Thomas Hair (1779 – 1854) was a violinist and player of the Northumbrian smallpipes, who lived in Bedlington. This town, and the surrounding district of Bedlingtonshire, were until 1844 a detached part of County Durham, but were then made part of Northumberland.
He was described in his obituary as suffering sight loss, and by Waddell as 'blind'; his will is signed with a cross, suggesting he was unable to read or write. This seems superficially inconsistent with him subscribing to books of local interest; however, somebody else could have read the books to him.
Thomas taught the Northumbrian smallpipes to both Thomas Toddand Old Tom Clough, to Henry Cotes, the vicar of Bedlington, and to at least one other 'clever pupil', referred to as 'poor blind Tom'. This last pupil may well be Thomas Norman, who was also blind, and who inherited Hair's pipes.
A tune named after him, Thomas Hair's Hornpipe,survives in the notebook of his younger contemporary William Thomas Green (1825–1898), also a piper and fiddler, and may well be Hair's own composition. Hair and Green are likely to have known one another personally, living only six miles apart; as Green's father William was innkeeper of The Seven Stars in Morpeth, and piper to the Duchess of Northumberland, they would have had commercial as well as musical interests in common. As Thomas Hair's Hornpipe begins and ends with the same figure as "Roxburgh Castle", it may well have been composed as a companion piece for that tune.
A local poet and cobbler, James Waddell of Plessey, in 1809, referred to a local vicar (unnamed by him, but elsewhere identified as Rev. Henry Cotes, of Bedlington), who played the pipes, being taught by Old William Lamshaw, who was piper to the Duke of Northumberland, and by the "celebrated blind youth of B-d-n, Thomas Hair".Later, in 1831, John Farrer of Netherwitton wrote a poem, in Standard Habbie metre, which has long been associated with poems about piping, praising Hair's playing of the smallpipes,
He contrasts this, strongly, with the playing of an inferior piper, perhaps playing Union pipes, near Netherwitton, saying that this piper would mix up well-known tunes:
As Farrer addresses this poem directly to Hair, it is clear he expected him not only to be familiar with these tunes, but that unlike the unnamed Union piper, that he would be able to tell them apart. Most of them are still well known and played; however, "Whigs in order" and "Music mad" are not known nowadays, and are apparently not in any surviving sources.
Hair certainly knew at least one Union piper, the clown Billy Purvis. Purvis's biographystates that he visited Bedlington, where he played as a wind-up – the closing part – of an entertainment at the Thomas Hair's public house, the Blue Bell. It is stated that Billy was made very welcome by Hair, and that Hair "was much taken with my Union pipes and my manner of playing them", so it seems he was well respected as both a musician and an entertainer. It is also apparent from this account, that at this time, The Blue Bell was as much a music hall, offering varied entertainments, as a public house – Purvis played the closing part of what must have been a variety show.
Hair had a considerable reputation locally. One article in 1854on a concert he gave at the Bedlington Mechanics' Institute, refers to him as 'the celebrated Northumberland piper', playing, with a pupil, 'some favourite airs in his usual masterly style'. After the annual Bedlington Hoppings, of 1850, an article referred to him as 'one of the first, if not the first piper in England'. Another sign of his reputation as a local character is that a horse, racing at that event, was called Tommy Hair.
Hair's obituarystates "Upon the violin his touching style and purity of tone in his favourite Scotch airs, were seldom surpassed. His loss of sight was counterbalanced by a first-rate ear, exquisite taste, and execution rarely equalled. ... He had the happy gift, when in company, of telling droll anecdotes teeming with the ludicrous, and setting the table in a roar."
In his will, he left his violin to James Coxon of Newcastle, and his pipes to Thomas Norman of North Blyth. Census returns and trade directories show that Norman was a musician and the innkeeper of the King's Head in Blyth; like Hair, he was visually impaired, being listed as 'blind' in the 1861 census. Norman was probably the pupil, 'poor blind Tom', who played with Hair at the Bedlington Hoppings in 1850. In 1851, Norman was visiting Newsham, not far from Old Tom Clough. If he did so regularly, it is probable, though not certain, that these two young pipers, both of them Hair's pupils, would have known each other. It seems much harder to identify the James Coxon who inherited Hair's violin however; the surname is common in the region, and Newcastle was by then a large city. However, in the late 19th century Fenwick manuscript, which came to light recently, there is a jig Yearmouth Lasses, described as coming from the Coxon manuscript dated 1860. Nothing is known otherwise of that source, but it is plausible to argue that it was compiled by this James Coxon. Hair's pipes were on sale in James Reid's shop in late 1873, and were seen there by Charles Keene, himself an amateur piper. He described these pipes as 'a caution', but it is unclear what was odd, or wrong about them. It may just be that they had suffered from neglect for a few years.Norman, who had inherited them, had died in 1867.
