The Eagle Pipers originated in Pipe Major George Stoddart’s shop at 328 The Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, probably circa 1960.

The Lawnmarket is situated close to Edinburgh Castle where the Army had its School of Piping so it was natural for the students to drop in for a chat and a tune on the pipes. They enjoyed these sessions so much that it was decided to meet on a regular basis and a Wednesday evening was chosen. They would finish around 9.30pm with a Piobaireachd when they would adjourn to the Eagle Bar across the road to catch the last 30 minutes of ‘drinking time’ before the bar closed at 10pm. This continued for several weeks before the owner of the Eagle Bar, Tommy Mowat, offered them a backroom in the bar which they gladly accepted.

George Stoddart & Pat Sandeman

Gradually the piping evenings expanded until George Stoddart and his friend, Pat Sandeman discussed the possibility of formalising them. Edinburgh was not served well with piping activities compared to Glasgow. There were two main societies in existence, the Royal Scottish Pipers Society and the Highland Pipers.

The Royal Scottish admitted only non-competitive, non-professional players and the Highland Pipers catered for all ages and strengths. It was absolutely right that the children should be encouraged and this society has done sterling work for many, many years but there was space for something in between where top professionals and non-professionals could meet on licensed premises and promote the best in piping whilst enjoying a convivial evening.

When Pipe Major Willie Ross retired from the Piping School at Edinburgh Castle, the Army took over the School of Bagpipe Music and later created the first commissioned piping rank as it was considered the officer-in-charge should have the status afforded to military band directors.

John A. MacLellan was the first to hold the post and George Stoddart and Pat Sandeman put it to him that they had a good idea for a new society. He agreed with them and the Eagle Pipers was founded in the ‘Eagle Bar’ (now the Ensign Ewart) The Lawnmarket, Edinburgh. The founder members were John A MacLellan, who became the President, George Stoddart as Pipe Major and Fear-an-Tighe, Pat Sandeman and students at the Army School of Piping, Edinburgh Castle. The students included Angus MacDonald, (Scots Guards) later Pipe Major, John Allan (Scots Guards) later Major and Director of Army Bagpipe Music, Joe Wilson (Gordon Highlanders) and Jimmy Henderson (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders) who both became pipe majors of their regiments.

They continued to meet at the Eagle Bar until a Brewer firm took the bar over and they had to look for new premises. The Brewers, while not able to offer them space, did recognise the Eagle Pipers and named a table at the back of the bar ‘The Pipers Corner’. They quickly found a new home within the West End Hotel, Palmerston Place. The proprietor was Gordon Asher, former Pipe Major of the Gordon Highlanders, famous from the War Years as the bearded piper of El Alamein. The West End afforded much larger space and the Society began to grow in numbers and ladies were encouraged to attend with their husbands. Jimmy Anderson was a cornerstone of the Society and introduced a membership card that contained a very succinct constitution. Interestingly on the front it has the Society being formally founded in 1963. A guest book was introduced in 1965 with the first signature being the legendary John D Burgess.

The Eagle Pipers had a close rapport with the Atholl Highlanders, the Duke of Athol’s private army and one of the highlights of the year was a trip to Blair Atholl and a ceilidh at night.  One thing that regularly fell down on though was the hiring of a bus.  They never seemed able to get a reliable one and always broke down on the way home. Such was the fame of the “Eagles” that the BBC made an announcement one year on the early Scottish News assuring all suspicious wives that the bus carrying members of a certain famous Piping Society had indeed broken down for the third year running.

Gavin Stoddart.

The Ensign Ewart

Although currently located at street level, the original bar was in the cellar which extends under the Lawnmarket, one of several streets that together form the Royal Mile. The pub is a part of Milne’s Court, a building that dates back to 1690. The rear of the cellar is even older, dating back to at least 1590. 

Entrance to the original cellar bar was by way of a passage which likely gave rise to its name of `The Hole of the Wall`, however, this passage was demolished when the west tenement was torn down in 1883. It was then that the bar moved to street level and later became `The Eagle`. 

In 1964, the pub was renovated and re-opened with yet another new name – The Ensign Ewart,after Ensign Charles Ewart, who served with the 2nd Royal North British Dragoons (Scots Greys) and became known as `The Hero of Waterloo`. He charged forward and after a fierce sword fight managed to capture a highly prized Eagle standard of the French 45th Infantry Regiment. The Royal Scots Greys suffered 102 men dead, 98 wounded during the battle with 170 horses killed and another 70 badly injured. This was approximately half their regimental strength. The actual Eagle (below) and standard that Ewart captured is on display within Edinburgh Castle.

