Jedburgh Pipers Tales

One of the statutes passed by the council of Jedburgh in 1609 was that "The swasher (drummer) and piper to go round at four in the morning and eight at night under penalty of forfeiting their wages and eight days imprisonment."

In Alexander Campbells manuscrlpt (1) he gives an account of the town piper and drummer at work; "Mr Robert Shortreed, Sherriff Substitute of Roxburghshire told me that the office of Piper in Jedburgh had been suppressed some years since - that when the Piper accompanied with the Town's Drummer played - especially in the evenings of the spring, summer and autumn, the joyful group of Matrons with their babies, and the little ones which followed the pipe and drum was delightful to behold.’ (Robert Shortreed accompanied Walter Scott on his ‘raids" in search of Border Ballads )

An extract from'The Autobiography of a Scottish Borderer" by a Jedburgh lady who died in 1864 "The bells rung a merry peal and parties paraded the streets preceeded by the town piper, with favours in their hats". And continuing in a bit of glowing dialogue : Walk in, gentlemen, and partake of the cup of joy in my puir dwalling,'quoth Kitty Rutherford as they came down the Burn Wynd. ‘The bairns that are unborn wIll rise up and call ye blessed for this day's wark. Cum in, Watty Boyd, cum in, Rob Hastie, to the kitchen

Watty Boyd and Rob Hastie

Watty Boyd and Rob Hastie were respectively town drummer and town piper of Jedburgh. The "Piper's House " in Jedburgh is No.1 Duck Row, at the foot of the Canongate, and the fact that it was always known by this name goes to show that it was the house in which the town pipers resided. The Robin Hastie referred to by Sir Walter Scott is supposed to have occupied the house, which was altered in 1896 in order to meet modern requirements. The instrument with which, according to tradition, one of the Jedburgh pipers, John Hastie by name, played at Flodden, existed till very lately, perhaps still exists, in the keeping of some antiquarian.

Sir Walter Scott took a considerable interest in the Border pipers and in his introduction to the "Border Minstrelsy" he says-

"It is certain that till a very late date, the pipers, of whom there was one attached to each Border town of note and whose office was often hereditary, were the great depository of oral and particularly poetical tradition. About springtime and after harvest it was the custom of these musicians to make progress through a particular district of the county. The music and tale repaid their lodging and they were usually gratified with a donation of seed corn.This order of minstrels is alluded to in the comic song ‘Maggie Lauder' who thus addresses the piper 'Live ye upon the Border?" By means of these men much traditional poetry was preseved which must otherwise have perished."

In another place he says;-

"These town pipers, an institution of great antiquity upon the Borders, were certainly the last remains of the minstrel race. Robin Hastie ; town piper of Jedburgh, perhaps the last of the order, died nine or ten years ago. (This was written about 1802) His family was supposed to have held the office for about three centuries. [wow! was this the tradition - how many generations is that) Old age had rendered Robin a wretched performer, but he knew several old songs and tunes which have probably died with him. "

John Leyden in his introduction to The Complaynt of Scotland (3) gives us the following account-

Besides the characterisic melodies of the Lowlands of Scotland the Borders, particularly the middle and west Marches, possessed a peculiar style of music, well adapted to the bagpipe, the wild and ferocious expression of which corresponded to the fierce and energetic character of the Border clans. The original airs of the “Gathering Songs” and Historical Ballads, have no inconsiderable resemblance to the martial tunes of the Welsh, Irish and Scottish Highlanders, and formed the favourite music of the Border pipers; among whom, the perfection of the art was supposed to consist of being able to sing dance and play on the bagpipe at the same time. I recollect having heard different pipers applauded for this excellence .With the town pipers there is the utmost reason to believe, that many ancient airs have perished. The last piper of Jedburgh whom I have often heard play on the bagpipe in infancy, always affirmed that he was acquainted with some ancient airs unknown to every other person. I only recollect “The Hunting of the Fox” , which from its uncommon expression, and the irregularity of its modulation, seemed to have a strong resemblance to a Highland pibrach. The Lowland bagpipe commonly had the bag or sack covered with woollen cloth of a green colour.
— John Leyden - The Complaynt of Scotland

Leyden asserts that the instrument of Habbie Simson, the piper of Kilbarchan, was undoubtedly the Highland pipe. (Meaning.more correctly the mouth blown bagpipe)

"The Highland (mouth blown) Bagpipe has always been popular in the middle counties of Scotland than on the Border". And;- "The instrument of John Hastie, town piper of Jedburgh about the same period (as Habbie Simson) was undeniably the Lowland Bagpipe and within these ten years was seen by the editor, in the possession of his descendants, whose fami1y have been hereditary town pipers for the space of 300 years. "

In the opinion of many, the Border Pipers were supposed to excel the Highlanders in musical skill as well as graceful execution. While Rob Hastie was town piper, Watty Boyd was town drummer.

Accounts of the Burgh of Jedburgh 1758

Piper and drummers salary £2.6.0 Officers, Pipers, and Drummers Cloathes £6.7s.4d Walter Boyd's Drumheads.~ 0.5s.0d - Drummers house rent~ 0.6s.8d

The Pipers House in Jedburgh was and still is #1 Duck Row at the foot of the Canongate. On the crowstep gable facing the river is a small carved figure of a piper playing the Lowland pipes, with the drones over his arm, but they are mouth blown - dating the carving to the 17th century.

William Stenhouse in his Notes Illustrating The Scots Musical Museum mentions when he was a boy having heard Rob Hastie playing and singing ballads. He gives a tune which was played by the town piper - ‘Johnny Armstrong’ is a Border Ballad so we assume that Hastie sang this ballad accompanied with the bagpipe?

