Archive for the ‘Northumbrian Pipes’ Category

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 .

New Tunes Casting of the Hand & Rothley Road

Friday, August 23rd, 2019

Here’s two new jigs in D that fit well on the pipes

The Casting of the Hand has been on the bench for a while but was finished in May. Originally cast as a votive offering in the 2nd or 3rd century, and later cast into a ditch; my wife was fortunate to be working on an an archaeological dig at Vindolanda when a small bronze hand was uncovered in 2018.

Rothley Crag is near Cambo in Northumberland and the second tune came to me whilst driving between the two (en route to Rothbury Festival)

How many keys do I need on my pipes?

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

Here’s the second of the decision charts for new pipers – one of the most frequent questions I am asked is ‘what keys should I get?’ There is no perfect configuration – everything is a compromise – and the most common one is ‘standard 7’:


Note that this chart only applies for F & G pipes – on a D set the chanter stick is much longer and different restrictions apply.

Choosing your NSP Pitch: F, G or D?

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

For anyone new to Northumbrian piping, and expecially for a lone piper, it can be difficult to work out which sort of instrument to get. Whether commissioning a new set or looking for a used instrument – here’s a basic guide to choosing your Northumbrian smallpipes pitch:

As you can see – the default answer is ‘F’. At some point I’ll add another chart for choosing keys – that question comes up even more frequently – and the answer is ‘7’