View Full Version : Oldest Pipes

02-25-2004, 06:32 AM
So who's playing (or owns) the oldest pipes at the moment?

Is there anythig pre-19th century?


02-25-2004, 07:09 AM
I am certain there are much older sets being played, but I will start it off with an 1890's set of MacDougalls.


Iain Sherwood
02-25-2004, 10:31 AM
I doubt there's anyone playing a pipe made before 1820. Not only are there just too few pipes from before 1850, it just wouldn't be practical to play a pipe that old - anything from Waterloo or before belongs in a museum, not on someone's shoulder.

The NMS has a set of Donald MacDonald's pipes that they're 'thinking about' reeding up and playing, but that's only for a sound experiment and possibly a recording; after that they'd go back in the case in the museum. I have a MacDonald chanter from about 1810, but I rarely play it because it's just too valuable.

Imagine how you'd feel if you whacked a top joint off a really old pipe? Or split the chanter? These things are irreplaceable, and should be treated like the relics they are.

02-25-2004, 10:39 AM
a friend of mine has a set of Donald Macdonald pipes ( chanter too I think) and play's them all the time.

02-25-2004, 02:18 PM
How about in the museums (played or unplayed), Iain?

Is this a general history museum or a specific piping museum?

Charlie :)

02-26-2004, 01:14 AM
Originally posted by Iain Sherwood:
These things are irreplaceable, and should be treated like the relics they are. Personally, I'd much rather to see them being played than rotting in a museum somewhere. Arguably, it's also more likely that the owner will care for them better.

02-26-2004, 04:16 AM
Actually, you'd be surprised how many pipes from the 18th century or beyond still exist and may even be played! I am studying this and have compiled as comprehensive a list of very old Piob Mhor (and other particularly interesting pipes) as I can, unfortunately now I only have an old hard copy as the file was destroyed and I need to re-type it.

The oldest piece of a bagpipe seems to be what is apparently a crude one-piece drone found in excavations at Weoley Castle in England. It dates to about the 1200s or 1300s: http://www.schoolsliaison.org.uk/weoleycastle/finds.htm

Nothing else that old seems to exist, but there may be a few examples of 17th century bagpipes of various kinds from Europe still in existence. For example, I hope to see in a bit over 2 weeks a bagpipe of the "dudelsack" type in a Vienna museum. Here's a copy of it. It may be from the 18th century:

Now let's look at Piob Mhor specifically. One of the oldest specimens in existence, perhaps the oldest, is a flare-ended chanter brought to Nova Scotia, that apparently dates to the 17th century. Look at it on Barry Shears' excellent website: http://www3.ns.sympatico.ca/caper/

Perhaps the oldest complete bagpipe in existence is a set named the "Strathy Pipes". I don't know its location, but it used to belong to Major MacKay Scobie and was described in the Piping Times in 1973. It could be traced back to the 1780s, but was said to date to at least the 1690s from William III's Scotch-Dutch Brigade. It had all three drones, somewhat smaller than modern ones (I suspect they had shrunk), of native wood, with pear-shaped drone tops, apparently original "humped" drone stocks and they COULD STILL BE PLAYED! How Ironic that maybe the oldest set anywhere was in operation and that the drones had "a fine resonant tone equal to the best present-day set". Admittedly, the chanter is a replacement, but again very old, maybe from the 1780s. The blowpipe, its stock and chanter stocks are also replacements but maybe old ones and really not important. Many other sets of this nature are known, esp. pipes reported to have been played during the Jacobite Rising in 1745/1746. Here is a pic of one in the College of Piping Museum: http://www.college-of-piping.co.uk/html/museum.html

Another possibly very ancient artefact is the Feadan Dubh in the Clan MacPherson Museum, though I'm pretty sure it was not played in the 1390s: http://www.clan-macpherson.org/clan4.html

Or look at this copy of the "Waterloo Drones" and a chanter from the Isle of Mull (both in the Piping Centre, Glasgow) made by Julian Goodacre: http://www.goodpipes.co.uk/Scottishindex.html

Or this copy of the slightly evolved but still ancient "Black Pipes of Kintail" by Hamish Moore - these MAY date to exactly 1785: http://www.hamishmoore.musicscotland.com/images/highlandpipesbig.jpg

Just note that Hamish has modified the chanter end, as well as adding cocobolo mounts.

