Hornpipes Pipers Tales

The notes on the song Wee Willie Gray in the Scots Musical Museum tell us that "The late James Allan, piper to the Duke of Northumberland, assured the present editor (William Stenhouse) that this peculiar measure originated in the Borders of England and Scotland and had been played "Time Out Of Mind’ as a particular species of the "Double Hornpipe" Other hornpipe tunes mentioned by Allan were The Dusty Miller, Go to Berwick Johnnie, Mount your Baggage, Robin Shure in Hairst, Jockey said to Jenny

The old words to the tune "Wee Totum Fogg" are -

"Wee Totum Fogg,*

' Sits upon a creepie *

Half an ell of Grey

Wad be his coat and breekie.

*totum - a term of endearment, * creepie - small milking stool, * ell - old cloth measure, grey - homemade woven wool cloth, *breekie - trousers

The tune is known in Northumberland as ‘Rusty Gully’.

The hornpipe or stock n’ horn is an instrument of considerable antiquity to be found throughout Europe in the Greek Islands, and in Persia and India. It is most likely that it was first introduced to Britain either by the Celtic migration [from] or by the later invasions .of Anglo Saxon tribes[from]. The distinct musical style prevalent in the Lowlands and Borders, the area most affected in Scotland by the Anglo Saxon settlement, as opposed to the equally distinct style of the Celtic peoples, would seem to suggest that very early on these peoples had developed their own musical culture and instruments, and retained them apart from each other from "Time out of Mind" until the present.

The Hornpipe is an instrument of simple construction ; a single beating reed (drone type), a wooden or bone stock, a horn to enclose the reed and another to act as a bell. The making of a hornpipe would be well within the capabilities of a simple technology .

For those of practical inclination the basic dimensions are as follows;

Length of tube - 6.5 inches

Length of lower horn -7.25 inches

Length of upper horn 4.5 inches The bore is 0.25 inch

There are six finger holes on the front and one for the thumb at the back. The instrument played in the approximate key of F which by no little coincidence, is the key of the Northumbrian Smallpipes.The hornpipe still exists in a modified form as the "chanter" or practise instrument for the bagpipes. Country folk would sing and dance to the accompaniment of the hornpipe. Thus the term "chanter" or singer is not inappropriate. For a first hand description of this ancient instrument I must quote Robert Burns. He acquired a stock and horn in 1794 after a long search.

"I have at last gotten one; but it is a very rude instrument.It is composed of three parts;the stock which is the hinder thigh bone of a sheep such as you see in mutton ham; the horn which is a common Highland cow’ s horn cut at the smaller end ,until the aperture be large enough to admit the stock to be pushed up through the horn, until it be held by the thicker or hip-end of the thigh bone ; and lastly an oaten reed exactly cut and notched like that which you see every shepherd boy have when the corn stems are green and full grown. The reed is not made fast in the bone but is held by the lips, and plays loose in the smaller end of the " stock" ; while the "stock, and. the horn hanging of its larger end, is held by the hands in playing. The" stock" has six or seven ventiges on the upper- side and one back ventige , like the common flute.This of mine was made by a man from the Braes of Athole, and is exactly what the shepherds wont to use in that country' Burns, Letters,letter of 19th november 1794.

Even in Burns' day the instrument was clearly becoming scarce. lt had probably lost ground to the bagpipe, to which it was the great grandfather. The earliest mention of the hornpipe comes from 'The Complaynt of Scotland' 1548, a book published anonymously in Edinburgh. In 1801 the book was edited and republished by John Leyden who added a large scholarly introduction in which he comments on several aspects folk music and life. The Complaynt mentions "ane corne pipe, ane pipe made of ane gait horne’ amongst other instruments. Leydens notes are;

The corne pipe is still formed by shepherd boys, and its compass varies with the ingenuity displayed in its formation. I have heard tones produced from it in the Highlands of Scotland which I have more than once mistaken for those of the bagpipe. The pipe maid of ‘ane gait horne’ is the stock and horn which gives a full and mellow expression to the sound.’

The importance of the hornpipe was that it was the instrument used to accompany dance, and thus gave its name to a type of solo dance formerly popular throughout Britain.

The old hornpipe dance was three in a measure 3/2 time, in the 18th century the measure became two in a bar 2/4 and it is this type of hornpipe which became associated with sailors, not because they invented it but just as it came to be. When James Allan spoke to William Stenhouse the old hornpipe measure must have been on the wane, however it is significant that Allan was playing them on the smallpipes indicating a continuous link of the music and the instruments;

‘Time out of mind’ could stretch back to the megalithic period 2-3,OOOB.C. where hornpipes have been found in ancient burials.

