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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 reemerged, 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

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

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

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 seances 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 seance 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

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."

Next: The Haunting Of The Wesleys

Previous: The Devils Of Loudun

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