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The Nocturnal Disturbers






The following authentic story is related by Dr. Plot, in his Natural
History of Oxfordshire.

Soon after the murder of King Charles the First, a commission was
appointed to survey the King's house at Woodstock, with the manor, park,
woods, and other demesnes thereunto belonging; and one Collins, under a
feigned name, hired himself as Secretary to the Commissioners: who, upon
the thirteenth of October 1849, met, and took up their residence in the
King's own rooms. His Majesty's bed-chamber they made their kitchen; the
council-hall, their pantry; and the presence-chamber was the place where
they sat for the dispatch of business. His Majesty's dining room they
made their wood-yard, and stored it with the wood of the famous royal
oak, from the high park; which, that nothing might be left with the name
of the King about it, they had dug up by the roots, and split, and
bundled up into faggots for their firing.

Things being thus prepared, they sat on the 16th of the same month for
the dispatch of business; and in the midst of their first debate, there
entered a large black dog, as they thought, which made a dreadful
howling, overturned two or three of their chairs, and then crept under a
bed, and vanished. This gave them the greater surprise, as the doors
were kept constantly locked, so that no real dog could get in or out.
The next day, their surprise was increased; when, sitting at dinner in a
lower room, they heard plainly the noise of persons walking over their
heads, though they well knew the doors were all locked, and there could
be nobody there. Presently after, they heard also all the wood of the
King's oak brought by parcels from the dining-room, and thrown with
great violence into the chamber; as also the chairs, stools, tables, and
other furniture, forcibly hurled about the room; their own papers of the
minutes of their transactions torn; and the ink-glass broken. When this
noise had some time ceased, Giles Sharp, their Secretary, proposed to
enter first into these rooms; and, in presence of the Commissioners, of
whom he received the key, he opened the doors, and found the wood spread
about the room, the chairs tossed about, and broken, the papers torn,
and the ink-glass broken (as has been said); but not the least track of
any human creature, nor the least reason to suspect one, as the doors
were all fast, and the keys in the custody of the Commissioners. It was
therefore unanimously agreed, that the power who did this mischief must
have entered the room at the key-hole.

The night following, Sharp, the Secretary, with two of the
Commissioners' servants, as they were in bed in the same room (which
room was contiguous to that where the Commissioners lay), had their
beds' feet lifted so much higher than their heads, that they expected to
have their necks broken; and then they were let fall at once with so
much violence, as shook the whole house, and more than ever terrified
the Commissioners.

On the night of the nineteenth, as all were in bed in the same room for
greater safety, and lights burning by them, the candles in an instant
went out with a sulphurous smell: and, that moment, many trenchers of
wood were hurled about the room; which, next morning, were found to be
the same their Honours had eaten off the day before, which were all
removed from the pantry, though not a lock was found opened in the whole
house. The next night, they fared still worse: the candles went out as
before; the curtains of their Honours' beds were rattled to and fro
with great violence; their Honours received many cruel blows and bruises
by eight great pewter dishes, and a number of wooden trenchers, being
thrown on their beds, which being heaved off were heard rolling about
the room, though in the morning none of them were to be seen. The
following night, likewise, they were alarmed with the tumbling down of
oaken billets about their beds, and other frightful noises: but all was
clear in the morning, as if no such thing had happened. The next night,
the keeper of the King's house and his dog lay in the Commissioners'
room; and then they had no disturbance. But, on the night of the
twenty-second, though the dog lay in the room as before, yet the candles
went out, a number of brickbats fell from the chimney into the room, the
dog howled piteously, their bed-clothes were all stripped off, and their
terror increased. On the twenty-fourth night, they thought all the wood
of the King's oak was violently thrown down by their bed-sides; they
counted sixty-four billets that fell, and some hit and shook the beds in
which they lay: but in the morning none were found there, nor had the
door been opened where the billet-wood was kept. The next night, the
candles were put out, the curtains rattled, and a dreadful crack like
thunder was heard; and one of the servants, running to see if his
master was not killed, found three dozen of trenchers laid smoothly
under the quilt by him.

