Artisans and Craft Production in Nineteenth-Century Scotland

A University of Edinburgh online exhibition about Scottish artisans, their work and working lives between 1780 and 1914.

Workshop of J. and R. Glen, Highland Bagpipe Makers, 1970s


Workshop of J. and R. Glen, Highland Bagpipe Makers, 1970s




The workshop depicted in this black and white photograph contains the tools and equipment used by several generations of instrument makers at the J. and R. Glen Highland Bagpipe Makers, Edinburgh. Spoon bits, turning chisels, and reamers of various sizes can be seen mounted on the wall next to a mechanised table-top lathe which was used for boring hollows and shaping the pipes of the hand-crafted instruments made at the workshop until the business closed after over 150 years in Edinburgh.

Thomas McBean Glen (1804-1873) founded the business in 1826 in the Cowgate in Edinburgh’s Old Town. The shop first opened as a dealer in second-hand instruments but by 1833 Glen is listed in the Edinburgh Post Office directory as a pipe and flute maker. Thomas’s brother Alexander brought the bagpipe making skills to the business which was taken over by Thomas’ sons John Glen (1833-1904) and Robert Glen (1835-1911) in 1866. The workshop moved to several addresses in the Old Town before settling in 1911 at 497 Lawnmarket, at which time Andrew McKay Ross, a relative of the Glens, joined the workshop as a bagpipe maker. In the early years of the century the brothers reputedly employed up to six men, including two French violin makers.

As significant makers and collectors of historical instruments the Glen’s shop was a key destination for musicians and enthusiasts. It sold instruments that were made on the premises but also brought-in violins, band instruments, woodwind instruments and drums. The business’s account books survive to show that the Glens purchased their instruments from sellers in Edinburgh and London but sold mostly to customers in the New Town or from Edinburgh’s surrounding districts. Sales are noted to private customers but military and town bands were their best and most frequent customers. In 1848 The Falkland Band purchased 3 flutes, 4 clarinets, 2 french horns, a pair of triangles, a tenor trombone, a trombone, trumpet, ophiclide and a cornocopean, for a total of £21 10s. The Morningside Asylum made a more modest purchase paying 12s for a violin.

During their lifetimes the brother’s accumulated a historically significant collection including several items which were shown at the 1872 International Exhibition in South Kensington. Their collection included the earliest known English clarinet, and an Edinburgh-marked key bugle. John Glen’s collection of traditional Scottish music is held at the National Library of Scotland, and Robert bequeathed several significant instruments to the National Museum of Antiquities (now the National Museum of Scotland). Examples of Robert’s collection are now on permanent loan to the University of Edinburgh.

Item Location

National Museums Scotland




“Workshop of J. and R. Glen, Highland Bagpipe Makers, 1970s,” Artisans in Scotland, accessed July 24, 2024,