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


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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