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Historic Ghosts and Ghost Hunters By H. Addington Bruce Characters: 21667

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

The Drummer of Tedworth

There have been drummers a plenty in all countries and all ages, but there surely has never been the equal of the drummer of Tedworth. His was the distinction to inspire terror the length and breadth of a kingdom, to set a nation by the ears-nay, even to disturb the peace of Church and Crown.

When the Cromwellian wars broke out, he was in his prime, a stout, sturdy Englishman, suffering, as did his fellows, from the misrule of the Stuarts, and ready for any desperate step that might better his fortunes. Volunteering, therefore, under the man of blood and iron, tradition has it that from the first battle to the last his drum was heard inspiring the revolutionists to mighty deeds of valor. The conflict at an end, Charles beheaded, and the Fifth Monarchy men creating chaos in their noisy efforts to establish the Kingdom of God on earth, he lapsed into an obscurity that endured until the Restoration. Then he re?merged, not as a veteran living at ease on laurels well won, but as a wandering beggar, roving from shire to shire in quest of alms, which he implored to the accompaniment of fearsome music from his beloved drum.

Thus he journeyed, undisturbed and gaining a sufficient living, until he chanced in the spring of 1661 to invade the quiet Wiltshire village of Tedworth. At that time the interests of Tedworth were identical with the interests of a certain Squire Mompesson, and he, being a gouty, irritable individual, was little disposed to have his peace and the peace of Tedworth disturbed by the drummer's loud bawling and louder drumming. At his orders rough hands seized the unhappy wanderer, blows rained upon him, and he was driven from Tedworth minus his drum. In vain he begged the wrathful Mompesson to restore it to him; in vain, with the tears streaming down his battle-worn, weather-beaten face, he protested that the drum was the only friend left to him in all the world; and in vain he related the happy memories it held for him. "Go," he was roughly told-"go, and be thankful thou escapest so lightly!" So go he did, and whither he went nobody knew, and for the moment nobody cared.

But all Tedworth soon had occasion to wish that his lamentations had moved the Squire to pity. Hardly a month later, when Mompesson had journeyed to the capital to pay his respects to the King, his family were aroused in the middle of the night by angry voices and an incessant banging on the front door. Windows were tried; entrance was vehemently demanded. Within, panic reigned at once. The house was situated in a lonely spot, and it seemed certain that, having heard of its master's absence, a band of highwaymen, with whom the countryside abounded, had planned to turn burglars. The occupants, consisting as they did of women and children, could at best make scant resistance; and consequently there was much quaking and trembling, until, finding the bolts and bars too strong for them, the unwelcome visitors withdrew.

Unmeasured was Mompesson's wrath when he returned and learned of the alarm. He only hoped, he declared, that the villains would venture back-he would give them a greeting such as had not been known since the days of the great war. That very night he had opportunity to make good his boast, for soon after the household had sought repose the disturbance broke out anew. Lighting a lantern, slipping into a dressing-gown, and snatching up a brace of pistols, the Squire dashed down-stairs, the noise becoming louder the nearer he reached the door. Click, clash-the bolts were slipped back, the key was turned, and, lantern extended, he peered into the night.

The moment he opened the door all became still, and nothing but empty darkness met his eyes. Almost immediately, however, the knocking began at a second door, to which, after making the first fast, he hurried, only to find the same result, and to hear, with mounting anger, a tumult at yet another door. Again silence when this was thrown open. But, stepping outside, as he afterward told the story, Mompesson became aware of "a strange and hollow sound in the air." Forthwith the suspicion entered his mind that the noises he had heard might be of supernatural origin. To him, true son of the seventeenth century, a suspicion of this sort was tantamount to certainty, and an unreasoning alarm filled his soul; an alarm that grew into deadly fear when, safe in the bed he had hurriedly sought, a tremendous booming sound came from the top of the house.

Here, in an upper room, for safe-keeping and as an interesting relic of the Civil War, had been placed the beggar's drum, and the terrible thought occurred to Mompesson: "Can it be that the drummer is dead, and that his spirit has returned to torment me?"

A few nights later no room for doubt seemed left. Instead of the nocturnal shouting and knocking, there began a veritable concert from the room containing the drum. This concert, Mompesson informed his friends, opened with a peculiar "hurling in the air over the house," and closed with "the beating of a drum like that at the breaking up of a guard." The mental torture of the Squire and his family may be easier imagined than described. And before long matters grew much worse, when, becoming emboldened, the ghostly drummer laid aside his drum to play practical, and sometimes exceedingly painful, jokes on the members of the household.

