Drummer of Tidworth
Generally regarded by some as a hoax, the case of the Tidworth (previously known as Tedworth) Drummer was published by the philosopher and writer Rev Joseph Glanvill (Born 1636 – Died 1680)and concerned the haunting of John Mompesson of Zouch Manor House (no longer standing), cousin of the Member of Parliament Thomas Mompesson (Born 1630 – Died 1701).
In his ‘The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain’ (1897), John Ingram, gives the following account of the case. ‘Joseph Glanvil, whose unjustly neglected Essays contain some of the most magnificent germ thoughts of his age, wrote a curious work on witchcraft entitled Sadducismus Triumphatus. This work contains what its author styles “a choice collection of modern relations,” referring to more or less known cases of apparitions, and similar supernatural phenomena. The chief of these relations is an account of the haunting of a house at Tedworth, Wiltshire, belonging to a Mr. John Mompesson, and considering the length of time the disturbances endured, the position of the people who investigated the case, and the unfathomable mystery in which it still remains, it may be considered one of the most remarkable instances of its kind on record. Following the particulars furnished by Glanvil, who personally investigated the whole affair, the extraordinary story may be thus detailed:
In March, 1661, Mr. Mompesson, who was a man of good family and well endowed with worldly possessions, in his magisterial capacity caused to be arrested and sent to Gloucester Jail as a rogue and vagabond a wandering beggar, who had been going about the country annoying people by his vehement solicitations for alms, and disturbing their quiet by the noisy beating of a large drum. Mr. Mompesson committed him to prison and had the drum consigned to the custody of the bailiff, and to this circumstance was attributed all the disturbances to which the unfortunate magistrate and his household were subsequently subjected.
In the month following the vagrant’s arrest Mr. Mompesson had occasion to visit London, but just before his departure the bailiff, for reasons not stated, took an opportunity of sending the man’s drum to the magistrate’s house. When he returned from his journey to the metropolis, Mr. Mompesson was informed by his wife that they had been much frightened during his absence by thieves, and that the house had been nearly broken into. He had not been home above three nights when noises similar to those that had terrified his family in his absence were again heard. It was a great knocking at the doors and outside of the house. ” Hereupon he got up,” to follow Glanvil’s account, ” and went about the house with a brace of pistols in his hands. He opened the door where the great knocking was, and then he heard the noise at another door. He opened that also, and went out round his house, but could discover nothing, only he still heard a strange noise and hollow sound. When he got back to bed there was a thumping and drumming on the top of his house, which continued a good space, and then by degrees went off into the air.
“After this,”according to Glanvil, “the noise of thumping and drumming was very frequent, usually five nights together, and then it would intermit three. It was on the outside of the house, which was most of it of board. It constantly came as they were going to sleep, whether early or late. After a month’s disturbance without, it came into the room where the drum lay, four or five nights in seven, within half an hour after they were in bed, continuing almost two. The sign of it, just before it came, was a hurling in the air over the house ; and at its going off, the beating of a drum, like that at the breaking up of a guard. It continued in this room for the space of two months, which time Mr. Mompesson himself lay there to observe it.
Mrs. Mompesson’s confinement now taking place, the distressing noises politely refrained from manifesting themselves; but ” after this civil cessation,” as Glanvil phrases it, of about three weeks, the disturbances returned ” in a ruder manner than before, and followed and vexed the youngest children, beating their bedsteads with that violence that all present expected that they would fall to pieces. In laying hands on them one could feel no blows, but might perceive them to shake exceedingly. For an hour together it would beat” the “Tattoo,” and “several other points of war, as well as any drummer. After this they would hear a scratching under the children’s bed, as if by something that had iron talons. It would lift the children up in their beds, follow them from one room to another, and for a while haunted none particularly but them.”
“On the 5th of November,” says Glanvil, “it made a mighty noise; and a servant observing two boards in the children’s room seeming to move, he bid it give him one of them. Upon which the board came (nothing moving it that he saw) within a yard of him. The man added, ‘Nay, let me have it in my hand’; upon which the spirit, devil, or drummer pushed it towards him so close that he might touch it. “This,” continues Glanvil, “was in the day-time, and seen by a whole roomful of people. That morning it left a sulphureous smell behind it which was very offensive.