At some time before 1825 he became an innkeeper. Many musicians in the area at this time were innkeepers – public houses which provided music were popular, and his pupils Thomas Todd and Old Tom Clough were also innkeepers for a time. Hair was listed in 1825 as an innkeeper, among the subscribers to a history of Northumberlandand he also subscribed to a similar book on Newcastle in 1827; three years later in 1828 he was listed as landlord of the Blue Bell, in Bedlington. He was still there in 1831 and 1845, when those premises were used for auctions. However the 1851 census lists him as a musician and retired innkeeper; he in fact retired from the Blue Bell in June 1848, when John Grey, formerly landlord of the Red Lion Inn nearby, published an announcement that he had taken over the business.
A public house called The Blue Bell still stands on the same site, though the original building was demolished and rebuilt in 1903. Substantial old oak beams, apparently mediaeval, as well as an iron-studded oak door, were recovered from the old building at the time of its demolition.In 1845 the inn was one of two which were still used for the local Petty Sessions (magistrates' courts), as well as for auctions; the building was thus of some importance in the community. The Blue Bell was considered 'one of the oldest inns in the North'.
In 1829 and 1830, Thomas Hair, and the vicar, Henry Cotes, were members of the Bedlington Association for the Prosecution of Felons. He was thus considered as a respectable member of the community. As the Petty Sessions were held on his premises, it is hard to imagine how it could be otherwise. By 1860, with the growth of the town, a separate Court House was in use, and is shown on the Ordnance Survey map.
In 1838 Thomas was listed among the investors in a local bank,The Newcastle, Shields and Sunderland Union Joint Stock Banking Company, so he at least possessed enough money at this time to invest. He continued to be so listed, still giving his occupation as innkeeper, as late as 1849.
On his death, he made bequests of more than £350, but the total estate was valued at 'less than £600'. This, while not a huge amount, is very far from a state of poverty.A pitman might earn up to £1 in a week at this time.
The Northumbrian smallpipes are bellows-blown bagpipes from North East England, where they have been an important factor in the local musical culture for more than 200 years. The family of the Duke of Northumberland have had an official piper for over 250 years, and in more recent times the Mayor of Gateshead and the Lord Mayor of Newcastle have both re-established the tradition by appointing official Northumbrian pipers.
Here Northumbria is defined as Northumberland, the northernmost county of England, and County Durham. According to 'World Music: The Rough Guide', "nowhere is the English living tradition more in evidence than the border lands of Northumbria, the one part of England to rival the counties of the west of Ireland for a rich unbroken tradition. The region is particularly noted for its tradition of border ballads, the Northumbrian smallpipes and also a strong fiddle tradition in the region that was already well established in the 1690s. Northumbrian music is characterised by considerable influence from other regions, particularly southern Scotland and other parts of the north of England, as well as Irish immigrants.
Billy Pigg was an English player of Northumbrian smallpipes. He was a vice-president and an influential member of the Northumbrian Pipers Society from 1930 until his death.
The Northumbrian Pipers' Society was 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.
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.
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.
Robert Reid is widely acknowledged as the creator of the modern form of the Northumbrian Smallpipes. He lived and worked at first in Newcastle upon Tyne, but moved later to the nearby town of North Shields at the mouth of the Tyne, probably in 1802. North Shields was a busy port at this time. The Reids were a family with a long-standing connection to piping; Robert's father Robert Reed (sic), a cabinet maker, had been a player of the Northumbrian big-pipes, and an associate of James Allan, his son Robert was described later by James Fenwick as a beautiful player as well as maker of smallpipes, while Robert's son James (1814–1874) joined his father in the business. Robert died in North Shields on the 13th or 14 January 1837, and his death notice in the Newcastle Journal referred to him as a "piper, and as a maker of such instruments is known from the peer to the peasant, for the quality of their tone, and elegance of finish". He is buried in the graveyard of Christ Church, North Shields. His wife Isabella died in 1849, of cholera. There were repeated outbreaks of the disease at this time especially in the poor 'low town', near the river, where the Reids lived.