Curiously enough, his malice was chiefly directed against Mompesson's children, who-poor little dears-had certainly never worked him any injury. Yet we are told that for a time "it haunted none particularly but them." When they were in bed the coverings were dragged off and thrown on the floor; there was heard a scratching noise under the bed as of some animal with iron claws; sometimes they were lifted bodily, "so that six men could not hold them down," and their limbs were beaten violently against the bedposts. Nor did the unseen and unruly visitant scruple to plague Mompesson's aged mother, whose Bible was frequently hidden from her, and in whose bed ashes, knives, and other articles were placed.

As time passed marvels multiplied. The assurance is solemnly given that "chairs moved of themselves." A board, it is insisted, rose out of the floor of its own accord and flung itself violently at a servant. Strange lights, "like corpse candles," floated about. The Squire's personal attendant John, "a stout fellow and of sober conversation," was one night confronted by a ghastly apparition in the form of "a great body with two red and glaring eyes." Frequently, too, when John was in bed he was treated as were the children, his coverings removed, his body struck, etc. But it was noticed that whenever he grasped and brandished a sword he was left in peace. Clearly, the ghost had a healthy respect for cold steel.

It had less respect for exorcising, which, of course, was tried, but tried in vain. All went well as long as the clergyman was on his knees saying the prescribed prayers by the bedside of the tormented children, but the moment he rose a bed staff was thrown at him and other articles of furniture danced about so madly that body and limb were endangered.

Mompesson was at his wits' end. Well might he be! Apart from the injury done to his family and belongings, his house was thronged night and day by inquisitive visitors from all sections of the country. He was denounced on the one hand as a trickster, and on the other as a man who must be guilty of some terrible secret sin, else he would not thus be vexed. Sermons were preached with him as the text. Factions were formed, angrily affirming and denying the supernatural character of the disturbances. News of the affair traveled even to the ears of the King, who dispatched an investigating commission to Mompesson House, where, greatly to the delight of the unbelieving, nothing untoward occurred during the commissioners' visit. But thereafter, as if to make up for lost time, the most sensational and vexatious phenomena of the haunting were produced.

Thus matters continued for many months, until it dawned on Mompesson and his friends that possibly the case was not one of ghosts but one of witchcraft. This suspicion rose from the singular circumstance that voices in the children's room began, "for a hundred times together," to cry "A witch! A witch!" Resolved to put matters to a test, one of the boldest of a company of spectators suddenly demanded, "Satan, if the drummer set thee to work, give three knocks and no more!" To which three knocks were distinctly heard, and afterward, by way of confirmation, five knocks as requested by another onlooker.

Now began an eager hunt for the once despised drummer, who was presently found in jail at Gloucester accused of theft. And with this discovery word was brought to Mompesson that the drummer had openly boasted of having bewitched him. This was enough for the outraged Squire. There was in existence an act of King James I. holding it a felony to "feed, employ, or reward any evil spirit," and under its provisions he speedily had his alleged persecutor indicted as a wizard.

Amid great excitement the aged veteran was brought from Gloucester to Salisbury to stand trial. But his spirit remained unbroken. Instead of confessing, humbly begging mercy, and promising amends, he undertook to bargain with Mompesson, promising that if the latter secured his liberty and gave him employment as a farm hand, he would rid him of the haunting. Perhaps because he feared treachery, perhaps because, as he said, he felt sure the drummer "could do him no good in any honest way," Mompesson rejected this ingenuous proposal.

So the drummer was left to his fate, which, for those days, was most unexpected. A packed and attentive court room listened to the tale of the mishaps and misadventures that had made Mompesson House a national center of interest; it was proved that the accused had been intimate with an old vagabond who pretended to possess supernatural powers; and emphasis was laid on the alleged fact that he had boasted of having revenged himself on Mompesson for the confiscation of his drum. Luckily for him, Mompesson was not the power in Salisbury that he was in Tedworth, and the drummer's eloquent defense moved the jury to acquit him and to send him on his way rejoicing. Thereafter he was never again heard of in Wiltshire or in the pages of history, and with his disappearance came an end to the knockings, the corpse candles, and all the other uncanny phenomena that had made life a ceaseless nightmare for the Mompessons.

