Richard Mowat

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Richard Mowat or Mowatt (1865–1936) was a renowned and award-winning player of the Northumbrian smallpipes. [1] [2]

Northumbrian smallpipes bellows-blown bagpipes from Northeastern England

The Northumbrian smallpipes are bellows-blown bagpipes from North East England, particularly Northumberland and Tyne and Wear. In a survey of the bagpipes in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford University, the organologist Anthony Baines wrote: "It is perhaps the most civilized of the bagpipes, making no attempt to go farther than the traditional bagpipe music of melody over drone, but refining this music to the last degree."


A miner, born in Backworth in 1865, Mowat studied the pipes with Thomas Todd, and played in public alongside Old Tom Clough at a concert in 1880. In a competition that December, won by Todd, Mowat was the only beginner to enter, and was awarded a prize of three guineas. In 1882, he entered the open class, and placed second, behind Todd, winning four guineas. He won the Northumbrian Small Pipes Society's piping competitions for three successive years 1894-6, and was subsequently barred from competitions. That society was short-lived, between 1893 and about 1899. In this period it awarded two pipers its Gold Medal; one was Mowat, and the other was Henry Clough. [3] There are several photographs of him in the Cocks Collection; these can be viewed at. [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]

Thomas Todd was a noted player of the Northumbrian smallpipes, considered by William Cocks to be 'of highest rank'. One account, from 1890, states that he learned the pipes from Thomas Hair, a blind piper and fiddler of Bedlington, who also taught Todd's contemporary, Old Tom Clough. A photograph of him is in the Cocks Collection, and is visible at It is known that Todd taught the pipers Tom Clough and Richard Mowat to play, as well as Mary Anderson, known as 'Piper Mary'. W. A. Cocks later noted that she was herself 'well known in her day as a piper of the first order'.

'Old' Tom Clough (1828–1885), was an English player of the Northumbrian pipes, or Northumbrian smallpipes. He was born into a family of miners who had also been pipers for several generations; his son Henry, grandson Tom, and great-grandson 'Young' Tom were pipers too. He is thus a central figure in a family tradition linking the earliest days of the modern instrument to almost the present day.

The Northumbrian Small Pipes Society was founded in 1893, by members of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne to promote interest in, and playing of Northumbrian smallpipes, and their music. As it only continued in existence for seven years, it is now regarded primarily as a short-lived precursor to the Northumbrian Pipers' Society. However, despite its short life, it played a significant role, publishing the first tutor for the instrument, J. W. Fenwick's Instruction Book for the Northumbrian Small-Pipes (1896), holding regular meetings, and organising annual competitions. In 1894 and 1896-7, the society published Transactions, as well as publishing an account of their Annual Meeting of 1897. As well as Members, who paid an annual 5s. subscription, there was a category of Honorary Playing Members. Since the society's records include the names and addresses of all members, of either kind, they have listed the names and addresses for 37 known pipers. Two articles in the Newcastle Courant, in April 1900, gave an account of their Annual General Meeting, at the Literary and Philosophical Society, and referred to the society as flourishing, with 200 members, of whom almost half were pipers. Officers were elected for the following year; however there is no subsequent record of any formal activity of the society, such as meetings or competitions. In 1906, when the Cloughs played for King Edward VII at Alnwick Castle, an account of this in the Berwickshire News stated that the Northumbrian Small Pipes Society had done some good work in reviving interest, but that 'seven winters had passed without it giving any signs of life'. This suggests that the society had been largely inactive for some time before its final AGM.

Although Mowat, like his younger contemporary Tom Clough, had studied the pipes with Thomas Todd, he evolved a very different style from the Cloughs' close-fingered playing. He had, contrastingly, an unusual fingering style, occasionally lifting several fingers at a time, and sometimes his entire right hand, particularly on long notes in slow airs, such as Roslin Castle. He was evidently not penalised in competitions for this, as he would be today. Archie Dagg considered Mowat to be one of the best pipers ever, citing his playing of another slow air, "Caller Herrin'". [9] Despite their differing personal piping styles, Mowat and the Cloughs often played together in sessions at 'The Willow Tree' and the Cloughs' home. Billy Pigg learned from Mowat as well as from the Cloughs. In 1906, Mowat was one of the pipers who played on the occasion of the King's visit to the Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle; the others were Henry and Tom Clough, and the Duke's piper, James Hall.