Ewart died in 1845 at the age of 77. His tomb lies on the Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle and the eagle he captured still forms part of the Regiment`s cap badge today.

36 responses to “History

  1. Colin Hughes

    I was a member of The Eale Pipers Society in the early-mid 70`s and used to go there with Iain Morrison who later married one thir bar maids, Flora MacIsaac; he wrote a cracking jig in her honour. There was another bar maid called Winnie ( I think) whom I had an eye on. Iain MacLeod and George `The Lum`Lumsden from Edinburgh City Police were regular attendees as were other members of that band. I also well rember Pat Sandeman. Other piping greats visited and I have a vague recall that Willie MacDonald, Benbecula, visited as did Iain MacFadyen. Great times were had at The West End Hotel and your standard of playing did not matter; everybody listened and clapped. Colin Hughes, Southport, England. Ex Pipes & Drums 1st Bn Queens Own Highlanders. ( PS. I still have my EPS tie!)

    • Willy van Aalst

      Hi, Colin

      Do y remember me from Arnhem Barracks “Menno van Coehoorn” in 1966. I still have a photo from you
      in uniform (Kilt).

      kind regards
      Willy van Aalst

  2. Steve Kelly

    I have fond memories of the Eagle Bar during my service as a tattoo massed bands piper with The Royal Scots in the ’60’s and later as a student at the Army School of piping at the castle.
    We students enjoyed sitting in the back room listening to some good piping stories from George Stoddart while his son Gavin entertained us with some casual piping.

  3. Steve Kelly

    John, I’m afraid I don’t have any photos of George.

  4. Steve Kelly

    I should have clarified that the back room alluded to in my first posting was the back room of Hardie’s shop located across the street from the Eagle Bar. on the High street.
    P/M George Stoddart was the manager of the shop.
    Steve Kelly ex Royal Scots.

  5. Aad Boode

    When was Jimmy Henderson P/M of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders and which Bn?
    Aad Boode

  6. Brian John

    I’ts great to hear that the EPS is back again. I was a member back in the late 1960’s and early 70’s. The photo of George Stoddart standing outside his shop brings back many happy memories. I remember walking down the High Street not long after arriving in Edinburgh to start student life. I heard the sound of the pipes coming from George’s shop so I went in and there was Gavin Stoddart playing his pipes. He was about 17 then. Also there was George and Tom Rae. They invited me to come along to the EPS and from then on I rarely missed a night. George was a real gentleman and he was very helpful and encouraging to young pipers like myself. In those days I remember the meetings were in the New Town hotel in Darnaway Street, before they moved to the West End Hotel.

  7. Rory litherland

    Does anyone know more about Gordon Asher or where I can find out more?

    I am actually trying to track down a Piper Watson or Wilson, who was C Company’s , 1st Btn Gordon Highlanders Piper and was killed at El Alamein on the 23rd or 24th October 1942. Any information gratefully received.

    • R S MacDonald

      Gordon Asher moved to Nairn and ran the Stafford Hotel for many years. My father used to go and visit the hotel (tea & biscuits!!) in the late 60s/early 70s.

      You would see him also at the Nairn Games each year sporting his famous beard.

      Not sure if he has any relatives but this may be a starting point for you.

    • Duncan Watson.

      The best place to obtain information re pipers who served in The Gordon Highlanders, would be The Gordon Highlanders Museum, Viewfield Road, Aberdeen. I am not local, although have resided in Aberdeen for nearly 50 years. The chap Watson or Wilson may have had family in the Aberdeen area, if indeed he was from the Aberdeen area. There are not many old soldiers of that era left to ask.

      • I don’t know if this is still a “live” subject but Gordon Asher’s son-in-law, Duncan MacLeod, passed away on on June 30th, 2009 at which time his wife (Gordon’s daughter) Madge was still living as were their two daughters, Marsaili and Ann (Mrs. Jocky Shearer), who were living in Caithness at that time.

    • Daniel Murray

      Gordon Asher was P/M of the 5th Seaforths. He was from Halkirk in Caithness and served during both world wars.