To summarize, then: there are actually many pre-1800 Piob Mhor artefacts in existence (at least about 20). However not too many are probably still played, though a few may be. A Culloden set from Blair Castle was played "for the last time" by Dougie Pincock on TV some time ago. One of the 2 drones was not used, because I think it was too difficult to reed (it may have been a baritone rather than a tenor, being slightly longer than the other and with a large bore).

But if you have about $10000 and want to buy a pipe almost as old and apparently in excellent playing condition, go here: http://antiques.goantiques.com/detail,1813-prize-macgregor,346925.html

02-26-2004, 05:46 AM
I guess there are not all that many old pipes being played? I was sure someone would be playing mid 1800's pipes out there. I think, but not sure Bill Livingston plays an 1880's set of Henderson's, but not sure. Whatever he plays, they sure sound sweet!


02-26-2004, 05:50 AM
Probably few played before say 1875. But there would be rare exceptions.

I saw a piper in 2000 who said his pipes were 150 years old or something. They were however in such good condition that I wonder if this is true. The only real sign of age was mounts yellowed like in the MacGregor set linked above (but then, that set is much older and in fine condition, from what I see).

So just keep searching, bro.

02-26-2004, 06:59 AM
Met a guy in Belgium who said he found dug up his pipes from a field at Ypres (a not very pleasant WW1 battle). He said he had them restored and his playing them. Somehow I think he may be talking bullshit! I would have thought the wood would have been well gone after 60 years in mud.

02-26-2004, 07:50 AM

Apparently the site was incorrect and it was actually Stormy who won these in 1813. He has now (rightfully I might add) claimed them back, and the company are shipping the pipes to join him in the museum.


P.S Perhaps we could rename this section:
History, Tradition, Heritage, Stormy? :shrug:

Barry Shears
02-26-2004, 08:31 AM
There are several old sets here in Nova Scotia and I know of least three sets that are being played or could be played. Two from the Napoleonic Wars and one set from the around 1790s which needed extensive repairs to become playable.
One set resembles very early MacDougalls (possibly Allan MacDougall, Perthshire) and they came to this country around 1815. Another set which belonged to Skye piper , Donald Macleod, saw service at Quatre Bras and Waterloo with the Black Watch.A third set dates to pre 1800 and came with Gaels from the Isle of Muck to Cape Breton in 1820. This bagpipe was supposed to also have been played at Waterloo but its shape and design indicate a much earlier history. IT had some pretty bad cracks , which were repaired and the pipe was put into playing condition. It has a very mellow, sweet sounding drone.
Erracht- Still looking for that file on my hard drive or floppy. I 'm sure its there some place, but I did print off a hard copy, if you need that.

02-26-2004, 10:57 AM
I n 1983 I had the privilege of sitting down and talking to Ronnie MacCallum. At the time he was the personal piper to the Duke of Argyll. He played the Inverary house pipes 8:00 am every day in the Great Hall at Inverary. He said the pipes were from the 1790s, though I don't think he mentioned the maker. They looked to me to be ebony (as opposed to blackwood). I took some slides of him playing, but IIRC I don't have any closeups of the pipes. I suppose since Ronnie's passing that the pipes are still at the castle. The present duke resides in London, so I don't know if a piper is maintained at Inverary.

Mike Szarka
03-10-2004, 12:59 PM
My step-dad regularly plays his set the we believe to be from the 1850s in India. For pictures see:


It is a thing of beauty to look at and listen to and is in excellent shape. It was said to have been owned by "an old piobaireachd player".