January 31, 2011

Turnin’ turnin’ turnin’ . . . R.G. Hardie & Co. celebrates Duncan Campbell’s 49 years of service

By Meaghan Proudfoot

As the world turns, so do the pipes at R.G. Hardie & Co. Founded by Robert Hardie and John Weatherston in 1950, the company has been turning beautiful sets of pipes through decades of thick and thin, during the good times and bad, and always with steady hands and the utmost precision.

And though the pipes, the pipes will keep on turnin’, the end of an era quickly approaches. After 49 years of dedicated service to creating some of the finest sets of pipes ever played, Duncan Campbell will retire as Head Turner at the end of January.

Duncan’s first day on the job was in April 1962 in the shop’s original location in Crowhill Rd, Bishopbriggs, Glasgow. It was a trade, he says, that he entirely “slipped into by accident.” Still in his teens and just recently out of school, Duncan had simply been tagging along with his brother and a friend as they went to check out the shop’s offerings. A bit of chit chat lead to Bob Hardie discovering that Duncan already had some experience as a machinist, and Hardie’s so happened to be looking to hire one.

Hardie offered Duncan the job on the spot, but Duncan was hesitant. He wasn’t a piper himself and the last thing he expected that day was to be offered a job. “Bob said to give it a few days thought and then let him know,” remembers Duncan. “Sure enough, I was back a few days later and have been here ever since.”

Bob Hardie at the lathe in the 1950s.

Hired by R.G. Hardie himself, eh? What was it like to work with him? “Bob was one of the good guys,” says Duncan. “He was quiet and soft-spoken, but when he did speak, you listened. You could say that he didn’t suffer fools gladly.”

As one of the 10 or so staff in the shop in 1962, Duncan learned his craft directly from Hardie and Weatherston, whom, he says, were in the workshop all the time. “Bob would be there every day, making and testing all of the chanters himself, until 1973. That’s when we took on making Hendersons as well and Bob moved himself into more of a business role.”

John Weatherston saws an African blackwood log some time in the 1960s.

Were Hardie and Weatherston patient teachers? “Bob and John were very fair. However, the turners who weren’t up to scratch weren’t around for long.”

Over his 49-year stint as a bagpipe maker, Duncan has handled African blackwood – an increasingly expensive commodity – in every state of its pre-musical-magic being: from sawing down a freshly delivered log, to roughing the blocks of wood (the process of prepping the wood for aging by creating a hole through the length of it and rounding down the corners), to profiling, polishing and varnishing the 14 finished pieces of a single set of pipes.

Duncan estimates that he’s been present for the “birth” of around 40,000 full sets of pipes over the years, at least a sixth of which (around 7,000) he’s turned himself. (All were silent births, thankfully.)

How much has pipe making changed over the decades? “A lot has changed although our bagpipes are still hand finished in the same way they have always been. We have modern tooling like gun drills and now use computerized machines that drill the finger holes in chanters. We used jigs before that drilled the holes but these weren’t easy to change.”


The hands of a master: Duncan Campbell turning a new piece.

Is there a set he prefers turning more than any of the others? “Hardie’s,” he says. “I’ve always been drawn to the full silver sets in particular. The contrast of the rich dark wood and the shining silver is just beautiful.”

Turners at the R.G. Hardie & Co. workshop in Bishopriggs in the 1960s.

Any major turning mishaps over the years? “There’s been a few disasters,” he says, a twinkle in his voice. Such as? “Up in Bishopbriggs sawing and wedging logs with big steel wedges and a sledge hammer, a guy hit himself in the face with a wedge and broke his nose. Touch wood I have had no accidents.”

Touch wood indeed.

The dinner menu from the 2002 gala with the Queen for royal warrant-holders.

Of course, not every minute of Duncan’s 49 years at Hardie & Co.’s was spent turning pipes. Time was also taken to train apprentice turners and learn the ins and outs of operating the business with Hardie and Weatherston – oh, and occasionally dining with the Queen. A royal warrant holder since 1966, R.G. Hardie & Co. was one of the invitees to a celebratory Golden Jubilee dinner in 2002. “John and I went to the Hilton in London, it was tremendous. Where we were sitting you could see the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh.”

And here’s a perhaps little-known fact: Duncan was one of the first to witness and aid in the creation of the stinky-goo gold that is the famous Airtight Seasoning:

“The recipe was bought from J.B. Robertson’s (a fellow pipe maker) in the 1960s. It was top-secret stuff in the beginning and only Bob and John would make it at night when everyone went away. I made it to help out when we were in Renfrew Street. I still have the original recipe written out by John, this is what we use today.”

What will Duncan do in retirement, approaching quickly now in just a few more days? Will he be able to quit cold turkey or will he find himself oddly drawn to broom handles, axe handles, hunks of smooth dark wood? Will he yearn for the lush days of royal luncheons? Perhaps not.

“I would like to go to Australia with my wife and then plan to work three days a week making full silver sets, doing repairs and helping the guys out with orders.”



Looks like he may have his golden anniversary after all. But what will he do with his oodles of free time (a whole two days!) every week now? He’s learned to play the pipes himself a “wee bit” over the years. Perhaps he’ll use his upcoming days of leisure to play a “wee bit” more? He chuckles. What kind of pipes does he play, I wonder, as I hear him smile through the phone. “Hardie’s, of course.”

Our thanks to Duncan Campbell and Alastair Dunn of R.G. Hardie & Co. for their assistance with this article. The company now produces  three separate ranges of pipes that have gained major prizes – four styles of Hardies, four styles of St. Kilda and six of Henderson.

Meaghan Proudfoot (Twitter @MeaghProudfoot) hails from Maxville, Ontario, Canada and currently lives in Northern Ireland. She is a public relations & marketing consultant, arts & entertainment specialist, piper and sticker-of-finger in as many pipe-band-world-pies as possible.





  1. I have a lovely old set of hendersons but they developed a crack in the top section of the bass drone .it was taped up for years,but playing at a function in a vert old pub with low beams put an end to its life .Isent it to Hardies and it was marvelously replaced and colour matched and the tone is just great,real craftsmen.

  2. Did P&D ever interview Bob Hardie? I sure would like to read one, I remember him when he came to the North Idaho College of Piping and Drumming in the early 1970’s. He was so soft spoken and kind, I’d be truly grateful to read his story…..



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