Such is the astonishing story of the drummer of Tedworth, still cited by the superstitious as a capital example of the intermeddling of superhuman agencies in human affairs, and still mentioned by the skeptical as one of the most

amusing and most successful hoaxes on record.

To us of the twentieth century its chief significance lies in the striking resemblance between the tribulations of the Mompesson family and the so-called physical phenomena of modern spiritism. All who have attended spiritistic séances are familiar with the invisible and perverse ghost, which, for no apparent reason other than to mystify, causes furniture to gyrate violently, rings bells, plays tambourines, levitates the "medium," and favors the spectators with sundry taps, pinches, even blows. Precisely thus was it with the doings at Mompesson House, where many of the salient phenomena of modern spiritism were anticipated nearly two hundred and fifty years ago.

The inference is irresistible that a more or less intimate connection exists between the disturbances at Tedworth and the triumphs of latter-day mediumship, and it thus becomes doubly interesting to examine the evidence for and against the supernatural origin of the performances that so perplexed the Englishmen of the Restoration. This evidence is presented in far greater detail than is here possible, in a curious document written by the Reverend Joseph Glanvill, a clergyman of the Church of England and an eye witness of some of the phenomena. His point of view is that of an ardent believer in the verity of witchcraft, and his narrative of the Tedworth affair finds place in a treatise designed to discomfit those irreligious persons who maintained the opposite.[B] It is therefore evident that his account of the case is to be regarded as a piece of special pleading, and as such must be received with critical caution.

The need for caution is further emphasized by the important circumstance that of all the phenomena described, only those most susceptible of mundane interpretation were witnessed by Glanvill or Mompesson. All of the more extraordinary-the great body with the red and glaring eyes, the levitated children, etc.-came to the narrator from second or third or fourth hand sources not always clearly indicated, and doubtless uneducated and superstitious persons, such as peasants or servants, whose fears would lend wings to their imagination.

Keeping these facts before us, what do we find? We find that, so far from supporting the supernatural view, the evidence points to a systematic course of fraud and deceit carried out, not by the drummer, not by Mompesson and Glanvill (as many of that generation were unkind enough to suggest), not by the Mompesson servants, but by the Mompesson children, and particularly by the oldest child, a girl of ten.

It was about the children that the disturbances centered, it was in their room that the manifestations usually took place, and-what should have served to direct suspicion to them at once-when, in the hope of affording them relief, their father separated them, sending the youngest to lodge with a neighbor and taking the oldest into his own room, it was remarked that the neighbor's house immediately became the scene of demoniac activity, as did the Squire's apartment, which had previously been virtually undisturbed. Here and now developed a phenomenon that places little Miss Mompesson on a par with the celebrated Fox sisters, for her father's bed chamber was turned into a séance room in which messages were rapped out very much as messages have been rapped out ever since the fateful night in 1848 that saw modern spiritism ushered into the world.

Glanvill's personal testimony, the most precise and circumstantial in the entire case, strongly, albeit unwittingly, supports this view of the affair. It appears that he passed only one night in the haunted house, and of his several experiences there is none that cannot be set down to fraud plus imagination, with the children the active agents. Witness the following from his story of what he heard and beheld in the oft-mentioned "children's room":

"At this time it used to haunt the children, and that as soon as they were laid. They went to bed the night I was there about eight of the clock, when a maid servant, coming down from them, told us that it was come.... Mr. Mompesson and I and a gentleman that came with me went up. I heard a strange scratching as I went up the stairs, and when we came into the room I perceived it was just behind the bolster of the children's bed and seemed to be against the tick. It was as loud a scratching as one with long nails could make upon a bolster. There were two modest little girls in the bed, between seven and eight years old, as I guessed. I saw their hands out of the clothes, and they could not contribute to the noise that was behind their heads. They had been used to it and still[C] had somebody or other in the chamber with them, and therefore seemed not to be much affrighted.

"I, standing at the bed's head, thrust my hand behind the bolster, directing it to the place whence the noise seemed to come. Whereupon the noise ceased there, and was heard in another part of the bed; but when I had taken out my hand it returned and was heard in the same place as before.[D] I had been told it would imitate noises, and made trial by scratching several times upon the sheet, as five, and seven, and ten, which it followed, and still stopped at my number. I searched under and behind the bed, turned up the clothes to the bed cords, grasped the bolster, sounded the wall behind, and made all the search that possibly I could, to find if there were any trick, contrivance, or common cause of it. The like did my friend, but we could discover nothing.

