The only continuous tradition is that of the Northumbrian smallpipes, which are used in the northeastern county of Northumberland.

Although bagpipes had formerly been used in other parts of England dating back at least to the Middle Ages, all but the Northumbrian smallpipes died out. Their reconstruction is a contested issue, as several distinct types of "extinct" bagpipes have been claimed and "reconstructed" based upon iconography or textual clues from English historical sources, though in all cases no undisputed physical examples remain.

Bagpipes are mentioned in English literature as early as The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, written between the 1380s and 1390s. Writing in the Prologue of the Miller's Tale, the lines read:

A baggepype wel coude he blowe and sowne,
And ther-with-al he broghte us out of towne.

Stone and wood carvings of bagpipes of many different types began to appear in English cathedrals beginning in the 14th century; examples of such carvings may be found in Cornwall, Dorset, Devon, Herefordshire, Yorkshire, Cambridgeshire, Manchester, Norfolk, and Shropshire.[1][2][3]

Bagpipes currently undergoing constructionEdit

Lancashire bagpipe or Lancashire great-pipeEdit

Historical attestationEdit

  • Aphra Behn's Sir Patient Fancy (1678) mentions: "Not so joyful neither Sir, when you shall know Poor Gillian 's dead, My little gray Mare, thou knew'st her mun, Zoz 'thas made me as Melancholy as the Drone of a Lancashire Bagpipe"[4]
  • Ralph Thoresby, a topographer, wrote in 1702: "got little rest, the music and Lancashire bagpipes having continued the whole night."[5]

Leicestershire smallpipesEdit

Numerous reproductions of the Leicestershire smallpipes have been made by pipemaker Julian Goodacre since the late 1990s.

Lincolnshire pipesEdit

The Lincolnshire bagpipes are mentioned by the character Falstaff in Shakespeare's play Henry IV, Part 1 (c. 1597): "Yea, or the drone of a Lincolnshire bagpipe."

Controversy over the validity of "reconstruction"Edit

This process of reconstruction is controversial. Some British pipers and pipemakers, such as Julian Goodacre, have "reconstructed" several types of claimed extinct bagpipes, based on iconography and inconclusive textual clues. Other enthusiasts dispute these findings, as detailed in James Merryweather's article Regional Bagipes: History or Bunk?[6].

While dismissing much research as optimistic interpretations of the source materials, Merryweather claimed to have found indisputable evidence of a bagpiper in Liverpool in 1571. Per Merryweather, the records of the Liverpool Wait makes a single mention of one "henrie halewod bagpiper”.[7]

Other bagpipes of the British Isles undergoing reconstructionEdit


Historical imagesEdit


  1. Bagpipe Carvings
  2. Bagpipe Carvings
  3. Bagpipe Paintings: The Bagpiper of Exeter
  4. Behn, Aphra. Sir Patient Fancy.
  5. cited in Francis M. Colinson The Bagpipes: The History of a Musical Instrument. Routledge Kegan & Paul (October 1975)
  6. James Merryweather Regional Bagipes: History or Bunk?
  7. James Merryweather Henry Halewood: Bagpipe and Liverpool Town Wait 1571-1589