Archive for March, 2020

William Elliott; pipemaker of Bebside

Wednesday, March 18th, 2020

Here’s a an interesting set of pipes that recently emerged from a long forgottern cupboard after the elderly owner passed away. It’s a well made set of Northumbrian smallpipes probably dating from between 1900 & 1920 and when I first saw them – from an unknown maker. Some of the work was reminiscent of Clough & Picknell – but subtly different and overall a little more refined. There were also some unusual features that should be considered definitive – the drone ferrule decoration is particularly deep, each of the ferrules are pinned and the bellows have a specific inlay pattern.

Based on photographs, comparison with other sets and in conversation with others, it had tentatively been identified as ‘that chap from Bebside’ and ‘somebody Elliott I think’ but it wasn’t until I had them in my hands that this could be confirmed. Both chanter and drone stockes are stamped ‘W ELLIOTT’ and the standing part of the two large drones are also stamped. Elliott is mentioned by Cocks in 1933:

Elliott, William; Bebside
A colliery joiner by trade, aged 68 years, William Elliott has made several sets of small-pipes of African black-wood. He has also, with great ingenuity, devised and made a set entirely of aluminium, the various parts being cast with the bore ready made in them. This idea of metal pipes is not new, but the use of aluminium is William Elliott’s own; there is a set of brass small-pipes in the writer’s collection, having a cast chanter.

William Elliott is an excellent maker of bellows, and has experimented a great deal with unorthodox materials for reed-making. He has even made them from ordinary wood shavings on occasion, and his chanter reeds of pinewood are beautiful specimens of fine work. He is also a maker of violins, and as a piper was one of Henry Clough’s pupils.

This set is blackwood and brass with ivory mounts, and a 9 key chanter (standard 7k + G#’s).

  • Each of the drones has a tuning bead but with an unusual mechanism; the beads don’t have holes themselves, rather they slide up to expose the tone hole and have a surprisingly positive feel. There is a tiny stopper in the body of the drone to limit the travel of the bead (which actually turns out to be a tiny screw).
  • The chanter B hole has a neat wooden lining which indicates that this hole has been plugged and redrilled.
  • High G# key head has a flattened side which is reminiscent of Clough / Picknell
  • Drone ferrules are all pinned – hopefully none of these will need to be removed
  • Drone standing part inserts have a ferrule on the reed seating, this is to prevent splitting and is not a common feature

Interestingly a second set of Elliott smallpipes recently appeared in an auction – but these were a later set mounted and keyed in aluminium and had a more recent set of bellows. It turns out both sets belonged to the same player – it’s not known if there was a connection to the Elliott family .