Piper Heaugh – the lost Jew’s harp village

 

Before the mass importation of the harmonica at the beginning of the last century, the Jew’s harp was one of the most popular and cheap musical instruments anyone could buy. Records show that hundreds of thousands were imported from at least the 15th century and it was thought that serious manufacturing of the instrument in the UK did not start until the Industrial Revolution, when it was centred around Dudley in the West Midlands. A recent reference sent to me, however – the original of which I have viewed in the Bodleian Library – has described a village in Scotland that would be the earliest manufacturing centre in the UK we know of to date.

In the Statistical Account of Scotland published in 1845 there is the following:
Stevenston – …There was a small village of some antiquity, called Piper Heagh, of which there are still some remains in the woods at Ardeer. The inhabitants of it were chiefly trump-makers (‘Trump’ is a common word for the Jew’s harp in the North of England, Scotland and Ireland – MW); and there were some, it would appear, in Stevenston of the same profession, for in the Commission of Glasgow we find the account of the death, “in 1627, of Agnes Glasgow, spouse of John Logane, trump maker in Stevenstone.” The Trump which they manufactured at Piper-Heugh was the Jews’ Harp…

Having contacted the West Scotland Archaeological Trust, it seems that the site has never been investigated. The local museum has a Jew’s harp found on the site which is from a later period (more below), and there appears to be no record of any finds in the Treasure Trove in Scotland, National Museum of Scotland. This site, therefore, is unexplored and unique as the only pre-Industrial Revolution Jew’s harp manufactory heard of to date.

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