Tom Clough (1881–1964), known as "The Prince of Pipers", was an English player of the Northumbrian pipes, or Northumbrian smallpipes. He was also a pipemaker, and the pipes he made with Fred Picknell include several important innovations, and have a distinctive tone. He had studied the instrument with the noted piper Thomas Todd, and from his own father Henry Clough. His three surviving recordings, among the earliest recordings made of the instrument, and his considerable body of music manuscripts, including his own compositions, give considerable insight into the traditional playing technique and style of the instrument. This is particularly so because at least four previous generations of the family had been pipers, as was his son 'Young Tom' (1912–1987) – they thus form a continuous link between earliest players of the modern instrument, and contemporary players. In contrast to the widely accepted notion of traditional folk music as an essentially rural activity, he and his family lived in the mining community of Newsham in south-east Northumberland, and were miners themselves. At the end of his life, "Young Tom" recalled piping sessions at the 'Willow Tree' in Newsham, with his father Tom, grandfather Henry Clough, and Richard Mowat all playing – Henry's and Richard Mowat's playing would get more furious and inaccurate as the evening progressed; Tom was teetotal. Young Tom had the job of carrying his grandfather's pipes afterwards. There is a composite photograph of the Clough family at. Here Tom himself is on the left, his pipemaking collaborator Fred Picknell standing behind him, his father Henry Clough and son 'Young Tom' standing towards the right, while an older image of Tom's grandfather "Old Tom", seated piping in the foreground, has been added subsequently. Old Tom died in 1885, and the main photograph was taken in 1924. The other figure, seated on the far right, is believed to be Captain Nicholson of Haydon Bridge, a traditional fiddler.

Archie Dagg (1899–1990) was a shepherd and traditional fiddler, piper and composer from central Northumberland. He was born at Linbriggs, in Upper Coquetdale, and except for his time in the Army at the end of the First World War, lived all his life in that region. In the late 1930s, he was a member of the English Sheepdog Trials Team; when competing with them in Scotland, he would play Scottish tunes on the Northumbrian smallpipes, and found he would get a steady supply of free drams.

"Caller Herrin'" is a Scottish song, the music by Nathaniel Gow (1763–1831), and the words by Carolina Nairne (1766–1845).

Mowat was chairman of the Northumbrian Pipers' Society from 1933 until his death in 1936. The Society's tunebook was first published at this time; the elaborate 9-strain variation set on Felton Lonnen in that book, distinct from both the Peacock and Clough versions, is taken from his own playing. [10] His repertoire is known to have included Todd's composition The Barrington Hornpipe, the variation sets Holey Ha'penny and Felton Lonnen, and popular tunes such as The Bluebells of Scotland, and The Last Rose of Summer; on one occasion in 1889 he played this last tune as a duet with Henry Clough, while another piece they played together was Caller Herrin. He was also regarded by his contemporaries as an expert reedmaker. [11]

The Northumbrian Pipers' Society is a society, founded to promote both types of Northumbrian bagpipes - the Northumbrian smallpipes and the half-long pipes, now generally known as the Border pipes. There had been several attempts to encourage the pipes and their music during the 19th century, but no society was formed with this specific aim until the Northumbrian Small Pipes Society in 1893. That society organised a series of competitions, in which Richard Mowat and Henry Clough were both prizewinners. However it was short-lived, dissolving around 1899. Today the society is divided into two branches, the main branch based in Morpeth, and the Cleveland branch based in Sedgefield.

John Peacock was one of the finest Northumbrian smallpipers of his age, and probably a fiddler also, and the last of the Newcastle Waits. He studied the smallpipes with Old William Lamshaw, of Morpeth, and later with Joseph Turnbull, of Alnwick.

Henry Clough (1855–1936), was a player of the Northumbrian pipes, or Northumbrian smallpipes. He was a miner, listing his trade as a hewer, and he lived in Newsham, in south-eastern Northumberland. He was the father of Tom Clough, 'The Prince of Pipers'. Several previous generations of the family had also been pipers, Henry's father, 'Old Tom' (1830-1885), and grandfather Henry (1789-1842) among them. Since the instrument assumed its modern keyed form at the beginning of the 19th century, the family's playing tradition goes back unbroken to that time. There is a photograph of Henry with his son at, while a photograph of Henry, his son Tom (III), and grandson Tom (IV) playing at Bellingham Show in 1926, is at.


  1. Short biography and photograph on FARNE archive.
  2. Photograph on FARNE archive.
  3. Piping Past, reprinted obituary by Gilbert Askew, Northumbrian Pipers' Society Magazine, v.2 7, 2006.
  4. Woodhorn Museum
  5. Woodhorn Museum
  6. Woodhorn Museum
  7. Woodhorn Museum
  8. Woodhorn Museum
  9. Interview with Archie Dagg, Northumbrian Pipers'Society Magazine, vol. 7, p.14, 1986.
  10. Northumbrian Pipers' Tunebook, 2nd edition, Northumbrian Pipers' Society, 1978, p.34.
  11. Short biography and photograph on FARNE archive.

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