The Society's seal and three photographs

Music and bagpipes


The Society took an interest in local music and musical instruments from the 1850s onwards, mainly thanks to one of the founders, John Bell, and his appetite for tune and song collecting. In 1882 we published the first large-scale regional survey of traditional music in this country, Northumbrian Minstrelsy.

The Bagpipe Collection was started by William Alfred Cocks (1892 - 1971), a clockmaker from Ryton. As well as over a hundred sets of bagpipes, the Collection includes 300 books, including some hand-written manuscripts; photographs; personal correspondence; and numerous items of ephemera.  It is housed in the Morpeth Chantry Museum at Morpeth, Northumberland, now under the auspices of Museums Northumberland. FARNE, the Folk Archive Resource North East, features scanned images of tunes and songs from many of the manuscripts. Matt Seattle has also published The Keel Row, a collection of songs from North East England based on our collections (Peebles, Dragonfly Music, 2001). It is sadly now out of print but a copy is available in our library at the Great North Museum.

History of the Collections

William Alfred Cocks (1892-1971), a master clock maker, was elected to the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne on 25th August 1920, and remained a member until his death in 1971.  The first Honorary Curator of the Bagpipe Museum, in which the Cocks Collection was exhibited, was Mr R. A. S Cowper, who converted a floor in the Society of Antiquaries' accommodation in the Black Gate in Newcastle upon Tyne for its display. The exhibition was on display at the Black Gate for 15 years, during which time Colin Ross became Honorary Curator.

By the mid 1980s, however, the Society was becoming increasingly concerned about the upkeep of the collection, whose contents, storage and display needed major refurbishment and conservation.

At the same time, Castle Morpeth Borough Council had acquired and restored the medieval Chantry in the centre of Morpeth, Northumberland. It was agreed to marry the collection to the building: Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum was formally opened in 1987 by HRH Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon. The first Curator was Gillian Crawley, succeeded by Anne Moore.

The picture is of late 19th/early 20th century piper Hannah Charlton, whose set of pipes is in the collection.


For more information, look at the Bagpipe Museum Souvenir Guide, jointly published by the Newcastle Antiquaries and Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum, £5. Enquiries to 07736 865824 or 01670 623455 or by e-mail to






In the future, don’t forget your past