"So that I was then verily persuaded, and am so still, that the noise was made by some demon or spirit."

Doubtless his countenance betrayed the receptiveness of his mind, and it is not surprising that the naughty little girls proceeded to work industriously upon his imagination. He speaks of having heard under the bed a panting sound, which, he is certain, caused "a motion so strong that it shook the room and windows very sensibly"; and it also appears that he was induced to believe that he saw something moving in a "linen bag" hanging in the room, which bag, on being emptied, was found to contain nothing animate. Therefore-spirits again! After bidding the children good night and retiring to the room set apart for him, he was wakened from a sound sleep by a tremendous knocking on his door, and to his terrified inquiry, "In the name of God, who is it, and what would you have?" received the not wholly reassuring reply, "Nothing with you." In the morning, when he spoke of the incident and remarked that he supposed a servant must have rapped at the wrong door, he learned to his profound astonishment that "no one of the house lay that way or had business thereabout." This being so, it could not possibly have been anything but a ghost.

Thus runs the argument of the superstitious clergyman. And all the while, we may feel tolerably sure, little Miss Mompesson was chuckling inwardly at the panic into which she had thrown the reverend gentleman.

If it be objected that no girl of ten could successfully execute such a sustained imposture, one need only point to the many instances in which children of equally tender years or little older have since ventured on similar mystifications, with even more startling results. Incredible as it may seem to those who have not looked into the subject, it is a fact that there are boys and girls-especially girls-who take a morbid delight in playing pranks that will astound and perplex their elders. The mere suggestion that Satan or a discarnate spirit is at the bottom of the mischief will then act as a powerful stimulus to the elaboration of even more sensational performances, and the result, if detection does not soon occur, will be a full-fledged "poltergeist," as the crockery-breaking, furniture-throwing ghost is technically called.

The singular affair of Hetty Wesley, which we shall take up next, is a case in point. So, too, is the history of the Fox sisters, who were extremely juvenile when they discovered the possibilities latent in the properly manipulated rap and knock. And the spirits who so maliciously disturbed the peace of good old Dr. Phelps in Stratford, Connecticut, a half century and more ago, unquestionably owed their being to the nimble wit and abnormal fancy of his two step-children, aged sixteen and eleven.

It is to be remembered, further, that contemporary conditions were exceptionally favorable to the success of the Tedworth hoax. In all likelihood the children had nothing to do with the first alarm, the alarm that occurred during Mompesson's absence in London; and possibly the second was only a rude practical joke by some village lads who had heard of the first and wished to put the Squire's courage to a test. But once the little Mompessons learned, or suspected, that their father associated the noises with the vagrant drummer, a wide vista of enjoyment would open before their mischief-loving minds. Entering on a career of mystification, they would find the road made easy by the gullibility of those about them; and the chances are that had they been caught in flagrante delicto they would have put in the plea that fraudulent mediums so frequently offer to-day-"An evil spirit took possession of me." As it was, the superstition of the times-and doubtless the rats and shaky timbers of Mompesson House did their part-was their constant and unfailing support. Everything that happened would be magnified and distorted by the witnesses, either at the moment or in retrospect, until in the end the Rev. Mr. Glanvill, recording honestly enough what he himself had seen, could find material for a history of the most marvelous marvels.

In short, the more closely one examines the details of the Tedworth mystery, the more will he find himself in agreement with George Cruikshank's brutally frank opinion:

"All this seems very strange, about this drummer and his drum;

But for myself I really think this drumming ghost was all a hum."


[B] Glanvill's "Sadducismus Triumphatus," a most instructive and entertaining contribution to the literature of witchcraft. Contemporary opinion of Glanvill is well expressed in Anthony à Wood's statement that "he was a person of more than ordinary parts, of a quick, warm, spruce, and gay fancy, and was more lucky, at least in his own judgment, in his first hints and thoughts of things, than in his after notions, examined and digested by longer and more mature deliberation. He had a very tenacious memory, and was a great master of the English language, expressing himself therein with easy fluency, and in a manly, yet withal a clear style." Glanvill died in 1680 at the early age of forty-four.

[C] Used here in the sense of "always."

[D] The Italics are mine.

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