Old Photograph Reveals Distinctive Mode of Dress

Following the publication of yesterday’s historic picture from the Inverness Courier, correspondent Duncan Watson, Aberdeen, has sent the one above with the following story…..
duncan watson mug
By Duncan Watson

This photo from the late 1920s was in the Press and Journal [newspaper], under the heading ‘Past Times.’ I don’t know who the piper was. He looks to be a confident sort of person and is turning the corner of the board with a good stride.

He seems to have a moustache and I would guess on the likes of Robert Meldrum? Tomintoul to the Cabrach by road is about 30 miles, but probably there will be hill tracks which would be half of that distance, thus Meldrum might be a possibility?
People in that era were hardy souls.  The Cabrach is a very rural area and now mostly grouse moor in fact. Where this substantial crowd came from is a curiosity.  Whether the piper was taking part in a competition is not clear.  The caption below suggests it was ‘The Cabrach Picnic’.   In the past there were lots of games and maybe they were locally called picnics in the north-east.
robert-meldrum
P/M Robert Meldrum

I have seen a list of the successes of John MacDougall Gillies and he featured in a lot of them, but I think a bit earlier than the 1920s.

The piper’s dress might indicate that he was a game keeper.  But of course a lot of people dressed like that.
Old photographs, as we know, show competing pipers in Highland dress of a kind which is no longer seen.  For local games I would suspect it was normal for pipers to wear their estate suits just like the piper is wearing.  Motor bikes were a popular form of transport for those who could afford them. Wearing a kilt atop a motorcycle would be a draughty experience, or so I have been told.
Bonnets [flat caps] were the common head dress for men and it appears everyone is wearing one, irrespective of age. I think it is an interesting photograph and gives us a feeling for that period.

Many thanks for the picture Duncan and the story and they are indeed of great interest. Unfortunately it can’t be Robert Meldrum in the picture for, as John Wilson (Toronto and Edinburgh) shows us in his autobiography ‘A Professional Piper in Peace and War’, Meldrum, one of the leading pipers of his day, played on the right shoulder.  Wilson writes of Meldrum’s appearance at Aboyne Games in 1930 when aged 83 he ‘led the march of the pipers round the arena’. 

P/M Robert Meldrum leading the march at Aboyne. Next to him in the front rank is P/M George Cruikshank, Aberdeen, and then Bob Nicol, Balmoral. In the second rank can be seen John Wilson himself (tall), to his left William Barrie and on the flank Malcolm Macpherson, Invershin
P/M Robert Meldrum (far left) leading the march at Aboyne. Next to him in the front rank is P/M George Cruikshank, Aberdeen, and then Bob Nicol, Balmoral. In the second rank can be seen John Wilson himself (tall), to his left William Barrie and on the flank Malcolm Macpherson, Invershin

He adds: ‘Piper Major Meldrum competed in the Open Piobaireachd event that day and played Mary’s Praise for Her Gift. He was a wonderful old man and a fine player….’ 
If anyone has an idea of who the main picture may be of, please let us know. I’d also like to issue a general invite to all readers to send in any old piping or pipe band photographs they’d like to share with enthusiasts worldwide. Please forward copies to pipingpress@gmail.com. Pictures can be either scanned or photographed and then emailed…..Ed.


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