“At night the minister, one Mr. Cragg, and several of the neighbours came to the house on a visit. Mr. Cragg went to prayers with them, kneeling at the children’s bedside, where it then became very troublesome and loud. During prayer-time the spirit withdrew into the cock-loft, but returned as soon as prayers were done; and then, in sight of the company, the chairs walked about the room of themselves, the children’s shoes were hurled over their heads, and every loose thing moved above the chamber. At the same time a bed-staff was thrown against the minister, which hit him on the leg, but so favourably that a lock of wool could not have fallen more softly.”
As Mr. Mompesson found his youngest children were suffering so much from these persecutions, he had them removed, and lodged them at the house of a neighbour. His eldest daughter, who was about ten years of age, was taken into her father’s own room, where there had not been any disturbance for a month or so. ” As soon as she was in bed,” continues the narration, ” the disturbance began there again, continuing three weeks, drumming and making other noises; and it was observed that it would answer exactly, in drumming, anything that was beaten or called for,” just in the same way as with the modern spirit-rappings, it has been suggested.
Among the many things noted or reported of this house-haunting was, “that when the noise was loudest, and came with the most sudden and surprising violence, no dog about the house would move, though the knocking was oft so boisterous and rude that it hath been heard at a considerable distance in the fields, and awakened the neighbours in the village,” none of whom lived very near Mr. Mompesson’s bewitched abode.
On one occasion when the village blacksmith, a fellow who feared neither man nor devil, slept with John, the footman, so that he might hear the supernatural noises and be cured of his incredulity, “there came a noise in the room as if one had been shoeing a horse, and somewhat came, as it were, with a pair of pincers,” snipping away at the sceptical blacksmith the chief part of the night. Next day the invisible being came panting like a dog out of breath, and a woman who was present taking up a staff to knock at it, the weapon “was caught suddenly out of her hand and thrown away; and company coming up, the room was presently filled with a bloomy noisome smell, and was very hot, though without fire, in a very sharp and severe winter. It continued in the bed, panting and scratching for an hour and a half, and then went into the next room, when it knocked a little, and seemed to rattle a chain.”
For two whole years, with some occasional intermissions, these disturbances continued, creating such intense excitement, not only in the vicinity of Tedworth, but all over the country, that at last the King sent a Commission to specially investigate the circumstances, and to draw up and furnish him with a report of the whole affair. Whatever, however, may have “been the cause, during the visit of the Royal Commission the disturbances ceased, and no manifestations took place. ” As to the quiet of the house when the courtiers were there,” says Glanvil, ” the intermission may have been accidental, or, perhaps, the demon was not willing to give so public a testimony of those transactions which might possibly convince those whom he had rather should continue in unbelief of his existence.”
However, no sooner were the Royal Commissioners gone than the mysterious annoyance recommenced, and was manifested in many unpleasant fashions; sometimes it purred like a cat, or beat the children’s legs black and blue; once it put a long spike into Mr. Mompesson’s bed, and a knife into his mother’s; filled the porringers with ashes, hid a Bible in the grate, and turned the money in people’s pockets black. On one occasion a servant of Mr. Mompesson’s averred that he had not only heard but seen this pertinacious demon, which came and stood at the foot of his bed. ” The exact shape and proportion of it he could not discover ; but he saw a great body, with two red and glaring eyes, which, for some time, were fixed steadily on him, and at length disappeared.”
In the meanwhile, Mr. Mompesson believed, and several of his friends appear to have had a similar opinion, that all the noises and troubles were occasioned by the imprisoned drummer who was still in jail at Gloucester. In confirmation, as it were, of this idea, the following evidence is given : During the time of the knocking,” says Glanvil, when many were present, a gentleman of the company said, ‘Satan, if the drummer set thee to work, give three knocks, and no more,’ which it did very distinctly, and stopt. Then the gentleman knockt to see if it would answer him as it was wont; hut it did not. For farther trial, he bid it, for confirmation, if it were the drummer, to give five knocks and no more that night, which it did, and let the house quiet all the night after. This was done in the presence of Sir Thomas Chamberlain, of Oxford, and divers others.”