  8. R S MacDonald

    Just crossed my mind that David Murray may be able to point you in the right direction.


    i am very pleased the society has restarted i joined in 1980 so i willrejoin shortly i still have my tie so wont need one best wishes to all eagles slainte JOHN ANDERSON

  10. Charlie Duthie

    When I was at school in Edinburgh in the early sixties I was taught piping by Seamus MacNeil and Finlay MacNeil who ran the Edinburgh branch of the College of Piping on Tuesday evenings in Broughton Street School. Once the Higher exams were over in 1962 I was able to go to the Eagle Pipers at the West End Hotel. I remember well Pipemajor Asher opening the upstairs room with its rather “twee” cocktail bar. George Stoddart was always in fine form. Pat Sandeman was such a gentleman who would gave us a tune most evenings. The highlight of the night was always the army pipers down from the castle. On a couple of occasions John D Burgess came. I remember being totally mesmerised by his sets of jigs. I went with my friend Harry Jameson for a couple of years. I occasionally went back to the West End Hotel but sadly lost touch with the Society. I am glad to hear it still flourishes.

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  13. Phil Glancy

    Uncle George introduced me to the Eagle Pipers in the seventies. It was great to see world class pipers helping rank amateurs like myself. It truely was a friendly place.

  14. Ronald Smith

    I remember Hardie’s shop in the Lawnmarket, and The Eagle Pipers’ who met in the bar across the road; I first went there in October 1960 with Christopher MacLennan (‘Chreestian’) from Glenelg who ran The Highland Guest House near Tollcross, and met other piping enthusiasts such as Calum MacPhee, Edward Ross, and Cally Ross, with his wife Dolly, who were regular supporters. On one of the tables was a green fish-shaped jug which gurgled when you poured water from it into your whisky.

    After Gordon Asher retired from The West End Hotel, it was run by Neil Robertson, son of a famous MacBrayne’s skipper known as ‘Squeak’, about whom many stories were told. My favourite was the occasion when a high-ranking RN officer boarded the ferry at Oban, bound for Lochboisdale. It was a dark and stormy night, and the Officer could not resist the urge to visit the Bridge, where Squeak was at the wheel, peering into the pitch blackness ahead, smoking his pipe.
    ‘Where are we, Captain?’ He enquired.
    ‘Somewhere between Barra and Uist’ was the reply.
    This was not reassuring; he asked to see a chart.
    ‘It’ll be in that chest’, answered Squeak in his high-pitched voice, not looking around.
    The Officer opened the top drawer, and found maps of various oceans, but nothing local. With growing alarm, he searched through them until he came upon an old, much-used chart of The Minch, and spread it out, locating the islands just named.
    The sea around them was speckled with dots. ‘Captain, are these rocks?’ he said, now quite certain his fate was in the hands of this nonchalant fellow.
    ‘Och, if they’re rocks, we’re buggered for sure’, said Squeak; ‘But if it’s just fly s**t like I think it is, we’re all right.’

  15. Aad Boode

    For my list of PIpe Majors I would like to complete the details of P/M Gordon Asher (5th Bn Seaforth 1942-1945); could anyone tell me his full first/middle name(s), year/place of birth and year/place of death? Your help will be appreciayed. Your help will be appreciated. Aad Boode, Livingston. LivingstonWest Lothian. can reply here or send me an email on : aad (at) blueyonder.co.uk aad@blueyobnder aad@blueyonder.co.uk. a

  16. It is wonderful to find this site. In the early 1970’s, as an American college student I spent several months working in the archives at the School of Scottish Studies (a “field term” away from the US). I was a beginning piper – or wishing to be – and John MacLellan walked me down to Pipe Major George Stoddart’s small teaching studio, introducing me to the man and musician that truly changed my life. I recall sitting with GeorgeStoddart and his lovely wife at an Eagle Pipers competition at the West End Hotel. All so very welcoming. I began a life in traditional music at that time, never looking back to my classical music training. I am grateful for Pipe Major Stoddart’s patient, generous, and deeply musical tutoring.

  17. I planning on being in Edinburgh mid April – mid May this year!
    Thank you for your response, and hope to see you this year!

  18. Michael DeVolder

    I am a tour operator from America bringing over two different groups of 20 next September 2016. I want to see if for two hours or so (yes getting paid) if you could offer a demonstration/school and history lesson about your bagpipe. Then allow my guest to try their hand on it.
    What would you charge? This would happen during the day, again for maybe two hours. If yes, I need to add this to my web site right away for next year.
    Michael DeVolder
    Buckingham Tours

  19. Ron Abbott

    Pipe-Major Alexander Gordon Asher (b1903, d1982) was not a Pipe-Major of the Gordon Highlanders, but was Pipe-Major of the 5th Bn. Seaforth Highlanders between 1942 and 1945.