Alexander Campbell was employed by the Highland Society of London to make occasional tours of different parts of the country , partly wi th the object of collecting local tunes.In 1816 he visited

Roxburghshire , in which he has introduced a notice of the most eminent Border pipers of the last century . Amongst these was - "John Hastie piper of Jedburgh, who lived about the year 1720. He was the first performer who introduced those tunes now played in Teviotdale on the bagpipe. The successor to John Hastie was Robert Hastie (Nephew of the former) Mr Thomas Scott thinks that Rob Hastie succeeded his uncle about the year 1731 , he was reckoned a good performer. "

Introduction to The Complaynt of Scotland edited by John Leyden 1801 p.p.150.151 " 142,130.

Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, Sir Walter Scott 1801

Travels in the Border Country In Search of Folk Music - Alexander Campbell 1816, E.U.L LaIr 378/2


O death! thou wreck of young and auld.
How slie, and O how dreadfu bald! ,
Thou came unlooked for, nor anes tald
What was the crime.
But Hastie at the mouth turned cald
Just at his prime.

We mourn the loss O’ mensefu’ John,
Yet greet in vain since he is gone ;
A blyther lad ne’er buir a drone,
Nor touched a lill;
Nor pipe inspir’d wi’ sweeter tone,
Or better skill.

Not Orpheus auld, with lyric sound,
Wha in a ring gard stanes dance round,
Was ever half So much renown’d
For jig and solo
Now he lies dum aneath the ground ,
An’ we maun follow.

At brydels, whan his face we saw,
Lads, lasses, bridegroom, bride and a’
Smiling, cry’d, Johnie come awa.’,:
A welcome guest;
The enchanting chanter out he’d draw-
His pleas’d us best.

The spring that ilk ane lik’d he kend ;
Auld wives at sixty years wad stend ;
New pith his pipes their limbs did lend,
Bewitchiug reed !
‘Las that his winsome sell sou’d bend
Sae soon his head.

When bagpipes newfangled lugs had tir’d,
They’d sneer; then he, like ane inspir’d,
We’s fiddle their flaggin’ spirits fir’d,
Or e er they wist ;
Gi’ every taste what they desir’d,
He never mist.

Then with new keenness wad they caper,
He s1ieley smudg’d to see them vaper ;
And, if some glakit girl shoul’d snapper,
He’d gi’ a wink,
Fie lads, quoth he, had aff, ne’er stap her,
She wants a drink.

If a young swankie, wi’ his joe,
In some dark nook play’d bogle-bo,
John shook his head, and said, why no
Can flesh and blood .
Stand pipe and dance and never show .
Their metal good.

Not country squire, nor lord, nor laird,
But for John Hasty had regard
With minstrels mean he ne’er wad herd
Nor fash his head ;
Now he’s received his last reward-
Poor man he’s dead.

He hated a’ your sneaking gates
To play for bear, for pease, or ates
His saul ispir’d to higher fates
O mensefu John
Our tears come rapping down in spates,
Since thou art gone.

Whan other pipers steal’d away,
He gently down his join would lay
Nor hardly wad tak’ hire for play,
Sic was his mense!
We rair aloud the ruefu’ day,
That took him hence.

John, when he played ne’er threw his face,
Like a’ the girning piper race ;
But set it aff wi’ sic a grace,
That pleas’d us all
Now dull and drierie is our case
Since John’s awa.’

Ilk tune, mair serious or mair gay,
To humour he had sic a way
He’d look precise, and smile and play,
As suited best;
But Death has laid him in the clay-
Well may he rest.

A fiddle spring he’d let us hear
I think they ca’d it “ Nidge-nod-near,
He’d gi’ a punk, and look sae queer,
Without a joke,
You’d swore he spoke words plain and clear
At ilka stroke.

It did ane good to hear his tale,
O’er.. punch bowl, or pint 0’ ale;
If John was by;
Alas ! that sic a man was frail,
An born to die.

But we his mem’ry dear shall mind,
While billows rair, or blaws the wind;
To tak’ him hence Death was no kind-
O dismal feed ,
We’ ll never sic anither find,
Since Johnie’s dead,
— Author unknown

That burgh pipers were greatly respected on the Borders, where they rivalled in fame those of the Highlands, is shown by the Elegy on John Hastie, an excellent poem which elucidates much of the manners of the Border pipers. The name of the author is unknown, but as the piece was out of print before 1730, the piper must have been dead before that time.


" MR STENHOUSE, at the close of his long note on this old popular ballad, inserts the air to which he was accustomed to hear it chaunted when a youth, by Robert Hastie town-piper of Jedburgh.(Johnie Armstrong) (See page 335.) At page 389, he has also given another favourite air of the border Musicians, as performed in his younger days. (Souters of Selkirk)

The late Alexander Campbell, editor of Albyns Anthology, to made occasional tours to different parts of the country, partly with the object of collecting local tunes; and I possess a MS. Journal by him; in 1816, when he visited Roxburgh-shire in which he has introduced a notice of the most eminent Border pipers of the last century, which I may take this opportunity to extract. As stated, it was written down from the communication of Mr Thomas Scott at Monklaw, (the uncle of Sir Walter Scott,) who was himself a skilful performer.

" Monday, 21st [Oct. 1816], Mr Thomas Scott performed many pieces on the pipe, two of which I noted down; after which, I jotted down the particu1ars following, regarding the best Bag-pipers of the Border, most of whom he himself knew personally-

" A List of the best Border Bag-pipers (together with a few particulars regarding them) who lived from about the beginning of the year 1700, down till about the commencement of the year 1800, noted down from Mr Walter Scott's uncle, Mr Thomas Scott, presently resident at Monklaw near Jedburgh, 21st October 1816’

[[Need also pages 379,380 and 381 of Stenhouses notes to The Scots Musical Museum]]