Joe Powell – The Last 19th Century Taborer

Joe Powell, the Bucknell taborer

Joe Powell was taborer for Bucknell Morris Men.
Joe was born in 1845 in Cottisford, just north of Bucknell, Oxfordshire. He started as a dancer, but took over the role of Bucknell taborer from Nelson the Steeple Aston taborer. In the photo above he is shown as taborer for the reformed side in the 1870s or 80s.

In 1912 George Butterworth met Powell and collected some morris tunes from him. Ten years later Cecil Sharp also visited him. Sharp ordered some tabors from him.

The Travelling Morrice Log of the Fifth Tour 1927 (Cotswolds),  Wednesday June 22nd, Bucknell, states: ‘At show there was present Eli Rolfe and his brother and Mr Powell with his pipe and tabor and played for us to dance and played Black Joe, Constant Billee, Cuckoo’s Nest, Blue Eyed Stranger, Jockie, Shepherd’s Hey, Maid of the Mill etc. Arthur Peck noted down only the last two. Noted as “reasonably complete”.

In 1931 he was visited again by the Travelling Morrice, including Russell Wortley, taborer and former squire of the Morris Ring. Wortley was inspired by the traditional morris taboring techniques he gleaned from Powell. This in turn became his ‘historically informed’ style of taboring which is still in use today.

Joe Powell died in 1937 at the age of 91 and is buried at Bucknell.

Lyndsay Seagrim-Trinder tracked down Powell’s original pipe and tabor, individually held by descendents and brought them together. Bert Cleaver was able to play a Bucknell tune on them (see below). There is an article by Lyndsey in the Morris Federation magazine FedExtra Winter 2018 pp8-9

In 1999/2000 Richard Sermon arranged for them to be shown at the International Pipe and Tabor Festival held at the Gloucester Folk Museum.

In 2017 Morris Ring Archivist, Duncan Broomhead, retraced the owners and persuaded them to donate the instruments to The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. The Powell instruments join other sets of Cotswold pipe and tabor in their collection.

The Bucknell instruments are interesting. The pipe has the exterior form of an English tabor pipe, but not the traditional fingering. Graham Lyndon-Jones speculated on this in a paper for The Fellowship of Makers and Researchers of Historic Instruments (FoMRHI). FoMRHI Quarterly No.96 pp35-40

The Tabor is a fairly standard C19th shallow morris tabor, constructed from a cheese box, with parchment heads. The stick or beater exhibits an unusual wear pattern. This correlates to the described use of the butt of the stick striking the rim of the tabor – in a double ended technique, perhaps to emphasize capers. To achieve that, Russell Wortley uses a single ended technique on the LMM recordings (see below).

Joe Powell’s tabor and stick, showing wear on the butt of the stick.
Photo by Phil Day
Bert Cleaver playing the Powell tabor pipe
Photo: Lyndsay Seagrim-Trinder
Bert Cleaver playing Joe Powell’s pipe and tabor
Photo: Lindsay Seagrim-Trinder
Lyndsay Seagrim-Trinder and Bert Cleaver talking about Joe Powell’s pipe and tabor, and Bert playing the Bucknell tune ‘Willow Tree’. Recorded by Geoff Jerram on the Morris Ring DAT recorder.
Morris Ring Archive.

The tunes collected by Butterworth, Sharp, Wortley and others have been collated by the Morris Ring and transcriptions are available on their website.
Bucknell Tunes

Letchworth Morris Men produced a recording of the Bucknell Tunes. The musicians were Russell Wortley and Andy Richards.
These recordings are available from the Morris Shop as CD and digital downloads.
Bucknell Recordings