But all this was nothing to what succeeded afterwards. The twenty-ninth,
about midnight, the candles went out; something walked majestically
through the room, and opened and shut the windows; great stones were
thrown violently into the room, some of which fell on the beds, others
on the floor; and, about a quarter after one, a noise was heard, as of
forty cannon discharged together, and again repeated at about eight
minutes distance. This alarmed and raised all the neighbourhood; who,
coming into their Honours' rooms, gathered up the great stones,
fourscore in number, and laid them in the corner of a field, where, in
Dr. Plot's time, who reported this story, they were to be seen. This
noise, like the discharge of cannon, was heard through all the country
for sixteen miles round. During these noises, which were heard in both
rooms together, the Commissioners and their servants gave one another
over for lost, and cried out for help; and Giles Sharp, snatching up a
sword, had well nigh killed one of their Honours, mistaking him for the
spirit, as he came in his shirt, from his own room to their's. While
they were together, the noise was continued, and part of the tiling of
the house was stripped off, and all the windows of an upper room were
taken away with it.

On the thirtieth at midnight, something walked into the chamber,
treading like a bear; it walked many times about, then threw a
warming-pan violently on the floor: at the same time a large quantity of
broken glass, accompanied with great stones and horses' bones, came
pouring into the room, with uncommon force; these were all found in the
morning, to the astonishment and terror of the Commissioners, who were
yet determined to go on with their business.

But, on the first of November, the most dreadful scene of all ensued.
Candles in every part of the house were lighted up, and a great fire
made. At midnight, the candles all yet burning, a noise, like the burst
of a cannon, was heard in the room, and the burning billets were tossed
about by it even into their Honours' beds, who called Giles and his
companions to their relief, otherwise the house had been burned to the
ground. About an hour after, the candles went out as usual; the crack of
as many cannon was heard; and many pailfuls of green stinking water were
thrown upon their Honours' beds; great stones were thrown in, as before;
the bed-curtains and bedsteads torn and broken; the windows shattered;
and the whole neighbourhood alarmed with the most dreadful noises; nay,
the very rabbit-stealers that were abroad that night in the warren, were
so terrified, that they fled for fear, and left their ferrets behind
them. One of their Honours, this night, spoke; and, in the name of God,
asked what it was? and why it disturbed them so? No answer was given to
this, but the noise ceased for a while; when the spirit came again, and,
as they all agreed, brought with it seven devils worse than itself. One
of the servants now lighted a large candle, and placed himself in the
doorway between the two chambers, to see what passed; and, as he
watched, he plainly saw a hoof striking the candle and candlestick into
the middle of the room, and afterwards making three scrapes over the
snuff, scraped it out. Upon this the same person was so bold as to draw
a sword; but he had scarce got it out, when he felt an invisible hand
had hold of it too, and pulled with him for it, and, at length
prevailing, struck him so violently on the head with the hilt, that he
fell down for dead with the blow. At this instant was heard another
burst, like the discharge of the broadside of a ship of war; and, at
about a minute or two's distance each, no less than nineteen more such.
These shook the house so violently, that they expected every moment it
would fall upon their heads. The neighbours, on this, as has been said,
being all alarmed, flocked to the house in great numbers, and all
joined in prayer and psalm-singing; during which the noise still
continued in the other rooms, and the report of cannon was heard, as
from without, though no visible agent was seen to discharge them.

But what was the most alarming of all, and put an end to their
proceedings effectually, happened the next day, as they were all at
dinner; when a paper, in which they had signed a mutual agreement to
reserve a part of the premises out of the general survey, and afterwards
to share it equally amongst them, (which paper they had hid, for the
present, under the earth, in a pot in one corner of the room, in which
an orange-tree grew), was consumed in a wonderful manner, by the earth's
taking fire, with which the pot was filled, and burning violently with a
blue flame, and an intolerable stench, so that they were all driven out
of the house, to which they could never again be prevailed upon to
return.

This wonderful contrivance was all the invention of the memorable Joseph
Collins, of Oxford, otherwise called Funny Joe; who, having hired
himself for their Secretary, under the name of Giles Sharp, by knowing
the private traps belonging to the house, and the help of pulvis
fulminans and other chemical preparations, and letting his
fellow-servants into the scheme, carried on the deceit, without
discovery, to the very last, so dextrously, that the late Dr. Plot, in
his Natural History, relates the whole for fact, in the gravest manner.





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