The Northumbrian Smallpipes come from the North East of England, where they have been an important factor in the local musical culture for more than 200 years. The origins of the modern smallpipes (with keys on the chanter) can be dated to the start of the nineteenth century and particularly the work of Robert and James Reid, (father and son) who made the pipes in North Shields, a town at the mouth of the river Tyne.
From that time to the present day a small, varied and dedicated community has preserved the knowledge and skills associated with piping, and advanced the pipes and their musical repertoire. The exponents of the pipes have never been limited to any particular place or class of people. Pitmen and shepherds; engineers and stonemasons; members of the professions, businessmen and the gentry have all played a part in the story of the Northumbrian smallpipes.
At various times there have been fears that the playing of the Northumbrian Smallpipes was in decline or in need of expansion and steps have been taken either by the efforts of individuals or through the formation of societies to ensure the 'preservation' of the pipes. Such steps have certainly brought benefits, but alongside these ventures, it is still possible to trace a living tradition of piping reaching back more than two centuries.
At the start of the 21st century the Northumbrian piping is in a healthier state than ever. There are several pipers of the highest class who will stand any comparison against their predecessors, and alongside the developments in the pipes and their music we have a better understanding of the 'classical' style of playing the pipes which has played a central part in ensuring the distinctive sound of the pipes which is undoubtedly the foundation of their appeal.