Here’s an interesting set which I have on my workbench at the moment. The chanter stock and bellows stock are marked GG Armstrong. The set has been repaired at times. For example some of the ivory drone ends have been replaced (with bone I think), and the large D drone is a different wood to the others. Perhaps this drone is a copy using the original mounts..
The drones themselves are a different wood to the Armstrong marked stocks. They have rolled and tapered ferrules. The chanter is a very dark wood but I don’t think is Blackwood.
The current owner knows some of its history. He says the original set was made by Errington Thompson of Sewingshields in about 1870, who also made Joe Huttons ivory and silver set. He says Armstrong carried out repairs to them and also taught his mother to play.
The protective cardboard tubes are marked ‘JM Hepple Cragside.’ John Hepple has recordings on the Northumbrian Smallpipes CD playing with his father George, and it was George who taught the existing owner to play.
Three of the four drone reeds are cane and were made by George and after cleaning the set up they played in tune straight away.
The existing chanter reed plays very brightly at about F#.
Colin Ross seems to have worked on the set at some point and fitted a split chanter stock. Interestingly, rather than a sponge insert it has a removable wooden washer with just a small hole through it.
The only other set that is attributed to Errington Thompson is the ivory and silver set played by Joe Hutton. I’ve learned from Julia Say that Joe’s set was a three way collaboration between Baty of Wark, James Reid and Errington Thompson. It has been stated – incorrectly – that this is impossible on chronological grounds, although Reid would have been an old man at the time, and possibly his part was limited to supplying plans and/or a set to copy. Baty was much nearer Errington Thompson, but used to travelling: His own sets are characterised (usually) by 3 part drones, something not followed (mostly, I’m aware there are a few) by other makers. Baty was also influential in that he gave plans to the Hall family and got them started. (And he also had the Vickers MS, of course). Cocks, in 1933, credited Baty with about 10 sets, not all of which have survived.
For more information about the Northumbrian Pipes contact Kim@Northumbrianpipes.co.uk