  20. Jackie Stobo

    I’m not sure if this site is still active or not but I’m looking for anyone that knew William Gordon Stobo (mostly known as just Gordon Stobo) in the 60’s/70’s.
    From what we have read online, he was a very much involved in the EPS and ran the bagpipe shop on the Royal Mile for a short time before moving to Australia.

    I am married to his son Howard Stobo.
    Howard was only 8 years old when Gordon passed away and unfortunately everything was lost in the move from Scotland to Australia so we know very little of his life before he came to Australia and we have no photos of Gordon or Howard as a young boy.

    We would like to be able to tell our children stories of their grandfather and show them photo’s of him as we are very proud of their Scottish heritage, so we are really hoping some members of the EPS can help us out.

    My email is jwstobo@gmail.com

    Regards, Jackie Stobo

    • Ronald Smith

      Hello Jackie,  I first visited George Stoddart in Hardie’s Bagpipes shop in the Lawnmarket in Oct. 1960, and attended the Eagle Pipers regularly from that time, and lived across the street in Wardrop’s Close for about 10 years. The Eagle Bar, which, had a back room where George and his friends gathered on a Wednesday evening, was later renamed ‘The Ensign Ewart’ (he being a decorated soldier who had captured a French Eagle at Waterloo in 1815) was across the street and higher up, nearer to the road called Johnston Terrace which branches off. I don’t recall precisely which year George retired and Gordon took over, but the change was soon apparent, as under George Stoddart the shop was utilitarian, rather sparsely stocked with just a few piping-related items. It was not a place for browsing; one entered to chat with him, mainly. Gordon soon changed that; tartan blankets and other bright, attractive items intended to catch the eye of tourists soon filled the windows, and the focus of business shifted away from simply bagpipes to ‘scottish’ items, including kilts and other clothing.This was the first appearance of such things in that short street, which contained a variety of other shops; grocer (Mr. Eggo), tea parlour, jewelry, another bagpipe shop (J & R Glen’s, run by Andrew Ross and his son), and another  pub (Deacon Brodie’s). It heralded the change from a local community shopping area to a tourist ‘trap’, in which most shops featured tartan items prominently displayed, as this was what visitors wanted to buy.  This change gradually spread down the High Street, or Royal Mile, which is now thronged with visitors and touristy shops. Gordon seemed to be doing very well in this business and was a cheery bustling presence. I understood that, when Andrew Ross parted with his shop, Gordon bought it, or at least the contents, which included tools for making pipes. I also heard that he was prevented from taking them with him to Australia due to a financial dispute.I believe I have somewhere a photo of him at the shop but will have to search for it and will send it on if successful. Kind regards,Ronald Smith

      • Hi Jackie. I know you have been in contact with Colin and that he will have given you a full background of his time with Gordon. I knew him very well when I was young and Colin and I have spoken about him many times over the years wondering what happened to him and his family. One of the great tale I recall is Colin and I were playing at a Games I think around the Perth area and for some reason Gordon took us there and back. Perhaps he was running a stall? Anyway on the way back instead of telling jokes we decide just to randomly say a number or when we saw a number intentionally burst out laughing. It sounds quite bizarre now but thats what we did for the entire journey. Speed signs, bus numbers etc They all got a laugh and in the end we just could not stop. A great character and well know and respected in the piping world.
        Kind regards Euan

  21. Jackie Stobo

    Thank you Ronald Smith for your reply.

    I have read any forums I can find regarding Gordon’s time at Highland House and J&R Glens.
    I have read so much information on the Eagle Pipers Society in the 60’s and 70’s to try and find the names of people Gordon regularly socialised with, in a bid to recover some photos of Gordon and possibly with his wife Vicky and their son Howard as a young boy.

    I am very much enjoying the entries I read from various piping/drumming forums of so many peoples fond memories of their time with the Eagle Pipers Society.

    Although Howard never had the opportunity to learn the pipes due to his father passing when he was so young, we are still able to take great joy in our 21 month old son getting very excited when ever he hears bagpipes!
    If anyone would like to contact me privately my email is on my previous post.

    Regards, Jackie Stobo

  22. Jackie Stobo

    Thank you Euan
    Any memories recalled of time with Gordon is greatly appreciate.
    Many of the stories shared by various people are are consistently jovial which is very heart warming.

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