Altarnun Church



Robert Daye

Reconstructions: Altarnun Pipes (Cornish Bagpipes)

The church of St. Nonna, Altarnun, on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall has a total of 79 bench end carvings made by Robert Daye between 1510 and 1530. These were probably done as time and money were available and depict a wide variety of subjects including religious and heraldic iconography, local scenes and a few village worthies and Robert Daye himself. Most importantly for us two musicians are shown with their instruments - a piper and a fiddler.

During 1988/9 I was commissioned to produce an bagpipe based upon the above taking into account other carvings to be found in Cornwall as an integral part of PYBA the Cornish Bagpipe Project.

The Specifications required a good volume without sounding like the Highland Pipes, Gaita or Zampogna. To fulfil these criteria the two chanters were based on the Bodego which has a very wide conical bore and fitted with modified shawm reeds.

Other criteria included materials that would be available to a Cornish Craftsman back in the 16th Century so Apple was chosen for the wooden parts (think of all those cider trees !) with decoration being inlaid lead to celtic type patterns (Cornwall is famous for its metal mines).

The left hand chanter gives f#1 to d11, the right hand chanter c1 to g1 with the bass drone tunable to sound either G, A or D two octaves below the corresponding notes on the chanter. A mouth piece is supplied as standard for converting the instrument to a double windcap shawm making it in effect two instruments in one.

These have become a very useful addition to my range with their loud reedy (shawm like) tone and harmonic possibilities. It is suitable for outdoor playing but is not too loud so can be used with other instruments and indoors as well.

Reconstructed pipes


Fruitwood with mounts of bone, horn and inlaid pewter.