A crowdy-crawn is a wooden hoop covered with sheepskin used as a percussion instrument in western Cornwall at least as early as 1880.[1] It is similar to the Irish bodhrán.[2] It is used by some modern Cornish traditional music groups as a solo or accompaniment instrument.[3][4] The name crowdy-crawn is derived from the Cornish "croder croghen," literally "skin sieve,"[5][6][7] sometimes shortened to "crowd."[1][8]

Percussion instrument
Classification Frame drum
Hornbostel–Sachs classification211.311
(Directly struck membranophone)
Related instruments

The crowdy-crawn is said to have originated from a tool used for gathering[1] or measuring[9] grain. According to one authoritative observer, the Irish bodhrán was derived from the "riddle," an agricultural tool used for sifting coarse material from harvested grain: "most [bodhráns] were made out of sieves and riddles, you know, for riddling corn, they just removed the wire, and used the frame."[10] As a "Riddle drum," the instrument is also known from Dorset and Wiltshire in England.[11] A book on English agricultural hand tools depicts a riddle with a beech frame 28 inches in diameter from Leicestershire, England,[12] and Scotsman Osgood Mackenzie stated that he "never saw a wire riddle for riddling corn or meal in the old days; they were all made of stretched sheep-skins with holes perforated in them by a big red-hot needle",[13] suggesting a cosmopolitan origin for the musical instrument.

When not in use in the field, the crowdy-crawn was used to store odds and ends in homes: "In old country house-keeping in West Cornwall, odd things, all worth saving, but for which no special place on the wall, shelf, chimney board, or dresser was provided, were tidied away into the "crowdy-crawn"; a sieve-rind with a bottom of stretched sheep-skin, serving on occasion also as a tambourine for dancers, but originally meant as a corn-measure."[9] The term is also used modernly to describe a gathering of people for Cornish cultural storytelling, lace-making, quilting, spinning and other traditional activities.[14]

Crowdy Crawn (Sentinel, SENS 1016, 1973) is one of Brenda Wootton's albums, made in collaboration with Richard Gendall.


  1. ^ a b c Margaret Ann Courtney and Thomas Quiller Couch. 1880. Glossary of Words in Use in Cornwall. London: The English Dialect Society, Trübner & Co., 1880, p. 16,, accessed September 11, 2011: "Crowd, a wooden hoop covered with sheep-skin, used for taking up corn. Sometimes used as a tambourine, then called crowdy-crawn."
  2. ^ Tony Upton: Tony's Celtic Music Pages, accessed September 11, 2011 at, page last modified: Wednesday, 25-Oct-2006.
  3. ^ Cumpas Cornish Music Projects: Crowders, Archived 2012-04-02 at the Wayback Machine, 29 Sep 2006.
  4. ^ Cornwall24 E-magazine,, n.d. (accessed September 11, 2011).
  5. ^ Mervyn Davey. 1978. "Cornish Music" in Carn quarterly periodical in English and Celtic Languages published by the Celtic League, Issue No. 24, Winter 1978, p. 19 — accessible at
  6. ^ June Skinner Sawyers. 2000. Celtic Music: A Complete Guide; From Ancient Roots to Modern Performers: The Music of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Beyond. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press, p. 17.
  7. ^ Also reportedly "Kroeder Kroen" per Bob Hodgson: Bodhran, Australia National Folk Festival, Archived 2014-10-06 at the Wayback Machine, 2011.
  8. ^ William Bottrell: Stories and Folk-lore of West Cornwall, Third Series; Penzance: F. Rodda, 1880, p. 18: "...some of the merry company ... beat up the time on a "crowd" (sieve-rind with a sheepskin bottom, used for taking corn, flour, etc.)..."
  9. ^ a b Robert Morton Nance: Old Cornwall Journal, No.5 (April 1927)."
  10. ^ Meabh O'Hare: Seamus O'Kane - Bodhrán - Ceird an cheoil, a documentary aired on July 23, 2008 on BBC Northern Ireland examining the place of the bodhran in Irish music over the last 50 years, following bodhrán maker Seamus O'Kane through the various stages of his work; this statement is in Part 1 of 5,, accessed 16 Feb 2012.
  11. ^ Mark Heiman, Loomis House Press: FTX-408 - Dorset is Beautiful, Village Traditions - Dorset,, April 2009; "Andrew had his own "Riddle Drum", a calfskin over a large farm sieve, which was used to accompany local melodeon players. It was beaten with a double-ended stick, then, particularly during step-dancing, it was vibrated by wetting the thumb and running it across the head of the drum. (15 years later the same type of drum started to be used by Irish players, and now, as "The Bodhran" it is mistakenly regarded as a uniquely Irish folk instrument!)"
  12. ^ Roy Brigden: Agricultural Hand Tools, Volume 100 of Shire Library, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, U.K., 1983, p. 26.
  13. ^ Osgood Hanbury MacKenzie: A hundred years in the Highlands, Edward Arnold, London, 1921, p. 41,, p. 41.
  14. ^ Wisconsin Historical Society: Pendarvis Historic Site Events Calendar, Archived 2011-08-07 at the Wayback Machine, n.d. (accessed September 11, 2011).