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The Drummer Of Tedworth

Scary Books: Historic Ghosts And Ghost Hunters

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 fello
s, 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."