Hornpipe Tunes

Pipers and fiddlers were employed by the British navy in the 18th and 19th Centuries to play to the crews for enforced dancing as a means of exercise. This gave rise to the ‘Sailors hornpipe’ form of tune However, most “Sailors hornpipes” are in common time

Robin Shure in Hairst

This was probably the title of a bawdy song which was rescued and cleaned up a little by Robert Burns. The first verse is;

Robin shure in hairst.,I Shure wi 'him. .

Fint a heuk had I, yet I stack by him;

I ga'ed up to Dunse to warp a web o' plaiden.

At his daddies yett, wha met me but Robin.

Hairst is the old Scots word for harvest, and then oats or barley were cut using a shearing hook (Shure wi ' a heuk) . Back breaking and thirsty work often done by the women as well as the men, the piper was always a welcome guest at the harvest, playing to the reapers, in the field and at the Maiden Kirn or Harvest home. His reward was in seed corn and drink. There are two tunes bearing this title , one in the Museum and the other in Oswalds Caledonian Pocket Companion, both 3/2 hornpipes.

If the deer lie down dry , and rise dry on Rood 'een( Sept 13th ) its a sure sign we'll have a good go' hairst ­–– Peebleshire Proverb .

The Dusty Miller or Binny’s Jig

Hey the Dusty Miller and his Dusty coat.

He will win a shilling or he spend a groat.

Dusty was the coat dusty was the colour .

Dusty was the kiss that I got frae the miller .

Hey the Dusty Miller, and his dusty sack,

Leeze me on the calling, fills the dusty peck.

Dusty was the coat dusty was the colour,

Dusty was the kiss, that I got frae the miller.

Fills the Dusty Peck, brings the Dusty Miller,

I wad gie my coatie, for the Dusty miller.

Dusty was the coat, dusty was the colour,

Dusty was the kiss, that I got f'rae the miller.

The miller was, an important though unpopular character in 17th century and before.. In the farming communities his practice was to take large quantities of ground meal as dues for the use of the mill. Often the mill was owned by the Laird who could command his tenant farmers to use the mill; to enforce this hand mills or "Querns" as they were known, might be confiscated. The tune and words come from the Scots Musical Museum however the Dusty Miller first appears in the Blaikie M.S. 1692 as 'Binnys Jigg' .

Mount Your Baggage or The Captain’s Lady

The version of this tune reproduced here is derived from Robert Bremners collection of Scottish Dances of 1769. A song was sung to the tune and is quoted by Willam Stenhouse in the notes to song No 233 in the Scots Musical Museum.

"I will away, and I will not tarry,

I will away , and be a captains lady;

A captains lady , is a dame of honour ,

She has her maids, ay to wait upon her,

To wait upon her, and get all things ready,

I will away, and be a captains lady .

I consider that these words echo a sentiment which would be common among the peasant girls, when they saw the soldiers marching through their town, pipes playing,drums drumming,and the captain on his, white charger at the head of the column. All heady stuff .


In every age and country there have been some class of men professionally devoted to music.The Roman name for such a person was Joculator, implying some attention to the art on its lighter side. In England the Latin word became corrupted to Juggler and in Scotland to Jockey. The term was still being applied to wandering musicians in the middle of the 19th century. This tune the title of which alludes to a lost song, must have had as its theme that age old game of visiting musician chatting up the local lasses.

The tune comes from the Scots Musical Museum. But first appears in ‘Music for the Scots songs in the tea-table miscellany’,


Another of the old hornpipe tunes which was still a favourite with the Border pipers in the 18th century, being printed in the Northumbrian Minstrelsy and mentioned in the notes on James Kays portraits as having been played by the Town Piper of Dalkeith whenever the Duchess of Buccleugh was leaving the town. The old verses were chanted by nurses to divert their wards .

Go, go, go,

Go to berwick johnnie;

O Thou shalt have the horse,

And I shall have the pony .

We are told that the tune first appears in Margaret Sinklers Musick Book 1710 (now lost) with variations under the title ‘Berwick Johny’. This version of the tune is a composite of the Scots Musical Museum tune and the one to be found in the Northumbrian Minstrelsy. It goes fast. like a modern day jig.