under the title of " Pipe and Tabor. ...will soon be published"

Grace B Stuart (born c.1854-?) wrote: 'With Pipe and Tabor' in 1897

1878 'Tabor Melodies' a book of Canadian poetry, was published in Toronto


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


top of page