John Dunn was a noted pipemaker, or maker of bagpipes. Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, Dunn was a cabinet maker by profession, initially a junior partner with George Brummell. In the trade directories, he also appears in his own right as a turner and a plumb maker and turner. His address was Bell's Court, off Pilgrim Street. He was buried on 6 February 1820 in St. John's, Newcastle. His father may have been one John Dunn of Longhorsley; if so, he was born on 3 September 1764. He should not be confused with one M. Dunn, the maker of several surviving sets of Union pipes.
Colin Ross was an English folk musician who played fiddle and Northumbrian smallpipes. He was a noted maker of Northumbrian smallpipes, border pipes and Scottish smallpipes, and one of the inventors of the modern Scottish smallpipes.
Robert Elliot Bewick (1788–1849) was the son of the engraver Thomas Bewick. He was trained in engraving by his father, but is primarily remembered now as a player of the Northumbrian smallpipes.
George Grey Armstrong (1877–1961) was a noted player, teacher and maker of the Northumbrian smallpipes. He also composed several tunes for the instrument. He lived in Hexham, Northumberland. He learned to play the instrument from the Clough family, and studied pipemaking with John E. Baty. There is a photograph of him with his pipes, from the Cocks collection, at.
Richard Mowat or Mowatt (1865–1936) was a renowned and award-winning player of the Northumbrian smallpipes.
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 was visible online. 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'.
William Alfred Cocks (1892-1971) was a master clock maker from Ryton, near Newcastle upon Tyne. He had a lifelong interest in the history and culture of the North-east of England, and particularly in the Northumbrian smallpipes and half-long pipes. He assembled a large collection of historic bagpipes, their music, and related materials, which forms the core of the collection now housed at the Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum. He was elected to the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1920, remaining a member until his death. In 1928, he was one of the earliest members of the Northumbrian Pipers' Society, being elected one of the technical advisers, with responsibility for smallpipes. He became a Vice-President of the Society in 1938. When an exhibition of historic pipes was held in the Black Gate Museum in 1961, most of the exhibits were from Cocks's collection.
Billy Purvis was a Scottish entertainer and showman, living in Newcastle upon Tyne. His life is very well documented; his act was regularly mentioned in newspaper articles, for instance a detailed account, including a brief biography, of his performance at Newcastle Races. An autobiography appeared in 1849. Although he could read and write, Purvis speaks in the biography of having a letter written for him by a stationer; so it is not surprising that his 'autobiography' was ghostwritten, by J.P. Robson. Another source is a posthumous biography published by T. Arthur, although the identity of the author is not stated. This states that the earlier autobiography is basically the work of Purvis himself. Although writing two decades after Purvis's death, the author was in contact with his widow, who was still alive. The author had other sources, for instance quoting from correspondence between Sam Bayliss, of Billy Purvis' company, and "T.A.", presumably the publisher. Another source is a detailed obituary of his widow.
Old Tom Clough, 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.
William Green (1775–1860) was a player of the Northumbrian smallpipes, and the Piper to the Duchess of Northumberland from 1806 until 1849. He was assisted in this role by his nephew Robert Nicholson (1798–1842), and his son William Thomas (Tom) Green (1823–1898). Tom then succeeded his father as Ducal Piper until 1892. Father, nephew and son thus held some of the most influential piping roles in the county for a period of almost ninety years.
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.
"Old" William Lamshaw, (c.1712-1798), was one of the earliest players of the Northumbrian Smallpipes of whom much is known. Besides being a celebrated piper in his own right, appointed to the post of piper to the Duchess of Northumberland after the death of Joseph Turnbull in 1775, he was the teacher of several other known pipers, and the grandfather of Young William Lamshaw, who succeeded him as piper to the Duchess.
William Cant (1753–1821) was a Northumbrian piper and violinist in the early part of the 19th century.