A Great Lost Opportunity...By:
There has been much discussion over the years in the pages of Chanter concerning the history of bagpiping in Wales. That there ever was such a thing is evident from the clear references to bagpipes covering a span of several hundred years. There are many more references to pipers and pipes, of course, and surely some at least of these must have meant bagpipers and bagpipes - but which they are who can say? And sadly none of the references actually describe the instruments at all except to mention that there were pipes and there was a bag…
Great, if only the people writing could have thought ahead and spelled it all out as if we were all five year olds.
Also from Wales there are a handful of examples of church carvings that I know of - two in Llaneilien church on Anglesey and one in St. Giles’ in Wrexham, though I’m
told there is another one there as well. Welsh bagpipes? Who knows…
There are sketches as well. Two in the Ordinances of Cowbridge 1610 / 1611 and
one in the Henllys deeds (see Chanter, Spring 2008). Again, Welsh bagpipes? There is also the sketch by John Jones of Gellilyfdy, Flintshire (between 1605 and 1610) depicting the hierarchy of bards. Illustrated here are four musical instruments in all, and all fairly crudely executed - a harp, a crwth with it’s bow, and two bagpipes. One is a bit crude but would appear to be a mouthblown bagpipe with a conical chanter and a rather short conical bass drone, which, if the sketch is remotely accurate would lie across the players’ chest as they are depicted in the Cowbridge and Henllys examples. The second pipe looks much more realistic - again mouthblown, a conical bass drone which would lie on the players shoulder as normal and twin, parallel chanters with equal fingerholes. Welsh bagpipes? - well this time I’m tempted at least to suggest bagpipes played in Wales.
Personally, I’m not too bothered as to whether there was ever a bagpipe unique to Wales. To me a Welsh bagpipe is one that was current within the borders of Wales and it doesn’t really matter if the same type was played elsewhere as well.
There is however, one piece of literature which could have told us everything we needed to know. I am referring to Edward Jones’ ‘Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards’ of 1784. This contains the amazingly detailed illustration shown on the previous page with it’s highly accurate depictions of the triple harp, the crwth and the pibgorn. Indeed, the latter instrument looks remarkably like one of the examples in St. Ffagans museum of folk life near Cardiff.
He tells us that: “The musical instruments, anciently used in Wales, are as different from those of other nations as their music and poetry. - These instruments are six in number, the Telyn, or harp; the crwth; the Pibgorn, or Horn-pipe; the Pibau-cod, or Pib-braich; that is, the Bag-pipes, or the arm-pipes: the Tabwrdd, Tabret, or Drum; and the Corn-buelin Cornet, or Bugle-horn. Of these an accurate representation is attempted in the opposite trophy.” (The afor-mentioned illustration)
He finishes the musical instrument section with the following: “I have now concluded the account I intended of the Musical Instruments of the Ancient Britons, or Welsh, viz. the Harp, the Crythau, the Bagpipes, the Pibgorn, (or Cornicyll,) the Bugle- horn, and the Tabret, or Drum; that is, Six in number; the two Crwths being the same species of instrument; the Pibgorn, and the Cornicyll likewise, so similar to each other, that I include them as one. Two of the above instruments were unfortunately omitted in the musical trophy, at the beginning of this Dissertation; that is, the Bagpipes, and the Cornicyll, as they are now but rarely to be seen in Wales, and consequently were forgot to be delineated, till after the engraving was executed. —-”
So there we have it - bagpipes were still to be found in Wales and being used in a Welsh context when Edward Jones was writing in 1784. And but for his oversight we would have had an accurate and reliable depiction of a ‘Welsh Bagpipe’ which those of us in the modern revival could have used for creating new instruments.
Couldn’t you just swing for the guy…