In the meantime, the drummer being visited one day in jail by a person from the neighbourhood of Tedworth, he asked what was the news in Wiltshire, and, so it is alleged, whether people did not talk a great deal about a drumming in a gentleman’s house there ? The visitor replied that he had heard of nothing ; to which the drummer responded: “I have done it; I have thus plagued him ; and he shall never be quiet until he hath made me satisfaction for taking away my drum.”
Mr. Mompesson had the drummer taken up again, and this time for felony, for the supposed witchcraft about his house. The grand jury found a true bill against the man, but he was acquitted, his connection with the disturbances not being proved.
What subsequently became of the drummer is rather uncertain, but that he was eventually tried and convicted of witchcraft at Salisbury appears to be a fact, as also that he was sentenced to transportation for the crime. The leniency of the sentence is said to have excited no little surprise at that time, the offence of which he was found guilty generally being punished by death.
Hitherto the history of the haunting at Tedworth is only a recapitulation of what Glanvil took down from the mouths of other people, but his own personal experiences should not be ignored in any account of this extraordinary affair. In January 1662 he visited the scene of the disturbance himself, and furnishes the following record of what he observed:
“About this time I went to the house on purpose to inquire the truth of those passages, of which there was so loud a report. It had ceased from its drumming and ruder noises before I came thither ; but most of the more remarkable circumstances before related were confirmed to me there, by several of the neighbours together, who had been present at them. At this time it used to haunt the children, and that as soon as they were laid in bed. They went to bed that night I was there, about eight of the clock, when a maid-servant, coming down from them, told us it was come. The neighbours that were there, and two ministers who had seen and heard divers times, went away ; but Mr. Mompesson and I, and a gentleman that came with me, went up. I heard a strange scratchiug as we 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 loud scratching, as one with long nails could make upon a bolster. There were two little modest girls in the bed, between seven and eleven 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 had still 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. I had been told that 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, graspt 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. After it had scratched about half an hour or more, it went into the midst of the bed, under the children, and then seemed to pant, like a dog out of breath, very loudly. I put my hand upon the place, and felt the bed bearing up against it, as if something within had thrust it up. I grasped the feathers to feel if any living thing were in it. I looked under, and everywhere about, to see if there were any dog, or cat, or any such creature, in the room, and so we all did, but found nothing. The motion it caused by this panting was so strong, that it shook the rooms and windows very sensibly. It continued more than half an hour, while my friend and I stayed in the room, and as long after, as we were told.
“It will, I know, be said by some, that my friend and I were under some affright, and so fancied noises and sights that were not. This is the eternal evasion. But if it be possible to know how a man is affected when in fear, and when unaffected, I certainly know, for mine own part, that during the whole time of my being in the room, and in the house, I was under no more afTrightnient than I am while I write this relation. And if I know that I am now awake, and that I see the objects that are before me, I know that I heard and saw the particulars that I have told.”
Thus ends the Rev. Joseph Glanvil’s account of this extraordinary affair, from which Mr. Mompesson, as he remarks, ” suffered by it in his name, in his estate, in all his affairs, and in the general peace of his family,” because, as the same authority points out, ” the unbelievers, in the matter of spirits and witches, took him for an impostor, many others judged the permission of such an extraordinary evil to be the judgment of God upon him for some notorious wickedness or impiety. Thus his name was continually exposed to censure, and his estate suffered by the concourse of people from all parts to his house ; by the diversion it gave him from his affairs ; by the discouragement of servants, by reason of which he could hardly get any to live with him ; to which I add the continual hurry that his family was in, the affrights, and the watchings and disturbance of his whole house (in which himself must needs be the most concerned). I say if these things are considered, there will be little reason to think he would have any interest to put a cheat upon the world, in which he would most of all have injured and abused himself.”
Mr. Mompesson, writing on the 8th of November 1672, or ten years after the events recorded had taken place, besides pointing out that no discovery had been made of any cheat, declared most solemnly that he knew of none, as he had, indeed, testified at the assizes. “If the world will not believe it,” he concluded, “it shall be indifferent to me, praying God to keep me from the same or the like affliction.”